This article is designed to address the importance of the consideration of the use of primary sources and their importance. I have already previously talked about this particular subject, this one is a little more focused than the previous articles I have written. This one focuses on the importance of knowledge of the primary language of the document and how important it is to realise that unless you are reading the original there will be some interpretation.
First of all let me give a lot of respect to those members of the fencing community who have taken the time to take manuals in foreign languages and translated and made them available for us to use. With regard to this, and in no particular order, I would like to cite the works of individuals like Ken Mondschein, Jared Kirby, Tom Leoni, Guy Windsor and Mark Rector. Your contributions to the field are most greatly appreciated and clearly benefit what western martial artists do.
The importance of the use of primary texts in an investigation into any field cannot be overstated. This is one of the reasons why I have gone back to my Saviolo and 1594 di Grassi. Even the most faithful translation of a text from another language into modern English results in some input from the translator, there is no way to avoid it. This can be as complex as the general simplification of word groups to the simple interpretation of single words to mean others. Further to this where there is translation and then interpretation there is further changes made to the original text, there is most definitely input present from the person performing it.
This does not even take into account some of the issues that can abound in this area. The first is failures in translation where the words have been misinterpreted to mean other things. Further to this which often follows is the failure in the interpretation of the person describing the skills presented in the original text. Often this results in actions which the author did not intend. Added to this there are language issues which must be contended with as some words simply do not translate well into English, many examples of these can be found.
Does this mean that we should discard all secondary or even tertiary texts? No. They are still useful. They provide interesting different points of view for us to look at. They also provide interesting information which can lead from the interpretation and even further understanding of texts. These secondary and tertiary texts are also a good place for the beginner researcher to begin their research. These are mostly in plain language which makes them easy to understand and thus provide an open door for the beginner so they do not have to attempt to deal with something which is more detailed and thus more confusing for them. These texts still deserve their due and their authors our admiration for the work they have produced.
I have already stated that I have gone back in my research to Vincentio Saviolo's His Practice in Two Books of 1595 and Giacomo di Grassi's His True Art of Defense of 1594. It is because these manuals are written in English. Now it is true that di Grassi's is a translation of the 1570 Italian version of the manual, but even without reference to the previous manual it stands as a most useful text. What needs to be noted here and this is important is that they are written in Elizabethan English, which is not Present Day English. This means that it is not "our" English and this still results in some interesting turns of phrase and other linguistic issues. This has resulted in some interesting situations and many re-reads of the texts, however the language is much closer to my native language and thus I believe these hurdles I can cover.
In our research we must consider exactly where our information is coming from and, if possible, attempt to access those sources which are the closest to the original texts as possible. Secondary and tertiary texts should not be discarded out of hand, but their origins should be considered, along with the interpretation of the author of these texts. Care needs to be taken in research, and special attention paid to the sources that we use and their original texts.