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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Which version has your English?

A few weeks ago I posted a survey on my Bible Translation website which asks for people to vote for which English version of the Bible had English which sounded closest to the way they speak and write. Since then I started this blog and thought it would be a good idea to include the same survey here, which I did. Having the survey on this blog probably garnered a few more votes than the survey would have just being on my Bible translation website. But I am new to blogging and still learning how to use the Blogger software and how to make this blog look nicer (for my eyes, anyway!). The survey was working fine. And it looked fine in my usual browser, Internet Explorer. But after a few days I realized that I needed to see how my blog looked in other browsers, for those who use them. I used Mozilla Firefox to access my blog and was startled to find that the box in which the survey appeared threw off formatting for the side margin of my blog. The survey appeared far from its intended location. So, yesterday, as I made further revisions to the blog page, I removed the survey, so that the side margin would look right in both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

But, the survey should look fine in an individual blog entry, so here it is, again, ... hmm, trying, still trying, .... well, I tried several options but I could not get the survey to display properly in this blog entry, and I got error messages about the code, so if you want to vote, please go to my Bible Translation website and vote there. Oh, wait, ... after completing this essay, I tried one more time to include the survey in this blog entry. I deleted one line of code and I think we might have success ... Do we? I think we do, although the survey doesn't look exactly the way it should. But I think it will work. Who wants to try it to find out? :-)









Bible versions English quality
Which English Bible version has wordings closest to how you normally speak and write?

(PLEASE NOTE the key words here are "how you normally speak and write." This is not a survey about your favorite Bible version. ALSO, if you have already voted in this survey on the Bible Translation website, please do not vote again.)


























































King James Version
New International Version
Today's New International
Version
New Living Translation
New American Standard Bible
English Standard Version
Holman Christian Standard Bible
New Revised Standard Version
Good News Translation (TEV)
Contemporary English Version
New Century Version
New King James Version
New American Bible
New Jerusalem Bible
NET Bible
Revised Standard Version
The Message
God's Word
Revised English Bible








Now, surveys like this are not perfect. They are not scientific polls. They only register votes from those who happen to come across my survey on the Internet-- and I don't have nearly the number of visitors that CNN gets for its online surveys!! And of those who see my survey, not all choose to vote.

Furthermore, as you can see from comments posted after you take the survey, some, perhaps many, respondents are not familiar with all of the Bible versions in the survey. So the survey is distorted in that respondents usually only vote for Bible versions with which they are familiar. Some versions, such as the NAB, NJB, TEV (GNT), CEV, NCV, BLB, and ISV are not well known to many who faithfully read and study an English Bible. Sometimes it is not even easy to locate a bookstore that sells the less well known versions.

And sometimes, I suspect, respondents may vote for their favorite version or the one they are most familiar with, perhaps because we are people who are so rushed and do not always understand survey instructions as we might if we took more time to read them, or if they were written more clearly. Besides, for many people, the version they use most probably does seem to them to be written in the language that they normally speak and write. Many people do not think critically about how something is written that they read. They simply read for content, which is the most natural thing to do.

For those who are interested, the American Bible Society sells a number of versions, including less well known versions such as the GNT, CEV, and NJB.

Christianbook.com stocks many different English Bible versions, including the NCV, GNT, NAB, CEV Learning Bible, and the TNIV, which is not sold in some Christian bookstore chains.

Walmart.com stocks the CEV, NCV, as well as several of the more popular English versions.

amazon.com sells the GW (God's Word) translation, CEV, NCV, ISV, TNIV, as well as several other Bible versions.

Please note that this post will slide off the list of active blog entries after so many other entries are added. But visitors to this blog can still access the survey at its link at the top of the right margin of this blog.

And finally, and this is very important, this survey is not about which version is most accurate. Translation accuracy is of great concern to most of us for whom the Bible is important. It can be difficult to vote for a version which has good quality, natural English but which may not be as accurate as some version which has less natural English. The ideal English Bible version has not yet been made and published, one which is judged by biblical scholars to be highly accurate and also judged by English scholars to be written in contemporary, natural English. It is not easy to bring these two important qualities of Bible translation together into a single book, although there are some versions which come close, in my opinion. I think I should save expressing that opinion for another essay sometime, if I even have the courage to tell how I feel then, since feelings run deep about English Bible versions. There is much heat in Bible version debates, and I confess that it is not easy for me to be the recipient of the most strident of criticisms about views of English Bible versions. Even though I, too, have deeply held convictions about Bible translation, I personally prefer a calmer, more collegial exchange of views on hot topics, rather than heated rhetoric. Different strokes for different folks! Most who have strong opinions about Bible versions do so because those opinions are rootly in deeply held convictions about biblical teaching and theology, the nature of language, and whether or not the Bible is meant to be understand by the "man in the street" (or even the woman in the street, if the word "man" does not include everyone in your dialect, which is another hot topic).

