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In the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud, there is a widely used word "קא", like in the sentence והא קא קרי (in Berahot 13:1).

What is the best way to translate it to Hebrew or English? Or maybe just skip it?

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Off topic...... –  Double AA Jun 26 '12 at 11:17
@DoubleAA the intention was not purely translating Aramaic, I've asked it for deeper understanding of Talmud texts. –  jutky Jun 26 '12 at 11:56
If Jastrow gave up on translating it you're not likely to get a good answer. Online Jastrow: tyndalearchive.com/TABS/Jastrow –  Dov F Jun 26 '12 at 12:28
@jutky It doesn't matter what you are going to use the translation for. The question is asking for a translation and is thus off topic. –  Double AA Jun 26 '12 at 18:24
@DoubleAA +9, still off topic? –  Yehoshua Apr 4 '13 at 18:18
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1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

(Moved from comment section):

The word קא indicates that the action is on-going or in the state of being done. It corresponds to the English prefix a-, which used to be used much more frequently but now is uncommon in the Enlish of the northern United States yet it is still very common in the Enlish of the southern United States.

Here are some examples in English taken from songs and demonstrating all tenses: 1. She was a-rocking and a-rolling. 2. I'm a-coming right now. 3. We will be a-singing and a-dancing all night long.

It has also been incorporated in some words, such as aglow, alight, and afix.

For translating the Aramaic, you could do one of at least three things:

  1. Omit it: Its absence won't make that much difference in English. You might, however, need to add something to the translation of the entire passage in order to be clear that the action is or was in the state of being done. For example, "He was reading when something happened" (i.e., you'd add the word 'when' to clarify that the reading was on-going at the time something else happened).

  2. Use the Old English / Southern United States prefix: "He was a-reading, and something happened." (Note that the 'when' can now be changed to 'and' or even omitted and we still understand that the reading was on-going when something happened.)

  3. Insert further clarifying words, such as: "He was in the process (or, in the act) of reading (and) something happened." These clauses can also be broken into two seperate sentences, as they often are in Aramaic.

Actually, the fact that the Aramaic often seems to be presenting the narrative as two seperate sentences may be why you'd want to translate it as "in the process of" or something like that. If you omit it, the on-going / concurrent nature of the action is not as strongly emphasized, as in:

  1. He was reading. Mar said to him...(whatever he said). In this example, it's not quite as strongly emphasized in the English that he was in the act of reading when Mar said something to him as it is in the Aramaic.

That's why you might want to translate it as:

  1. He was in the act of reading. Mar said to him...
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Re southern dialect, that should be "He was a-readin'..." –  YDK Jun 26 '12 at 18:44
So you're saying "לקרות והא קא קרי" means "to read? but he is reading [now]!" (imperfective) where "לקרות והא קרי" would mean "to read? but he does [=is able to, or often does] read!" (perfective)? In other words, ka marks the imperfective? (Quotation taken from B'rachos 13:1, mentioned in the question.) –  msh210 Jun 26 '12 at 19:04
@msh210 - I'm sorry I don't understand the terms imperfective and perfective, but I stand by my understanding of קא as indicating that an action is or was on-going. Translation of 13:a - "(You say he must) לקרות read (sh'ma)? (But) this והא (is a case where) he is in the act of reading קא קרי (the passage of sh'ma from the sefer Torah)!" All the stuff in parentheses comes from understanding the entire context of the discussion and is in agreement with how Artscroll and Shteinsaltz understand it and translate it. –  Shemmy Jun 27 '12 at 0:15
@msh210: I just found that the on-line Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL) lists קא as an "aspectual modifier with the participle indicating progressive real activity." It doesn't say anything about it being imperfective, and I know enough linguistics to know that I cannot make that determination. Here's a link to CAL: cal1.cn.huc.edu –  Shemmy Jun 27 '12 at 0:58
@Shemmy Thanks for looking further into it! –  msh210 Jun 27 '12 at 3:34
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