The Ten Commandments (2)

It turns out that what we might call El Decálogo Infantil (see: The Ten Commandments) is rather more straightforward evidence for our thesis than other versions.  My investigations proceed. Meanwhile, an initial look at Latin, French, Portuguese and Italian produces suggestive but inconclusive data.  Let me explain. 

The Latin of the Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, itself hardly Classical Latin, gives us:

Honora patrem tuum et matrem tuam, ut sis longaevus super terram, quam Dominus Deus tuus dabit tibi.

Non occides.
Non moechaberis.
Non furtum facies.
Non loqueris contra proximum tuum falsum testimonium.
Non concupisces domum proximi tui: nec desiderabis uxorem eius, non servum, non ancillam, non bovem, non asinum, nec omnia quae illius sunt.

And notice:  the injunction concerning fathers and mothers uses an imperatival form, but the rest use the Latin Future. Now we turn to the French of La Bible en français courant:

Respecte ton père et ta mère, afin de jouir d’une longue vie dans le pays que moi, le Seigneur ton Dieu, je te donne.

Tu ne commettras pas de meurtre.
Tu ne commettras pas d’adultère.
Tu ne commettras pas de vol.
Tu ne prononceras pas de faux témoignage contre ton prochain.
Tu ne convoiteras rien de ce qui appartient à ton prochain, ni sa maison, ni sa femme, ni son serviteur, ni sa servante, ni son boeuf, ni son âne.

Where we observe the same phenomenon. Imperative for fathers and mothers, Future Tense for the rest. And now Portuguese, from the Brazilian Biblia Sagrada:

Honra a teu pai e a tua mãe, para que se prologuem os teus dias na terra que o Senhor, teu Deus, te dá.

Não matarás.
Não adulterarás.
Não furtarás.
Não dirás falso testemunho contra o teu próximo.
Não cobiçaras a casa do teu próximo; não cobiçaras a mulher do teu próximo, nem o seu servo, nem a sua serva, nem o seu boi, nem o seu jumento, nem coisa alguma do teu próximo.

Same again.  Odd, that, the same weird admixture of styles, part imperative, part future. What can explain such a departure from the rhythmic elegance of El Decálogo Infantil? And across languages?

Agent Kelly makes an important point. When studying the grammar of Classical Languages, there is always the possibility that a Latin translation of a Greek original may well pervert the natural syntax of Latin just to preserve – for whatever reason – a kind of parity with the syntax of the original Greek. The Latin syntax is ‘bent’.  And so such examples are untrustworthy as part of the evidential base for grammarians of Latin. (But see comment below)

It looks as though that may well be the case here.  The formulations in French and Portuguese are very close to the Latin of the Clementine Vulgate, prompting the thought that the Vulgate is their source, so it could well be, for all we yet know to the contrary, that the natural syntax of French and Portuguese is here systematically ‘bent’ in deference to the Clementine Vulgate.  Which in it’s turn may be deferential to the Greek, which in its turn may be deferential to the original Hebrew.  Bugger.  That’s going to add layers of complexity on to many of our investigations.  But I have two reasons to be cheerful.  One is that the Spanish of El Decálogo Infantil, not being a translation of anything, is certainly kosher.  The other is that various agents are on the case.  Soon we will have the Greek, and we will have the Hebrew.

I bow out with an observation about Italian.  Or perhaps about Italians.  My source, La Bibbia concordata, offers two versions.  An earlier one:

Onora tuo padre e tua madre, affinché siano prolungati i tuoi giorni nella terra che il Signore tuo Dio, ti dà.

Non uccidere.
Non fornicare.
Non rubare.
Non attestare il falso contro il tuo prossimo, non desiderare la roba d’altri.

And a later one:

Onora tuo padre e tua madre, affinché siano prolungati i tuoi giorni nella terra che il Signore tuo Dio, ti dà.

Non uccidere.
Non commettere adulterio.
Non rubare.
Non attestare il falso contro il tuo prossimo, non desiderare la casa del tuo prossimo, non desiderare la donna del tuo prossimo, né il suo servo, né la sua serva, né il suo bue, né il suo asino, né cosa alcuna che sia del tuo prossimo.

Looks as though generic fornication is nowadays off the hook, and the modern sinner clearly needs No. 10 spelling out in detail.

In both we have the familiar stylistic oddity, but here it is different. Imperative for fathers and mothers, but infinitives for the rest. What is it about the Italians? What does it all mean?

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One Response to The Ten Commandments (2)

  1. Stingray says:

    Agent Kelly has more to report. He is on the case, but does not yet know whether this phenomenon of syntax-bending occurs only when what is at issue is the translation of The Word of God, a case where there are clearly special reasons for transliterating rather than translating, or whether the phnomenon is more widespread. For the standard example with which he is familiar indeed concerns the Word of God. Here it is

    In Greek, one standard way of expressing an indirect statement (oratio obliqua) is via a structure parallel that of English.

    English: [verb of saying] + ‘that’ + finite verb
    Greek: [verb of saying] + ‘ὁτι’ + finite verb

    Now in Latin the standard construction is different.

    Latin: [verbum dicendi] + accusative subject + infinitive.

    As it happens, Greek also has the accusative + infinitive construction available.

    Now what happens in the Latin translations of the Christian Greek scriptures is that wherever an indirect statement is expressed using a ‘ὁτι’
    clause, the translators did not generally use the accusative and infinitive construction, but instead deployed the closest Latin equivalent to ‘ὁτι’, which in Latin is ‘quod’.

    So Classical Latin would have ‘dico Jesum dominum esse’ whilst Biblical Latin would have ‘dico quod Jesus dominus est’. Whether this is an independent phenomenon in Latin, or solely created by the influence of the Bible, needs further checking.

    Can anyone help on this question? Indeed can anyone help on the wider question concerning other languages and the Bible? Is there the same reason to expect (perhaps clumsy or unnatural) transliterations (of e.g. the Vulgate) rather than natural translations into the target language? I speculate above that this is so, but does anyone know for sure?

    And does anyone know whether the phenomenon of syntax-bending occurs when neither Latin nor Greek are in the frame? Might it be, for instance, that we get transliterations rather than translations from Sanskrit into Pali? Are there other cases where there are reasons for deference apart from the preservation of The Word of God (or The Buddha, or Mao, or Hitler)?

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