What comments do you have to make after reading this blog entry? Click on the Comment link right below this message and write what you think.

Categories: ,

11 Comments:

At Thu Apr 28, 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I found the survey and the results infuriating! I don't know which translation is most like the way I speak and write. I know which I imagine is closest to my language use. But evidently I am not alone in this lack of self knowledge - I seriously doubt that many of your readers really sound like the KJV (at least I hope not for the sake of their friends and family! Frankly, it's just another way of asking: which version do you like?

Though thou mayest know the nature and quality of my speech, even though I wit it not!

 
At Thu Apr 28, 06:18:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Tim, I appreciate your honest expression of concern here. I have been analyzing the language of others and myself for many years. It's my vocation. It's also an avocation. It's a part of me. I probably often forget that not everyone is self-aware about language. What I can do is try to think of better ways of wording my surveys, so that they will not be so infuriating to respondents. For sure, I would welcome ideas from you about how to help people be more aware of whether they are using a Bible version that is in speaks their own heart language. I have created a number of other surveys which do attempt to get at this issue more indirectly than this particular survey does. Unfortunately, the nice Internet service that handled the results from my surveys stopped providing that service, so my surveys now must be graded manually by myself.

Your comment stimulates me to do more. I would like to write one or more blog entries on this topic, and include ideas which can more easily help people discover if they are using a Bible version which is written in their heart language. Thank you for the needed push in that direction. I hope you can return and interact more as I try to develop something further along these lines on this blog.

BTW, I can tell pretty much by the way your worded your message that your style of writing is fairly close to mine. I have been familiar for quite a few years with the excellent resources you have been placing on the Internet, and I am aware from your writings that you have a keen interest in the language of the Bible, including the wonderful figures of speech and rhetorical devices, as exemplified in Amos and elsewhere. Yes, I live in the U.S. and you in N.Z., but like the Chinese who use a common writing system even though they pronounce their symbols differently among the very distinct "dialects" (some are close to being different languages), we do share a common language and much of the same syntax and lexicon for that language. Obviously, you do not write in Elizabethan English, except in your clever italicized ending to your post. You write in a standard form of contemporary English. And that is my passion for English Bible versions, that they might move closer to being written in the English heart language of those who read those versions.

 
At Fri Apr 29, 09:28:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

What is the point of asking people, "Which English Bible version has wordings closest to how you normally speak and write?"

Do you mean to suggest that the right Bible for each person would be the Bible that has wordings closest to how he normally speaks and writes?

I certainly don't look for that in a Bible.

Michael

 
At Sat Apr 30, 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael asked:

"What is the point of asking people, "Which English Bible version has wordings closest to how you normally speak and write?"

Do you mean to suggest that the right Bible for each person would be the Bible that has wordings closest to how he normally speaks and writes?"

The motivation for Bible translation has always been that people might hear (or read) God's Word in their mother language, their heart language. That is what motivated Jerome, Tyndale, Wycliff, William Carey, et al. When people hear Scripture in their mother tongue they are able to understand it in a way that they cannot if it is in another language (or dialect) which they marginally understand or do not understand at all.

You know church history, Michael, and you know that the time came when the Latin Vulgate no longer spoke to everyone hearing it because those who were being missionized were no longer speaking Latin.

Yet the church continued to use the Latin Vulgate in its services. This created a distance between people (the laity) and the Word and other problems as well. The history of the church records numerous times when reformation has occurred when people have been able to hear God's Word in their own language.

Some Bible translators have been martyred for this cause, some very recently.

Bringing God's Word to people in their heart language has always been a good thing, no matter how high the cost or how much resistance there is to this happening.

Michael ended:
"I certainly don't look for that in a Bible."

And you don't need to, Michael. You are very fluent in English Bible dialects, but not everyone is. I have no right to tell people what Bible version they should use. But I can bring a horse to water, which is, in our case, to the living water of the Word that is in their heart language.

"Latinization" of the Bible continues around the word, especially in majority languages with long traditions of Christianity and Bible translation. Sometimes when the "Latin Vulgate" equivalent (although in the case of English, it is still in the same language, but not in the same dialect of that language) no longer speaks the mother tongue, it helps many people to be able to hear God's Word once again in their own language.

