From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

April 27, 2010*: On finding a turtle's voice.

Last year, shortly before Pesach, a close family friend turned to my brother and myself to enlist our aid:

I'm preparing something for Pesach and I would like to find the Bloch (as in Ariel and Chana) English translation of Shir Hashirim 2, 10-13. Is it available on line? Or do you happen to have a copy of it? (Ours is packed away in our majsan in Oakland.)
Being in this way pleasantly distracted from more pressing tasks, I happily joined the search. For me, at least, few activities can be more satisfying than a semi-mindless trek with a clearly defined pot of gold at the end. I don't even claim to be a multi-tasker - I simply love distractions. Though I don't remember precisely what was occupying my time before setting out on this adventure, it was clear that whatever it was, joining the search was going to be more enjoyable. And of course even more enjoyable than getting to the finish line is being diverted into the side streets, the alleys, even the dead ends, that call to you along the way.

On the face of it, this was a rather simple search to conduct (though not necessarily to reconstruct, and not particularly advisable from work). It was also clear to me, without having to be told, why a translation other than the one I grew up with was being requested. As kids, these particular verses from Song of Songs had always left us scratching our heads since it never made sense to us why a sign of Spring should be that:
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land
Yes, we understood that "turtle" was a shortening of "turtledove", but even if that made the meter fit, it still didn't make much sense. Another poetically logical question was raised by our requestee. As she later explained:
And, most importantly, how could you have a poem about spring without any birds? And of course they were always there: the nightingale and the turtle dove
So it was clear why a better translation was desired, but how to find it was still a problem. A few rather simple approaches presented themselves, though the fact that I was called in to give it a try suggested that the obvious searches had already been tried, and failed. And of course - if we knew what we were looking for, we wouldn't have to search for it. In other words, the easiest approach would have been to type a line of the text into my search engine of choice (almost always Google) and click on <ENTER>. But if I had a line of the desired text, I wouldn't have to be searching for it.

Clearly, a rather simple search had already been tried, and hadn't succeeded. But even so, there was more than just a bit of logic in trying it myself. Conducting such a search, after all, demanded only a minimum of effort, and if it would work for me, no additional effort would be required. So, after my already referred to, and rather embarrassing, Google Book Search mistake, I simply did what seemed to make sense.

Numerous reviews of the Bloch translation were available on the web, and quite a few of these quoted parts of the first chapter of Song of Songs. Having easily succeeded in finding those parts, I was ready for the next step. It seemed rather obvious that any translation, and the Bloch translation in particular, of the verses I was looking for in the second chapter would include the word "winter". They would certainly have something different than "turtle", but it was a sure bet that "winter" would be in the verses. I thus ran a Google search for a verse from the first chapter of the Bloch translation, and also on the word "winter". This seemed to be a way of finding a page that had both the verse from the first chapter, and (at least) the part of the second chapter that I wanted to find. In my summary of my search sent to our friend and to my brother I wrote:
I wasn't overly hopeful, but there was definitely a possibility....

And it turned out that my "possibility" hit the jackpot.

And sometimes jackpots are even richer than we expect. What I got to was a Word document with the entirety of the Bloch translation. Their book is, of course, much more than "simply" the translation, but the verses we wanted were there, as part of the entire wonderful translation. My attempts, however, to backtrack from that document to precisely where it was housed were only partially successful. The file was on the website of the English Department of National Central University ... of Taiwan.

After the fact, it's interesting to try and find other instances of the text on additional websites. In this particular case, working backwards proved to be less productive than I might have hoped. Once I had the desired translation, checking to see on how many other sites it shows up is very easy. But it turns out that the answer is apparently very few. Within Google Book Search, in addition to the online excerpts of the Bloch translation itself, only two other books seem to quote the text. Beyond these, I only found four other pages where the Bloch translation seems to be used.

These "reverse search" examples were found well after I'd successfully found what I had originally set out to find. Having found the text on that Taiwanese university site there wasn't much reason to continue searching. The goal had been reached. Still, there was the inevitable lingering question: Why there? Was it being used in a course, was a guest lecturer perhaps going to use it? I really don't know. It was simply there. And frankly, to my mind that's a happy ending - we found the verse we were looking for, but the mystery remains.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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