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Translating in a “dead” language. More “freedom”. Thinking without thinking.

Bochum-based philologist Prof Dr Reinhold Glei has figured out why Latin still turned up in many documents in the 17th to 19th centuries, even though it had not been a spoken language for a long time. During that period, Latin served as an instrument for translating languages that had hitherto been little known in Western culture.

Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit: novel sentence structures in those languages posed a challenge to scholars in the Early Modern Period. Scholars recreated the foreign-language sentences with the aid of Latin, thus crafting a text upon which further analyses could be based. In doing so, translators didn’t have to conform to specific linguistic rules of the Latin language, because native speakers no longer existed who might have taken exception to an unusual syntax in Latin. “Had the foreign-language texts been translated into, for example, German, the translator would have been restricted by the respective grammatical structures. Using Latin, the translators had more freedom,” elaborates Glei.

The philologist refers to this method as epilanguage; the Greek word epi translates as “on” or “above.” Latin was superimposed over the foreign language. Thus, translators were able to represent the unfamiliar structures.

An advantage of using the epilanguage was that it enabled translators to draw up neutral texts, before translating them into their respective vernacular language. “When Christians initially translated the Quran, the texts they created were for the most part ideologically charged. This resulted in corrupted translations,” he says. Using Latin as epilanguage did not wholly eradicate the problem, but it was possible to represent the structure of the Arabic language in a more neutral manner. (1)

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Reading is restricted by rules.

Writing is restricted by rules.

But when confronted with the unknown, the existence of rules automatically poses a barrier in the understanding of that unknown. When confronting the unknown, one needs to be free to overcome obstacles as they appear without having to deal with already existing rules created for other circumstances.

And the same applies to any field of human thinking.

Try to do philosophy without knowing philosophy.

Try to do science without adhering to the rules of science.

Try to read without following the grammatical rules.

Try to read without reading.

It is the only way to read Heidegger.

Try to think without thinking.

It is the only way to understand Parmenides and Heraclitus.

The cosmos is incomprehensible only for those who try to comprehend Him…

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