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Challenges in Translating the Qur’ān – Translating the Untranslatable: Omission/Ellipsis

  • Ahmed AllaithyEmail author
Reference work entry

Abstract

It goes without saying that since Arabic is not English, this entails that Arabic Qur’ān is not its English translation. Accordingly, expressions such as translation of the “meaning(s) of the Qur’ān” and “translating the untranslatable” are commonly used in writings on Qur’ān translation. The former reference betrays a sense of reluctance to call a Qur’ān translation what it looks to be, while the latter seems to reflect a desire to add a dimension of mystery to the Qur’ān and/or its translation. Each expression in its own way implies that rendering the Qur’ān into a foreign language with sufficient accuracy is an impossible task. True as the case may be, it is not common to find research works dealing with “why” the Qur’ān may be considered “untranslatable” providing concrete evidence, rather than generic and ambiguous references.

Being a text at the highest degree of eloquence, the Qur’ān, as a whole, poses a serious challenge for translators and linguists alike. The challenging areas within the Qur’ānic text are indeed too numerous to count. This research chapter investigates one of the major problem areas when translating the Qur’ān, namely, omission/ellipsis. This linguistic feature is intrinsic to the Qur’ānic text and, in turn, has an impact on its translation leading to this so-called untranslatability. If something is not there, how could it be translated? Could what is “lost” in or missing from the source text (ST) be found in the translation? If what is there is impacted by what is not there and vice versa, does this make the ST as a whole untranslatable? This chapter highlights these specific problematic issues, be them grammatical, syntactic, semantic, rhetorical, or otherwise. It provides an analysis based upon linguistic as well as empirical evidence to this effect. Additionally, the existence of actual translations of the Qur’ān in almost all living languages seems to challenge the veracity of the expression “translating the untranslatable.” This chapter will also shed light on what it is that we have when the “untranslatable” is made available in translation.

The examples analyzed unveil how omission functions in the Qur’ān and its translation and also identifies what approaches and strategies have been used to render the nonexistent. It also corrects a long-standing erroneous understanding of the bismillāh through an analysis of its structure which is also indicative of ellipsis.

Keywords

Qur’ān Translation Arabic Rhetoric Syntax Ellipsis Omission Meaning Islam 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Arabic and Translation StudiesAmerican University of SharjahSharjahUnited Arab Emirates

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