The hardest part, I find, about the philosophical vocabulary of Sanskrit is not its enormity or its technicality, but the fact that it includes a couple of “basic” or even “common-sense” words whose import, in any given context, can be difficult to determine and impossible to translate. I’ll focus on prāp- right now, since I think that is the hardest, but many of these remarks could equally apply to gam-, bhū-, jñā-, sādh-, etc.
The first problem is the impossibility of word-for-word translation, which results from the impossibility of translating Sanskrit words, with all of their amazing suffixes, into corresponding English words. We don’t have productive causative suffixes, for example. Big deal, you might say. But let’s say we decide to translate prāp- with “obtain,” or “apply,” or “attain.” These translations might work in some cases, but what about derivatives like prāpti? “Obtainment” isn’t English. “Application” is different. “Attainment” works in some contexts but not in others. Then we have the choice of rendering suffixed formations with paraphrases: “causes to attain” and so on. But when these pile up, the English paraphrase becomes unintelligible: something is to be caused to be attained, or the instrument of causing to attain, or a thing that causes something else to be attained.
For these reasons, I suppose, most scholars have tried to translate the meaning rather than the words. But this involves a judgment about what the meaning in fact is. I am thinking in this context of the translations of prāpaṇīya- in Dharmottara’s exposition of Dharmakīrti’s Nyāyabindu. Stcherbatsky translated it as “definitively realized” (importing the notion of adhyavasāna into the translation). Arnold translated it as “intended,” because he saw the problem that Dharmottara was addressing in terms of the modern debate about intentionality. I have to say I prefer McCrea and Patil’s simple and literal translation of “attainable.”
In the case of Dharmottara, we can see that “attaining” an object and its “attainability” is related to the criterion of practical efficacy on the one hand. On the other hand, it is the cognition itself that “causes us to attain” the object and therefore makes it “attainable” by presenting it to our awareness in a certain form—which leads me to think that “presentation” is not a bad translation for the causative prāp-I- in this epistemological sense.
In the context of the discussion of rules within Mīmāṃsā, prāpta- refers to something that is “given.” Although “given,” in English, is a funny word when you think about it, and prāpta- is no less complex. Frequently we are asked to imagine what would be the case if a certain rule did not operate; what is prāpta- is “given” but only hypothetically, or indeed counterfactually. And we can see that this evolves out of a longstanding idiom in Mīmāṃsā (and other learned discourse) where prāp- and its derivatives refer to the horizon of our expectations: kiṃ prāptaṃ, what would we expect? But these naive and even colloquial uses are, in some texts anyway, enlisted to do some heavy philosophical lifting. Again, I am thinking of the discourse on rules, where the question is precisely how a rule can apply (a condition that is itself called prāpti-) or refer to something that is “not given” (aprāpte). Don’t certain things (what things?) have to be “given” in order for us to sensibly understand rules, even rules that generate a new obligation, in the first place?
I may just be confusing myself, but these are some of the issues in producing accessible translations of Sanskrit texts for English-speaking readers: you want to be readable, but you also want to make clear the conceptual connections that are inherent in the choice of Sanskrit words; you want to relate to contemporary discussions, or at least be relatable to those discussions, but you don’t want to insert your own judgments into the text. Or do you? What other words fall into this category? What solutions have you come up with?