A New Approach to Arabic Tense Form-Content Mismatch in Four Translations of the Qurʾan

In: Al-Bayan: Journal of Qur'an and Hadith Studies
Amr M. El-Zawawy Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Faculty of Education, Alexandria University Egypt

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The tense systems in English and Arabic are markedly similar, but one striking feature makes the two-part ways: Arabic boasts the capacity of expressing the past and the future in forms that are not tallied with what English does. Arabic and English can express the future and the past in the present form. Yet Arabic, especially Qurʾanic Arabic, has the singular capacity for expressing the future in past form and the past in present form. The mismatch in the Arabic tense system in the English translation of the Qurʾan is given due attention in the present paper, and a new approach is presented to address this significant problem. The four translations selected are Arberry’s, Yusuf Ali’s, Pickthall’s and Asad’s. A model is proposed to analyze significant selections of such mismatches, based on graphical representations of TOC, TOE and linking form. The study concludes that the most inconsistent translation is Pickthall’s, while Arberry’s is the most consistent of all. It also reveals that although Asad is not fully proficient in English like Arberry, he succeeds in clearing the hurdle of translating tense form-content mismatch most of the time.

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