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Wayne Leman

John, you wrote:

I’m skeptical of this approach. It’s best to start with a literal translation, and paraphrase that.

I think the ultimate question, John, is "best" for whom?

Most English readers do not understand and cannot understand literalisms in formal equivalent translations. They cannot understand them unless they are taught them. But why teach them the meaning of the literalisms when we can simply teach them the biblical languages texts?

Testing of Bible translations with people who do not have the many years of exposure to Bible English that you and I have has shown time and time again that the kinds of translation Rich is promoting communicate the original meaning of the biblical texts more accurately to English readers. If our ultimate goal is accuracy of communication of what the biblical authors were writing, then we need to think about the needs of non-biblicized audiences. Of course, you have, and you already know the tension between accuracy to the forms of the biblical languages and accuracy to their meaning.

Our four children grew up in a church where the pulpit Bible was the Good News Bible. They are intelligent adults now (they were intelligent children in the past!) with their own children. When they try to read formal equivalent translations now, they have difficulty. I don't think people should have difficulty reading a translation of the Bible. The Bible's language (notice "language", not ideas!) was understandable to almost everyone in its audiences when it was written.

It seems to me that we should aim for the same thing for most English speakers today. For all the rest, there's MasterCard, whoops, I mean, formal equivalent translations, which beautifully show us the Hebrew and Greek figures of speech and much of their syntax, but which we need "language lessons" for to understand.

Jesus spoke the language of his audiences. Somehow he even communicated to the Samaritan woman at the well. I think we owe it to our audiences to communicate to them in their own languages as well.

I understand what you are saying. I, too, love biblical figurative language. But Bible translations which are not written in the language of the majority of English speakers are speciality Bibles, for a unique audience, people like you and me and those we teach Bible English.

JohnFH

Thanks, Wayne, for making the opposite argument well.

As I'm sure you are aware, some of your statements are paradoxical. In the five or six modern languages I read the Bible in, both formal equivalent and dynamic equivalent translations are available. Without exception, I think, the dynamic equivalent translations (Good New Bibles and equivalents; The Message and equivalents) are the niche or specialty Bibles. The formal equivalent translations dominate the market.

Is TNIV going to translate 'bear the authority of Moses' in Matthew 23:2, as Rich suggests, rather than 'sit in Moses' seat'? I doubt it. I think that's because, like most best-selling Bibles in English, an attempt is made to do two things at once: produce a translation that is readable and faithful to the sense of the original, but also to be as conservative as possible in terms of preserving biblical figures of speech and other culture-specific elements in the source text.

I also think the argument that someone who grows up on a Good News Bible-only diet will find a translation like NRSV or TNIV difficult is a non-starter. I've heard the same kind of thing from people who grew up on an RSV-only diet. Some of them find a translation like GNB confusing.

My advice to both crowds: get over it. An RSV/ESV/NIV/TNIV or similar Bible reader can learn plenty from reading a translation like GNB/CEV/NLT or the Message. Vice versa, a GNB/CEV/NLT reader can learn plenty from reading a RSV/ESV/NIV/TNIV translation.

For example, GNB-only readers will spot connections within scripture in a formal equivalent translation they might miss in GNB. That's because formal equivalent translations use concordant translation technique to a greater degree than a translation like GNB.

RSV/ESV-only readers will understand passages that were obscure to them if they read GNB. At the very least, the GNB will force them to rethink passages they thought they already understood.

Ros

Whey is a nasty whitish/yellowish liquid that gets left when milk has formed into curds (that become cheese).

And I'm with you, I'd rather have words on the page and do the work in my head. Because I know I'm not an ancient Israelite or Greek, so I'm expecting to have to think about what these things mean a bit harder than I do when I'm reading something from my own cultural milieu. I thought the HP analogy was very helpful, though as an English person who did go to boarding school, it was probably easier for me to translate than for many people!

JohnFH

Puke! No wonder the spider went after Miss Muff. Served her right for eating foul stuff.

Wayne Leman

The formal equivalent translations dominate the market.

But this only proves what the biblically literate public wants. Notice who are buying the FE translations.

That's because formal equivalent translations use concordant translation technique to a greater degree than a translation like GNB.

Including when the meaning in different in different contexts, which is a form of inaccuracy.

RSV/ESV-only readers will understand passages that were obscure to them if they read GNB.

My fieldtesting shows just the opposite. Empirical studies demonstrate that the majority of English speakers find FE translations obscure.

One size does not fit all. FE translations can be used by biblicized audiences. They do not communicate accurately to the majority of English speakers. The proof is in the testing. Yumm! :-)

JohnFH

"Empirical studies demonstrate that the majority of English speakers find FE translations obscure."

I admit that DE translations clear up obscure passages, for example, by building stark interpretive choices into the translation of the kind I make, too, but at the level of post-translation exegesis if a FE translation seems necessary to preserve the text's capacity to resonate inter-textually.

