I've been going through Bhikkhu Bodhi's systematic study of the Majjhima Nikaya. Of course, BB has produced a translation of Majjhima Nikaya that many of us refer to. But even he states in his systematic study of his expansion and revision based on Nanamoli's translation,today known as The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, that some of the Pali words are translated there into English in ways that don't convey the whole meaning. For example "taints" is used to describe āsavas. So, BB talks about them at length.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates āsavas as "fermentations", which is totally confusing to me, in my understanding of the word fermentation. Are we making beer in the mind, or ruminating about something or?
These are the contexts where the word fermentation is used in American English, where I live. Fermenting beer, fermenting or brewing troubles in the mind. But āsava means none of that. Just look at wikipedia and how many words in English someone took to explain āsava there. Several hundred English words. Now, if I was just reading suttas, I'd pass over fermentations and ignore it, not having any idea what is being spoken of for lack of cultural context that matches up.
I attend weekly dhamma talks, and we never ever get too far into the talk before there is a discussion where a bhante needs to explain a Pali word and all that it means. If I was sitting in the house reading an English translation I'd never learn these things. So..yes there seems to be value in learning Pali so you don't get steered the wrong way by misunderstanding something that is taken out of the cultural context of Pali and translated in a way that doesn't convey the intended meaning.
Also noted, in Ajahn Sumedho's teachings he frequently refers to the fact that we are limited by our cultural frame of reference and our language. Follow that...if we are studying Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation, well we are also getting his translation through the filter of Jung, Freud and all the other things that were steeped into his mind from the culture that he grew up in, and lives in today.
Good point, Mr Man. When I was learning some foreign languages, I found they have concepts that don't even exist in English. For example in Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese. None of the native English speakers that I know, would even want to convey some of the meanings of the words as they exist in these other languages. For example, saudades in Portuguese, means more or less, I am really, really longing to see you, thinking about old times, can't wait to see you again, need to see you. All of that, in one Portuguese word. It is a word that is way too "needy" for people in my culture to want to express. Here in my country, we wouldn't use such a word if we had it. Everyone wants to be independent, and they don't need anyone, aren't that attached to anyone. So, it's all about culture. Pali too, I think, and understanding the religious culture that uses it, in the tradition as practiced in certain parts of Asia.