Word Repetition in the Qur'an: Translating Form or Meaning?

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J. King Saud Univ., Vol. 19, Lang. & Transl., pp. 17-34, Riyadh (A.H. 1427/2006)

Word Repetition in the Qur’an – Translating Form or Meaning? Ahmed Ali
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Languages and Translation, King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia (Received 13/10/1426 A.H.; accepted for publication, 04/04/1427 A.H.)

Abstract. Word repetition is a feature that exists in all languages, and serves different purposes, rhetorical, emphatic, or otherwise. A problematic issue arises when a translation is attempted of repeated words in a target text. The dilemma is that owing to the different ways of expression and tools available to every language, what fits one language may prove absurd in another. When dealing with the translation of repeated words in a sacred text, this proves to be much more problematic. This paper deals with this specific area as far as repeated words in the Holy Qur’an are concerned. The present paper argues that each repeated word in the Qur’anic text serves a particular purpose which may be totally defeated, and, perhaps, the whole message distorted if the translator fails to render repetition in the same way. This, by no means, resolves the repetition conundrum. However, to put it in simple terms, the translator could, in an attempt to maintain the accuracy and faithfulness, and at the same time, maintain the flow of the translation, make use of footnotes to draw the attention of the reader/critic to the actual wording of the original. In this way, the translator minimizes the effect of, at least, the form of the original on the translation. The meaning is (hopefully) preserved, and thereby, the reader/critic - and most importantly - the believer, is satisfied by accounting for all the words in the text involved.

Introduction The problems in translating a text from one language to another are legion. For example, it is quite common to find western critics referring to what they claim to be incoherence, inconsistency or lack of harmony in the Qur’anic style (c.f. Hyde Park Christian Fellowship [1] and Ghoneim [2]). Such views ignore the fact that:



Ahmed Ali

* it is both inconceivable and impossible to judge one language according to the rules of another; * what might be considered elegant style, or legitimate form, or appropriate function in one language is not necessarily looked upon the same way in another; * different languages very often express the same thing differently, necessitating different phrasing in expression in translation; * there is no perfect synonymy or exact equivalence between languages in translation. * there will always be a "translation loss" of different degrees as a result of not only linguistic, but also cultural factors. Therefore, no translation can be the original, even when the translation may seem to be "better" than the original. The inherently problematic nature of translation is further complicated when the principal text, as is the case with the Holy Qur’an, is considered to be a sacred one, containing the inspiration for a complete way of life. In such a case, accuracy in translation becomes a religious and moral duty, not merely a linguistic or logistical exercise. Since it would be impossible here to discuss the complexities encountered by innumerable translators in the field of translating the Qur’an, this paper focuses on one small -- but not inconsiderable -- aspect encountered in the sacred text, that is, the issue of repetition.

The Qur'an Muslims believe that the religion preached in Arabia by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be Allah’s (God’s) final revelation to humanity. For Muslims, the Qur’an, which is Allah’s words revealed to humankind, supplements and completes the earlier revelations on which all theistic religions are built and corrects the human interference and misinterpretations that corrupted and adulterated those earlier revelations. The whole of the Qur’an is arranged into 114...
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