“Hearing, not reading; for reading suggests close and silent study, the pondering of words, the solution of a series of puzzles, but hearing should mean receiving, with the speed of a familiar tongue, the immediate impact of sound and sense together.
In all real language these are wedded; separated, even by the necessity of study, they wither.
A translator may hope (or rashly aspire) to heal the divorce, as far as is possible. And if he is in any degree successful, then he may serve even those whose knowledge is greater than his own. The immediacy of a native language can seldom be matched or even approached.
And when, as with Pearl and Sir Gawain and the modern English reader, the language to be translated is English, but of a kind that the passage of time and the changes in literary English have rendered unintelligible without study, there are few even of those who have endured the study that have in fact ever 'heard' either of these poems: that is, who have received them with the same immediacy as a man who belonged to the same time and circumstances of the author. To do that would, of course, require a time-machine, allowing one first to acquire the dialect and literary idiom familiar to the author and then to listen to his work. For such a machine translation is the only practical substitute, however imperfect.
How can a translation be made to operate in this way, however imperfectly?
First of all by absolute allegiance to the thing translated: to its meaning, its style, technique, and form.
The language used in translation is, for this purpose, merely an instrument, that must be handled so as to reproduce, to make audible again, as nearly as possible, the antique work.
Fortunately modern (modern literary, not present-day colloquial) English is an instrument of very great capacity and resources, it has long experience not yet forgotten, and deep roots in the past not yet all pulled up.” (cont'd)