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Steve Pable

Hi John! A few thoughts:

1) "Septuagintalizing"? I think I learned a new word today! ;)

2) I don't think the term "register" came up during the course of our English-speaking Catholic transition to updated Mass texts, but it may have been helpful if it had. I don't know if you heard much about this, but the entire Roman Missal was re-translated from Latin to English, and rolled out with the first Sunday of Advent in 2011. One obvious change has been what you would term a more formal or literary "register" in the prayers. Personally, I am more partial to it, but you risk in some places incredibly awkward and drawn-out phrases that try to emulate the original Latin syntax. It's far from perfect!

3) You mention that the Greek of the synoptic Gospels was considered "rude & crude"; I seem to recall that some of the earliest Church Fathers (Justin Martyr or Irenaeus or Origen, perhaps?) found this rather a stumbling block initially. But I think it may have been Irenaeus who cleverly employed it as an example of the divine pedagogy, that God's words in unpolished language is a sort of analog to the Incarnation. Is there evidence that you know of to indicate that the Biblical text ultimately shaped the literature? (In style, I mean-- of course it shaped the substance of writing and preaching.)

JohnFH

Hi Steve,

Great comments. A few responses.

(1) In composing a prose narrative in Koine Greek, an author normally wrote in long, complex sentences whose parts were tied together by an array of syntactic markers. Narrative prose in the Septuagint on the other hand, since it hews to the structure of the underlying Hebrew, has a paratactic style ("and ... and ... and ...," plus an occasional "and it came to pass"). It has a peculiar flavor, like that of King James narrative prose of the same text blocs (Gen-2 Kgs including Ruth; 1-2 Chronicles). Luke begins his Gospel in good literary Greek (1:1-4) then abruptly shifts and imitates that of the Septuagint (1:5-2:52). Style shifting also occurs within 3:1-2. Insofar as Luke follows his sources, on the other hand, the Greek he employs is unadorned, rude and crude as I have termed it.

(2) I am in general agreement with what the Catholic Church is attempting to do in the shift, both in Bible translation and liturgy, to greater formal equivalence. It is the kind of thing one is likely to do if one believes in the communion of saints. It is an excellent way to foster intelligibility across time and space and multiple languages, of the grammar and vocabulary of the faith. Still, I think that stilted syntax should be avoided.

(3) I realize now how helpful it would be if Auerbach's entire Mimesis was available online. My original comments thereto, now revised, still cry out for explanation. In the Wikipedia entry for Mimesis, it is correctly stated that the thesis of chapter 7, "Adam and Eve," is that:

The Bible will ultimately be responsible for the "mixed style" of Christian rhetoric, a style that is described by Auerbach in chapter seven as the "antithetical fusion" or "merging" of the high and low style. The model is Christ's Incarnation as both sublimitas and humilitas.

End quote.

I don't remember offhand which early Christian writers turned what looked like a negative to literate people of their time into a positive. But you are right that they did so. The subject matter is also taken up by Jerome with respect to Latin and "Hebrew truth" - Old Testament scripture.

Tim Bulkeley

Isn't it too simple to speak of the register of the Bible, or even of a book or section? Surely the question before translators is what is the relative register of this chunk relative to the overall impression of the whole corpus? And that is what no translators seem to do consistently... but as you note the opening of Luke should sound "literary" much of the rest "biblical" and so on...

JohnFH

Hi Tim,

That's right, you see my drift. Take an example from the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth. It instantiates a careful adherence to the classic idioms of prose narrative. The frame narrative has none of the jerkiness and incompleteness associated with oral narrative. Thus the frame narrative of Ruth 2:6-7, v. 6a, is verbose and precise at the same time. The oral narrative, vv.6b-7, is on the other hand, the second element in an adjacency pair. Its grammar reflects that. As is typical of a short oral report, the speaker shoots off one observation after another in short order. Moreover, as has often been noted, the elders in the book of Ruth speak elderese when quoted. It would be worth the effort to capture the style switching in translation.

Up to the present, virtually all translations have leveled these differences, but in different directions on the formality scale. The generalization I offer still stands, for what generalizations are worth, that is, the Bible as a whole is situated on the left side of the formality scale.

Derrick Tate

Here are some links relevant to the question of the register of the Roman Missal.

(They are written from a perspective critical of the new missal. Since the posts present multiple translations for comparison, however, one can decide for his/herself.)

http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/tag/gabe-huck/

http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2011/07/05/xavier-rindfleisch-reprise/

JohnFH

Thanks, Derrick.

I haven't thought about the Missal changes in detail, except for the change from "with you" to "with your spirit." I can think of many reasons why the "your spirit" is best retained.

Gary Simmons

It's good to see you posting again, John -- and what a wonderful topic it is!

I still can't turn my linguistic instincts off in situations to observe others' (and my own) register, either.

Instances in which my employer and his wife would normally speak to one another in Chinese, for instance. If he begins with an English loanword, he may continue the sentence in English even if it is a situation in which he would normally speak in Chinese.

Things like that. Or how I tend to use "uhh" before sentences when trying to communicate in pidgin with the kitchen chef, who himself has that habit.

Not completely relevant, but my point is that register is worth noting and discussing. I feel frustrated with most English translations today for shooting too low, with a few for shooting too high, and with just about all of them for evening it out, simplifying, sanitizing, correcting (wayyiqtol "had formed", anyone?) and having unhelpful and sparse footnotes (NET excepted).

JohnFH

Good to hear from you, Gary.

We are definitely in agreement.

Angela Erisman

"But it is possible to make the truth more familiar than it actually is."

A provocative (because challengingly true) thought, John. It also strikes me that there is a danger in doing this, though I can't yet quite articulate it. I think it has something to do with cultivating the impression that the truth is easy, when in fact it is usually understood only after much thought, serious critical engagement, and life experience and our ability to articulate it is always evolving.

batzi

"But it is possible to make the truth more familiar than it actually is."

What exactly do you mean by that?

John Hobbins

Hi Batzion,

Translations tend to omit elements in the diction of the original that sound strange in the target language. For example, Russian names feature patterns that seem strange to non-Russians: why not alter the names to accommodate patterns in the target language. Some translations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky novels do this very thing; others require the reader of the novel in translation to learn a new set of conventions. Concepts which are no longer understandable to many are sometimes omitted in translation. For example, Some translations of the Bible leave to one side references to expiation, atonement, and forensic justification because these are means or metaphors of salvation that are unfamiliar to many. But what if the truth the passage is trying to convey *is* unfamiliar, and requires unfamiliar concepts and idioms to come to expression?

Such is the case more often than many realize. Simplifying translations make the truth the text seeks to convey more familiar than it actually is.

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