 
At Sat Apr 30, 01:10:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

I don't think it's very helpful of you to compare literary English to a foreign language.

Michael

 
At Sat Apr 30, 04:43:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael responded:

"I don't think it's very helpful of you to compare literary English to a foreign language."

I didn't, Michael. If you are referring to my use of the term Latinization of English, that term means English which is not in the vernacular (BTW, vernacular does not mean colloquial). Latinization of English refers to what happened what the church continued to use a language in church which was not the language of those who attended church.

Good English authors do not write English that sounds like it was written by a non-native speaker of English. But a number of English Bible versions sound like they were written by non-native speakers of English. By definition, literary English needs to be in English. It needs to follow English syntax and lexical rules. Literary English will be recognized as good quality English by those who have exposed themselves to English literature. I love good English literature. I do not enjoy reading English which sounds like it was written by non-native speakers.

It is not difficult for English Bible translators to take courses to learn to write good quality literary English. There are many such courses available at local colleges and universities.

Having wordings in an English Bible does not make those wordings "literary English." That, of course, would be circular reasoning. Literary English is recognized as such, and is not made so by proclamation. Some good literary English is even awarded prizes for being good quality English. I'm thinking of awards such as the Nobel and Pulitzer prize for literature. Very few English Bibles recently produced would ever be considered as candidates for a literature prize.

One does not need to become prescriptive to write good literary English. One only needs to write well, using only English lexical and syntactic rules. Those rules are not established by English "experts" or linguists. They are established by those who speak and write good quality English. You are one of them. If English Bibles were written as well as you write (and you write very well, as I have seen much evidence of quality English on your Bible Research reference pages), they would be in good literary English.

 
At Sat Apr 30, 04:46:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

Why do you suppose that men like Leland Ryken disagree so strongly with your 'literary' evaluations? I think I can say with some confidence that he represents the vast majority of English professors and literary critics when he complains about the literary inferiority of the 'heart language' DE Bible versions that you seem to favor.

Michael

 
At Sat Apr 30, 05:49:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael responded:

"Why do you suppose that men like Leland Ryken disagree so strongly with your 'literary' evaluations?"

Michael, I wasn't aware that Dr. Ryken disagrees with me. I have had several email exchanges with him recently on this topic and he has not said what you had just said to me. If you have any other information from him that tells you otherwise, I would be glad to read it. Dr. Ryken knows good literature just as I do. We have both taught college or university English.

"I think I can say with some confidence that he represents the vast majority of English professors and literary critics when he complains about the literary inferiority of the 'heart language'"

I have his book and I agree with much of what he says about DE versions.

"DE Bible versions that you seem to favor."

Oh? Where have I said that I favor DE versions? I have written about Dynamic Equivalence, as I understand it from my Bible translation training classes, the DE textbooks, and further study on the topic. On this blog we are speaking about good quality English. My passion is for accuracy and quality in Bible translation. I do not favor one translation philosophy over another (see my Profile statement on this blog), although I tend to prefer to translate with the meaning-based translation approach (not DE). But I insist on modifying MB or any other approach by some of the insights from those (including those of us missionary Bible translators) who have called for greater "transparency" in translation. See the writings by Ernst-August Gutt, for instance, which are being looked on with favor by English Bible translators, such as Dr. Raymond Van Leeuwen, who read the technical literature and who prefer transparent translations.

Here is where I stand on translation philosophy: I like any English Bible translation which is exegetically and communicatively accurate and written in good quality English. I don't think one has to follow any particular translation philosophy to reach these goals. And I believe that there can be a range of translation styles which can meet these goals, including translations which are more formal (transparent) and ones which are more idiomatic.

I am well aware of the differences between oral and written language. I assume that literary language is good quality written language. Is that your understanding of the term "literary"? I suppose it is possible for "oral" and "literary" to be synonyms. I haven't thought before about whether or not they are synonymous. It would not bother me if they are and if we were left needing to omit the qualifier "good quality" from my understanding of "literary." What I would object to be falling to a lowest common denominator kind of definition that would call anything which is written "literary," no matter of what quality. I think when literary critics refer to good quality literary language they are referring to the same kind of language that I am, and, I suspect, that you are.

Michael, what qualities, in your opinion are required before a piece of literature can be said to have "literary excellence," an important term used, for instance, on the ESV website about the ESV?

