December 16, 2008
Learning the Classics, Line-By-Line
Over at Brainiac, Christopher Shea writes about interlineal translation, where each line of text is followed by a native-language (and generally near word-for-word) translations. James Hamilton popularized the method in the early 19th century (interlineal translations are sometimes called “Hamiltonian”), but they’ve fallen out of favor as a method of language instruction in favor of immersion.
It’s really hard to find published interlineal translations, but the writer Ernest Blum says that immersion education has failed and that we ought to resuscitate Hamilton’s pedagogy (or something like it) using texts like the Loeb classics, which have opposing-face translations (a method that’s still much more common). The Loebs aren’t interlineal, but they’re the next best thing.
Wait a minute, though — we’re not stuck with the books we’ve got! We’ve got computers! As long as we’ve got the text, we should be able to represent these books any way we want — as pure foreign-language texts, straight translations, line-by-line, or page-by-page.
If we really want to try giving line-by-line translation a try, someone should design a super-slick front-end for something like the Perseus database that spits out beautiful interlinear translations just for students learning to translate. And make it easy to switch views; in fact, you could do different lessons using different methods.
In fact, I don’t understand why we don’t have crazy rich client applications like Rosetta Stone packed to the gills with classic texts in every language for people to learn to read great books in their original languages. You could add reference sources, digital footnotes, audio recordings (Ian McKellan reading the Odyssey, anyone?) — lots of stuff.
There are so many more things — just simple things, really — that we could be doing with digital texts. As the other great Homer would say, “I could do a lot of things if I had some money.”