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Latin Translation Accuracy

Hello, I am a junior in High School who is in the process of writing a latin spiritual choral work. I am having trouble finding latin words or phrases for this piece. Obviously, being in high school, I have no knowledge of how Latin actually works. I went to enter English words and phrases in Google translate and selected variations that sounded right to me in context of my piece in terms of rhythm and harmony. However, I fear that my attempt will not be accurate and therefore annoy many choral directors and/or proffessors in the future if I decide to publish it with the text as it is right now.
At this point, anything helps. I'd very greatly appreciate your replies.
Thank you.
Replies (14): Threaded | Chronological
on March 21, 2015 7:30pm
Dear Ivan,
Why not take your English text to your school's Latin teacher and ask for translation help? If your school doesn't offer Latin (!!), perhaps there's a university nearby that has a Classics department. Latin's grammar is complex, with multiple noun declensions and verb conjugations; on the other hand, there is greater freedom in word order than there is in English, which can aid poetic construction. The main thing is, don't try to do this on your own: find someone fluent and get help.
Good luck and best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 22, 2015 3:11am
I have been providing new Latin lyrics to both my own compositions and commercial video game productions for some years (Final Fantasy series and such). And I do so with great helps from a very good friend of mine who is a retired Latin/Greek professor.
Do no even thing about using Google transaltion.
The best way is, as Jerome suggested work with someone who know Lain, someone who could show/teach correct sentences, what each word means, how each word is connected, correct accent placements and whether a perticular vowel is long or short.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 22, 2015 11:47am
It has been many years since I took HS Latin, but I do remember this:  Noun endings will vary as to whether the noun is the subject, direct object or indirect object of the sentence.  And, just as in English, verbs will have different endings depending on whether the nouns that go with them are singular of plural, or by the tense of the verb (present, past, future, etc.)  So the chances of your getting the text exactly right by looking up the Latin word that matches the meaning of the English word are slim to none.  I agree with those who recommend finding someone in your community who is conversant in Latin and get his/her help.
on March 23, 2015 5:11am
Do not use Google translate. Find existing Latin words - there are thousands of Latin texts out there, look on CPDL. If you don't have a knowledge of Latin, don't try to create your own text in Latin! Can you imagine how it would end up if someone tried to do that for English without speaking it? That's how bad it will look to any choral director who knows Latin (and most of them will).
The other problem is that without a knowledge of Latin, you won't have sensible places to put the stresses (and I hope you know by now how annoying it can be when stresses are in the wrong place in English). 
If you have no way to consult in person with someone who knows Latin, I would recommend finding a work with Latin text that you like, copying out the text AND noting where the rhythmic stresses fall, and then write a piece to that text using some of your existing rhythmic and harmonic ideas.
on March 23, 2015 5:11am
The other obvious person to help out, if you're comfortable with this, would be any Roman Catholic priest - they're all trained in Latin. I'm sure any priest would be happy to help with this if asked.
on March 23, 2015 7:08am
That used to be true, but may not be the case for younger priests. And for virtually all priests (in the US, anyway), daily exposure to Latin is a thing of the past, except for those doing scholarly work. Another caution for Ivan: although over 50% of English vocabulary is derived from Latin, either directly or via French (thanks to the Norman Invasion of England), the English derivative often has a different meaning or connotation from its Latin ancestor. And the grammar and syntax of Latin are very different from English, to the point that a good translation is often a paraphrase of the original. There have in the past been attempts to impose Latin rules on English, such as not splitting an infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition (be cause you can't in Latin), Winston Churchill is said to have called the latter rule "the sort of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put).
on March 23, 2015 8:21am
If you are looking for translations of sacred texts, in both literal, word-by-word, and poetic form, look no further than Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire. Vol. 1, Sacred Latin Texts. Corvallis, Oregon: earthsongs, 1988, by Ron Jeffers.  All you have to do is credit him for the translation and it is yours! Scholarly, and accurate.  However, taking single words out of context may not provide the proper tense, conjugation. In that case consult your local university language or English (probably the medieval/renaissnace literature professors) to make sure you are accurate.
Well done for your care, questioning, sesearch/resourcefulness.  You'll go far if that is your mind-set and work ethic!
on March 25, 2015 9:12am
Why hasn't anyone mentioned Liber Usualis?  There are many beautiful hymns and Psalms there, all in Latin.  The book is available in PDF form online and probably from libraries.  If in doubt, Google it!
on March 26, 2015 5:49am
I agree with Scott Dean and Antonio Pavao's suggestions - between these two sources you will have beautiful pre-existing texts. I highly recommend using a pre-existing text rather than starting from scratch. Composers do this all the time. Good luck!!!
on March 26, 2015 12:31pm
Hi, Ivan,
I'm a recreational singer and this is one of my pet projects. It amazes me how many singers just don't seem to care what the words mean!!
The two most most useful websites I have used for church Latin, are
William Whitaker's Words -
This website allows you to enter latin words or phrases and get back a word by word translation, with partrs of speech and some alternate meanings.
This website will sell you (the ones I've bought have been in the $4 - 10 range) an interlinear translation, showing the latin, IPA pronunciation guide, and the english, on three succecessive lines.  I've always found the Latin text I've been looking for.
Even after all this, there have been some phrases that still don't make sense, unless I find a layer of Religious meaning or idiom. For instance, the last words of the Te Deum text is "do not let me be CONFOUNDED. " The latin here translates to mean "mixed" or blended" or "confused", which doesn't make any sense to me at all. I beleive it actually means "condemned" or "damned", which makes sense to me within the context of the poem. "Gratias agimus tibi" is another.
Anyway, good luck, and thank you for caring about the meaning of the words !!
on March 27, 2015 9:44am
Many Latin verbs start out with a basic, often physical, meaning that eventually acquires a whole spectrum of senses. The root verb "fundo" means to pour or pour out; so "confundo" is to pour together (like milk into coffee), thus mix or blend. But eventually it took on the sense of things being mixed together that shouldn't be (ketchup and coffee), resulting in disarray, confusion, etc. Think of "all mixed up." The phrase here is the second half od the first verse of Psalm 30/31, which is in contrast to the first half: Lord, I have put my trust in you; never let me be put to shame. The whole psalm is a prayer for deliverance. Context is often the best clue to a word's specific meaning. 
As for Gratias agimus tibi, the verb "ago" basically means to do, to set in motion, and is used in so many contexts that there are many possible translations. In this phrase it means to express thanks, so "We give thanks to you." "We thank you" would be a perfectly good translation also (Latin doesn't have a verb meaning to thank), but the former probably seems more elegant in the context of a prayer. 
on March 28, 2015 8:16am
Composers often search for and fall in love with an existing text (in any language) before setting it to music, and there are so many inspirational texts to be found. Like others have suggested, using an existing Latin poem or phrase that has meaning to you (after you've read the translation) would be much safer than trying to write one yourself. Try a web search for Latin poetry or Latin text and see what you find. There's lots to choose from!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 15, 2015 4:16pm
I've gotten no luck trying to find a latin scholar/proffessor so I thought, "Why not post them here?". If anyone could help me out with this text it would be much appreciated. It won't matter what my musical intention was. As long as I know exactly what those emglish words below need to be translated to. Thank you.