Will those qualities be ones which English professors and judges for literature prizes agree upon?

If so, where do we differ, if at all, in terms of what it means for something to have "literary excellence"?

 
At Sat Apr 30, 06:26:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

wayne wrote: "Michael, I wasn't aware that Dr. Ryken disagrees with me. I have had several email exchanges with him recently on this topic and he has not said what you had just said to me."

Wayne, not long ago you forwarded to me one of your messages to him, in which one of his messages to you was quoted in full. I read it. And he certainly was disagreeing with your whole approach and with your evaluations. I refrain from posting the email here. But you have not understood him at all if you think that he is in agreement with you.

Michael

 
At Sat Apr 30, 07:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael said:

:wayne wrote: "Michael, I wasn't aware that Dr. Ryken disagrees with me. I have had several email exchanges with him recently on this topic and he has not said what you had just said to me."

Wayne, not long ago you forwarded to me one of your messages to him, in which one of his messages to you was quoted in full. I read it. And he certainly was disagreeing with your whole approach and with your evaluations. I refrain from posting the email here. But you have not understood him at all if you think that he is in agreement with you."

Yes, Michael, I remember that message. It was the first message Dr. Ryken sent me. I don't think Dr. Ryken had yet interacted much with my evaluations of specific wordings of the ESV (the growing collection is on this blog and I don't think Dr. Ryken has accessed the collection). We have had further interactions since that first message and I have not forwarded any of the subsequent messages to you. Proabably as you would, I wish I could post his email messages to me, here on this blog, so that others could read his comments in context and in their fullness, especially with his followup messages. But I cannot post his messages without his permission, since I understand email messages to be confidential unless both parties agree to publicize them.

Let me just say that Dr. Ryken is a professor of English. He teaches his students at Wheaton to read the Bible as literature. He and I share the same views about the Bible being good literature. I think we also share the same views about what constitutes good quality English. He did his doctoral studies at the same university where I did mine. I taught an English course there. So I don't think we would differ much in how we would evaluate what is good literature. He worked as literary stylist on the ESV and I assume he feels that the ESV has "literary elegance," the statement made about the ESV on its website. I agree that there is some literary elegance in the ESV. But as an English editor, I also find many English infelicities in the ESV. I'm sure that many of them will be corrected when the ESV is next revised. I assume it will be as many other versions have been over the years, including the KJV, NASB, NIV, TEV.

I think, though, that we are speculating at this point about Dr. Ryken and I feel on much safer grounds working with specifics that I know something about. So, please feel free to interact with any and all of my evaluations of any of the English Bible versions on this blog, including the ESV. BTW, I have not named any specific versions as lacking literary excellence. I have only stated in my blog posts that I wish English Bible versions had better quality English. I have ideas for greater literary excellence can be reached for these versions and I have shared these ideas quietly with several of the translation teams. The NET team publicly thanked me for my input. I'm not boasting but they stated that I had the highest success rate of anyone who submitted input to them, in terms of which suggestions they incorporated into their revisions.

Please realize that I am far from finished with my work of evaluating English versions. I have barely scratched the surface for some of the versions on this blog. I am limited in how much time I can spend at this task, since our Bible translation project is at a very time-consuming point right now as we digitally record all the translated Scripture, trying to get that job done before the end of the fiscal year when our grant funds run out.

I can guarantee that I am an "equal opportunity" evaluator. I am willing to find problems as well as good points (which I have also written about, elsewhere, such as on my Bible translation website as well as on the Bible Translation email discussion list which has archives accessible to the public.

For accurate and good quality Bibles in the vernacular!

1 Cor. 15:58,
Wayne

 
At Sat Apr 30, 09:53:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Marlowe said...

You wrote: "We have had further interactions since that first message and I have not forwarded any of the subsequent messages to you."

All I know is what I saw. And it didn't square with your assertion.

you wrote: "Oh? Where have I said that I favor DE versions?"

First, let us be clear on the terminology. I want you to understand that I do not recognize any practical difference between "dynamic equivalence" and "meaning-based," and think the term "meaning-based" is nothing but another euphemism for the same thing, as "functional equivalence" is also. Actually, I would prefer to use the word "paraphrase" instead of "dynamic equivalence." Nevertheless, I will use "DE" so as to avoid offending you. But you are asking too much when you expect someone to use the phrase "meaning-based," because that is a highly tendentious term.

Your consistent advocacy of DE is well-known to everyone. It is right on the surface of nearly everything that you have written.

Michael

 

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