I like field-testing, but an awful lot depends on how one sets the test up. Field testing also purports to show that most people, even people who claim to accord great worth to the Bible, don't have a clue as to what it says.

But that is plainly false. It all depends on the questions you ask, how you ask them, and to whom you ask them.

Anyway, let me report the results of life-long informal field testing on my part. I've polled, so to speak, the people in the parishes I've served, a skewed sample, but also the one that interests me on an immediate basis. I would divide my sample into two classes.

(1) Those that read the Bible devotionally, and/or are very attentive in church. They know the Bible pretty well, and they seem to understand it no matter what translation they read it in. Their translation preferences are all over the map, though in some sense they reflect market trends.

(2) Those that do not read the Bible devotionally, and prefer the storytelling to the exegesis I do during a sermon. This category finds the Bible pretty obscure in any translation. They might momentarily "get" the passage better in a DE translation, but the contents don't stick with them on a consciously repeatable level anyway. Are these folks lesser Christians than their bros and sisses in the faith some of whom know their Schofield Reference Bible backwards and forwards? Not necessarily. That's because, at some level, the contents of the Bible can be summed up in just a few phrases, and even if someone is unable to spew even those phrases out, and only vaguely recalls the creed, she/he may still know the Bible's message, not in words, but in the flesh.

On the other hand, I want to commend your efforts at encouraging even FE, LE, and RE promoters like me to choose natural language equivalents wherever possible. It's true: FE translations are unnecessarily obscure in many places.

Carl W. Conrad

Well, you've already said that you agree with Rich Rhodes more than you disagree. I do think that poetry requires a more complex approach to translation than prose discourse about concrete empirical matters: one does indeed want to convey the impact of form and rhetorical force and connotative overtones. I guess what bothers me most about the way the argument has been formulated here is that it has too much the appearance of an "either/or" choice. No translation of any substantive text, it seems to me, can convey it fully; I really believe the old proverb, "traduttori traditori."

JohnFH

The example Rich Rhodes gives illustrates the dilemma of the translator well.

What is the best thing to do, calque the phrase in the source text with 'sit in the seat/chair of Moses,' or dissolve the figure of speech with an abstraction like 'administer/bear the authority of Moses'?

The following equivalent is found in the Talmud:

קתדרא דמשה

cathedra de-Moshe

The reference is to what is called the almemar (from the Arabic al-minbar 'chair, pulpit֚') or bimah ('platform, pulpit') from which the Torah is read in the synagogue to this day.

Lingamish

a translation that strives for formal, semantic, and stylistic equivalence at the same time

As a philologist, I'm right with you. But as a populist I don't give a hoot about stylistic equivalence. Just express it in natural language. That's what the original writers were doing. The Gospels are at times influenced by Aramaic but 99% of it is just plain old Koine.

and learn a text with its sticky indigestible details adhering to its skin

That's a glorious metaphor even if I disagree with the point you're making. When we leave something "indigestible" when it was "delectable" in the original we have ruined the recipe.

Too much inner-biblical resonance is lost if the paraphrase is adopted. People sit and teach in the Bible. People, God, sit and judge.

In this case I agree. I'm exceedingly reluctant to abandon a Biblical idiom unless it is meaningless or misleading. It could mean "they have the right to teach God's law" or "they have authority" or as I argued in my post "they have usurped their authority." The context makes it pretty clear so I would vote for retaining the idiom and footnoting an explanation.

Paraphrase after, not before.

This is daft. You learned the same nursery rhymes that Anna did and as an adult you still don't know what they are talking about. Raise a child on a diet of stilted English and it might stick in their heads but it will never reach their hearts. You're throwing out the curds and asking us to feed our children whey.

Well, I'll calm down now. And bless you for using Typepad. I've tried unsuccessfully three times to leave a comment on Rich's post.

JohnFH

Lingamish says I'm daft, not deft, when I say: paraphrase after, not before. 'Course that's what he does when he, like me, sticks with the figure of speech in translation and footnotes it thereafter.

But he has a point. I would rephrase my dictum. Paraphrase before and after, as many times and as in many ways as you need to, but do not throw out, if at all possible, the figures of speech of the source text in straight translation.

Sometimes a neologism is worth trying. How many neologisims did Bible translators of previous generations introduce, often with communicative success? Who's afraid of the big bad wolf of a new coinage? I'm not. Poets coin anew all the time.

Can we know beforehand if the new coin will be treasured and traded? Probably not.

2odd2notBfoundout

You eat ricotta cheese - you eat whey. I just knew before researching it that it was good for you especially if you were young or ill.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whey
Whey is used to produce ricotta and brown cheeses and many other products for human consumption

http://www.milchindustrie.de/en/all_about_whey/what_makes_whey_valuable/nutritional_value.html
The wide range of positive qualities and effects of whey - appreciated even back in ancient times - are what makes whey and whey products so nutritionally valuable. A fact which extensive research has repeatedly proved.

