Translations, broadly speaking, are of two types. Type A translations are committed to the source text and its idiosyncrasies; Type B translations, to the idiosyncrasies of the target language and the felt needs of a particular demographic for whom the translation is designed. I use “types” in the sense of Weberian ideal types. In practice, translations are compromises. Types A and B are relative, not absolute categories.
The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation (CJPS), which I reviewed in a 4-post series (start here) and whose principles and goals are further discussed here (note the comment thread with contributions by CJPS revising editor David Stein), is a type B gender-sensitive translation (as stated in its preface, p. ix; in the same preface and elsewhere, David Stein makes a case for the view that CJPS is also a type A gender-sensitive translation). That is, CJPS seeks to provide a translation that is acceptable in the eyes of a readership for whom male-gendered language in some contexts is problematic. Male-gendered language which has men and women in mind is reprehensible from this readership’s point of view. So is male-gendered language which has only men in mind, when “by rights” men and women should be addressed. For the same demographic, male social gender ascribed to God is problematic. Apart from pronouns and other terms that refer back to irreducibly male entities in the narrative stream, male-gendered language is avoided in CJPS and other translations like it. If source-text diction has to be modified to accommodate this end, so be it.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with a translation that makes concessions to the sensibilities of a particular demographic. In fact, all translations do, to differing degrees. For example, it is now a universal practice, in translations of the Hebrew Bible designed for a non-scholarly audience, to render the Tetragrammaton, not by an approximately accurate phonetic equivalent of the same, as is done for the names of other deities in the same text (Baal, Nabu, Chemosh, etc.), but by some stand-in hallowed by tradition, like Lord. “Lord” is a type B translation of יהוה .
Nonetheless, a Type A gender-sensitive translation is not in the business of making concessions to modern sensibilities. It seeks to preserve gendered language found in the source text. Gendered language with metaphorical weight is represented with care; in conformity with target language options and constraints; so is grammatical gender, as the default option. A Type A gender-sensitive translation pursues this goal at the cost of using equivalents that are sometimes less natural or up-to-date than alternatives.
I will note up front: type A gender-sensitive translation is not about following an algorithm that works it way up from an analysis of the genderedness of individual items in the textual stream. It is about capturing the degree of genderedness, overt and covert (for us, covert to the point of missing it, since we bring different cultural presuppositions to the text), of entire discourses. Since the goal is to be faithful to the idiosyncrasies of the source text in full awareness of the fact that, as George Lakoff and many others point out, the reception of communication involves perceiving things holistically, as a single gestalt, contextual implications and covert cultural presuppositions are not, for translation, beside the point.
In my next post, I give an example of what I mean by type A gender-sensitive translation.
Mona Baker, ed.; Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (London: Routledge, 2001); George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); Jeremy Munday, Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications (2nd ed.; London: Routledge, 2008); Jeremy Munday, ed.; The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies (London: Routledge, 2009); Daniel Weissbort and Ástráður Eysteinsson, eds.; Translation - Theory and Practice: A Historical Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006)