My attempt:

Auxilium - Help

Laudamuste, Laudate - We praise you, Praise

Auxilium mecum - Help me

Dimittimus mecum - Forgive me

Quoniam infirmus sum - For I am weak

Christum mecum, auxilium Christum mecum - Christ with me, Christ, help me

Patior in peccatum - I suffer in sin

Salvum mihi iterum invenerit me peccatum - You save me, then again sin finds me

Sed vos: Da mihi quoque spem - But you give me hope

Ad alium diem vivere - To live another day


* italics - The words that I wanted to translate.





on April 16, 2015 5:35am

You have been fortunate enough to receive a lot of excellent advice already. Your words illustrate the pitfalls well. It is a lengthy process to learn another language's meanings and to understand how words sound and relate to one another.

My suggestion if you really want to set Latin is to go ahead with your words as they are, mistakes and all. The English reads as a personal prayer. God, I believe, is a kinder translator than Google and interprets our hearts rather than our precise words. You also avoid the need for permissions or acknowledgements. You are writing as a learning experience. When you find out more about Latin, you will see how easily mistakes happen. You shouldn't let that stop you from trying out your musical ideas. That also takes practice and experience but you have to start somewhere. Even with mistakes in the words, your music could still make sense played by a string ensemble or organist.

There is one shortcut to better Latin. After a bit of study (at least enough to distinguish between 'das' - 'you give' - and 'da' - 'You! Give!' ) you can use a Latin version of the Psalms as a prayer-based phrase book.
Search the English for whole phrases, never for single words. Then work out the corresponding Latin. It won't always be word-for-word. 'ad alium diem' means more 'not now' rather than 'some more'. If you can't find your original phrase, try a different way of expressing it and search for that instead. You won't find 'Christ', but 'Lord' is in there.

My advice remains to stick with your existing words, English or Latin, and start writing the music. Treat the mistakes as part of education. This is your project, after all.
Best wishes,
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