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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Pretentious Language

I just found this webpage (click on the link above) which is a transcript of an interview conducted on the Voice of America radio program Wordmaster. Ken Smith, an author, is interviewed, and he says some of the same things I have often felt about how people use alternate ways of speaking to accomplish different purposes.

Have you ever heard someone start out "I am cognizant of the fact that ..."? How do you feel when you hear that? Would it have the same meaning (but not social impact) if they had simply said "I know that ..." In my college English class, where our professor helped me improve my English writing a great deal, the answer would have been clear. Our professor would have said, "Just write 'I know that ...' or 'I have become aware of the fact that'!" Is this dumbing down of English? No, not in the least. Stop and think for awhile about what might motivate someone to use Latinate-influenced English such as "I am cognizant of the fact that ..."

Here's another one, this time from some English Bibles, "... in all my remembrance of you" (Phil. 1:3) Is there any logical, linguistic, theological, or other principled reason why this could not be worded, instead, in standard English as "... every time I remember you"? What principle of Bible translation would call for us to use the convoluted, Latinate-influenced (the word "remembrance" is Latinate in origin), and periphrastic (not paraphrastic) wording "... in all my remembrance of you"?

What other examples of convoluted, Latinate, or pretentious (even unintended) English have you found in English Bibles? Why don't you post some examples by clicking on the Comment link following this message. You can log in as Anonymous, or even better, as "Other", or, of course, if you already have a Blogger username, please use that.


At Sat Apr 30, 06:12:00 PM, Anonymous Mike said...


I agree and disagree with you at the same time! My undergrad was in Comm Theory, so I appreciate the importance of clarity in our writing. We can be pretentious - I was going to say pedantic or ostentatious, but suddenly I'm self-conscious - by using more precise words that are less familiar instead of a general term that most will understand.

On the other hand, there are times when a writer wants to create a certain mood or tone through the "sounds" of the words she chooses, the pace, meter, or whatever. Word choice, punctuation, and other factors become important at those times.

Emerson once said - actually, he may have said or written it several times - that "the fact that you speak of is of no importance, but only the impression it makes." There is much truth in that - although to say so may be ironic.

At any rate, I like your blog and am glad you are blogging!

At Sat Apr 30, 07:21:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Hi Mike, thanks for your comments. I'm glad you can both agree and disagree with me. That's the way it should be, as I understand it from the Bible itself, "iron sharpening iron" (Prov. 27:17).

As far as I can tell, I agree with everyone you said. It's nice to have someone from a Comm. Theory background interacting on this blog, since there is so much about Comm. Theory that is important to Bible translation.

Clarity is only one important factor for good Bible translation. IMO, accuracy is even more important. There are a number of other important factors. Your comments about tone, mood, etc. are all crucial for communication, including communication through God's Word via translation.



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