How do you proceed when translating public domain books?

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Posts 196
Edil | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Feb 11 2020 12:45 PM


Once again, I’m posting here because I don’t know where else to ask on the Internet. I mean there is another forum that I found called The Puritan Board, but to post there you have to submit an essay that they have to approve. I’ve never being good with written compositions (that one not being the exception), and my application was rejected. Yikes!

Ok so suppose you are translating a book… actually I finished translating a book (the original in english is available in public domain), and there is a very remote, remote, remote possibility of a remote possibility, for the book to get published. The members at the church where I congregate are helping me with the corrections. During the process they raise a concern with the way the original author exposes Psalms 144:12. I wanted to translate as literally as possible and to maintain as much as possible the ideas presented by the original author. But after reading that passage several times, I have no option but to concur with them. The original author said that David was trying to establish a contrast between spiritual requests and carnal requests; right way, wrong way. But when you read the passage in the KJV, NASB, RVR60, LBLA it seems that David is requesting blessings in the natural domain according to the promises for Israel, nothing wrong. Some told me to discard the entire paragraph but I was hesitant. I did a search in Logos and found John Gill’s commentaries, summarizing Gill said:

Ver. 12. That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth, &c.] The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, Syriac, and Arabic versions, read, whose sons are as plants, &c. as if this and what follows were a description of the families, estates, substance, and outward happiness of wicked men, the enemies of David…

…The Targum is, “our daughters splendid and fit for the priests that minister in the midst of the temple.” The Syriac version, “their daughters as spouses adorned like temples.”

So, I went to my Logos library found almost all those resources and bingo! just as Gill said. It could be that the author was using the Syriac. I shared my findings with the rest and we agreed to cite the complete Gill’s commentary for that passage in a footnote. I have filled the book with many footnotes and that will be one more.

Ok, so that’s the story, now the questions. When talking about public domain books, translations, publishing and all that, are you free to do whatever you want with the text? When the author writes something that makes you feel uneasy, how should you proceed? It is fine to make a note not knowing if the reader will pay attention and you are spreading something that is not necessarily a heresy, but is not completely correct either?

Please share your comments.

Best regards.


P.D: This is the “general” sub-forum but I don’t know if I’m abusing the rules. If you know of any other conservative reformed forum where I can post this type of questions, please let me know.

Posts 1090
Tom Reynolds | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 11 2020 12:58 PM

Being in the public domain means you can do anything you want with the text and no one can come after you. However, if it is going to be published by a commercial publisher they may have certain policies around what you can do. If you are going to self publish then that doesn't matter. You only need be concerned about what your target audience will think.

The easiest thing to do is translate the work and then tag it with "Translated and edited by Edil...."

Posts 4390
SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 11 2020 1:00 PM

If you know of any other conservative reformed forum where I can post this type of questions, please let me know.

This isn't actually a conservative reformed forum, and I'm not a candidate for any of them anyway, but I can answer your questions:

Public domain is public domain. You are free to do whatever you want with the text from a legal perspective. When the author writes something that makes you feel uneasy, and you are translating it, standard practice in academia is to translate it accurately and include a footnote. It would be lying, however, to alter the text in such a way as to make it appear that the true author wrote something other than what he actually wrote.

“God watches over the affairs of those who truly love him without their worrying about them.” - St. John of the Cross

Posts 196
Edil | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Feb 11 2020 1:24 PM

Tom, SineNomine, thanks!

I have to be honest I had spent many many hours working on this and when told to remove the entire paragraph I felt that I was mutilating my baby, but that could be the selfish idolater that still lingers in me. It is good to submit to others.

Anyways, I think that your comments are spot on. I have no idea whatsoever about self-publishing, if it happens (very huge if), it will be trough a publishing house. So I will start asking about their rules.

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