The point I want to make is if, dynamic equivalence is so helpful, why are there always new dynamic equivalence translations coming on to the market? Weren't the first ones satisfactory? Does language change so much that even after a decade another translation is needed? If our actions always speak louder than words, does moving the goal posts through the words we choose when translating have any real effect at all other than to satisfy our desire to make the written word more understandable? (And of course I know that I am using some much-used but still understandable cliches - like "the seat of Moses".)
When we were little we had a rhyme: "I'm the king of the castle and you're the dirty rascal" which was most effective when said from a great height. Leaving it as "the seat of Moses" leaves it open to a wider ranging area of interpretation and understanding. Has any child never experienced some child cheekily sitting in the teacher's chair? Haven't we as adults understood the action of someone sitting in the boss's chair when the boss is out of the room? The chair comes from our Western culture but sitting in someone's seat (= where they sit down) surely carries across all cultures. People with authority and power have special places where they sit and everyone knows it and does not try to take their place without conveying their attitudes especially when they are actually sitting in that spot.

JohnFH

Thanks, 2odd, for chipping in here and making your points, which I share, with great eloquence.

Ricotta is something I understand. I remember being served warm ricotta by well-meaning ladies of my parishes in Italy, when I was under the weather. Can't say that I like it, but I appreciated the thought.

I see you've started blogging. I wish you well with it.

Rich Rhodes

John,

We've had some connection problems for the last few days, or I would have responded sooner. As I mentioned in the post I put up earlier today there are choices we have to make in translation. We can't have it all.

That said, it is often thought that we dynamic equivalence types think that attention to wording is unimportant. I certainly don't believe that. I believe that there is a lot of precision in translation that is only possible using dynamic equivalence.

What I do think is that in translation you can't expect to save much in the way of allusions, word play, or anything else that depends on on the form of the wording rather than its reference. Sometimes you can approximate it or imitate it (as I did in the poem in my my post on nostalgia last year). But doing so comes at some cost in the precision of the reference. Sometimes you can do something else that suggests the allusion or word play. (There are translators who work that way.)

But I also think that there is a much larger percentage of the Scripture that doesn't raise this kind of problem than the ongoing discussion suggests, especially in the NT.

I also think that we haven't fully sorted out different kinds of problems which require different kinds of translational solutions.

JohnFH

Thanks, Rich, for joining the discussion on this blog.

First of all, I note some broad agreement on the level of general principles. No translation, as you say, can do it all. I fully agree with a statement by one of my teachers, Michael Fox, who said the following:

"Translation is a form of mapping . . . . There are different maps for different purposes, and recognizing this allows for a pluralistic approach to translation."

That said, I think DE promoters aim too low. Why not strive for dynamic equivalence at the rhetorical, stylistic, and metaphorical levels? Why content oneself with mere referential equivalence?

Furthermore, in an earlier post I much enjoyed, you made a helpful distinction between first-order and second-order referential accuracy. I argued in reply that first-order referential accuracy is unlikely to be achieved if the stylistic choices of the original are not respected. Based on other comments you have made, I believe you too are dissatisfied when, where the original language text has something like “Ouch!,” GNB has something like “It hurts me” instead.

Second-order referential accuracy isn't enough; an excellent DE translation will also strive for first-order, or "Ouch!"-level referential accuracy.

Perhaps you will not be surprised to hear that I don't think your proposed 'bear the authority of Moses' in place of 'sit in the chair of Moses' achieves "Ouch!" level referential accuracy. That level of accuracy cannot be achieved if you take a metaphor and replace it with an abstraction. Please, find a DE metaphor.

I am an avid reader, as you might have guessed, and I even read a bit of linguistics. I find your colleagues Kiparsky, Inkelas, and so on in the field of prosody to be brilliant though almost not worth the effort to make sense of all the jargon. The fact is, I'm an artsy fart at heart, so a piece like the following, entitled: "Lost in Translation," speaks to me more directly:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/43210

This is how Pevear, a master translator of Russian lit who consciously sets the bar higher than his predecessors, puts it:

"You could tell people what is portrayed in Rembrandt's 'Return of the Prodigal Son' and move them deeply. But the telling would have little to do with the experience of looking at the unique disposition of color, light, space, scale, line, texture, brushwork in Rembrandt's painting, which also happens to depict the return of the prodigal son. It is the same with a work in words. Words have color, shade, tone, texture, rhythm, pacing, disposition, structure; they can quote, echo, parody other words; they can be unexpected, infinitely suggestive, mercurial; they can also beat and repeat like a drum. That is the nature of Tolstoy's artistic medium; his 'story' comes clothed in all these elements of style as he alone used them, and which alone create the impression he wanted to make. Of course he used them 'instinctively,' and not for the sake of effect (though he was a far more conscious and even experimental stylist than is sometimes thought). The translator, on the other hand, has to do consciously what the author did instinctively. And yet it must seem instinctive—that's the final test."

I trust my translation ideals shine through this quotation, and illustrate well where we differ.

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  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.