There is an old joke that did the rounds when the first English Russian translation computer was announced. Someone who was given access to it decided to put in an English phrase, translate it into Russian and then immediately translate the Russian words back to English. He entered the words “Out of sight, out of mind.” When it translated the Russian words it had assigned back into English the computer spat out “Invisible, insane.”

Nowadays you can play the same game with Google translate.

I will not labor on about the folly of the revision team translating the French version of the Tales, (was based on the English version) back into English. An extensive analysis was done long ago and it revealed example after example where the “revised text” had damaged or destroyed meaning that was clear and important in the English text.

Here is a summary of that analysis. The Revision obscures Gurdjieff’s intended meaning in the following ways:

  • It fails to use full capitalization, thus confusing references to GOD with many other lesser individualities or concepts.
  • It uses initial capitalization in a confusing manner that is inconsistent with Gurdjieff’s use of this typographical feature. In some places, it seems to confuse French capitalization rules with English ones.
  • It does not use hyphens as a means to cluster words and hence loses the meanings that Gurdjieff achieves in this way. Its use of hyphens is particularly confusing—we could not identify any specific policy.
  • Its use of quotation marks appears to derive, primarily although not always, from the French text. It often appears to be arbitrary. We could not identify the application of any specific policy.
  • Its use of footnotes appears to be based on the French text, but only for the first half of the book, after which it abandons footnotes. There are some content differences in the footnotes where it appears to follow the French text, rather than the English or German.
  • There are cultural disparities. Where Gurdjieff clearly chose words that would have cultural meaning to the English reader, The Revision seems to repeat French colloquialisms in the vain hope that English readers will resonate with them.
  • There are obvious cases of poor word choice where the revision team chose clearly inappropriate words, even avoiding the word chosen in the French version. Meaning is damaged accordingly. Sometimes it is destroyed completely.
  • It is clear that no attention has been given to philology and thus some word choices in The Revision are philologically wrong. This is a very serious defect as the key to the meaning of some parts of The Tales is to be found in the philology of Gurdjieff ’s chosen words.
  • In a few places completely new text has been added. Where this is the case it appears to have been patched in from the French version.
  • At times The Revision makes the style error of adopting the passive voice where Gurdjieff ’s original used the active voice.
  • The rhythm of the words in The Revision is different to Gurdjieff’s chosen rhythm. This is the case throughout the whole book.

Enough!. But that’s not the final word. There is a little more to say that is saved for the next issue.

Click here for the first article on this topic.