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Friday, May 13, 2005

Literary style -- Part 2

Bible translations vary a great deal in the degree to which they are expressed in the natural lexical (vocabulary) and syntactic (grammatical) forms of the (target)translation language. Translation professionals, training courses, and textbooks advise that a translation should sound as natural as possible in the translation language. In fact, some say, "A translation should not sound like a translation," but, rather, "read like an original work." Whether or not you agree, let's evaluate the wordings of some recent English versions to try to rank them according to the quality of their English style, how good the English sounds, how natural it is, whether the forms used sound grammatical according to current English syntax.

First, let's evaluate two versions of a text not from the Bible:

Version 1:
"Before four notches and seven years, our fathers obtained more still after this continent a new nation: understood started in freedom and the business that all the men comparable are provided. We take part now in a large civil war and examine, if this nation or a nation included thus and if started, to support a long time can. We run up against a large battle field of this war. We came to use part of this field as places stationary finale for which which gave their lives here which could live this nation. It is suitable and correct together that us should do that. But, in a greater direction, we cannot be able to begin to us not consecrate, we cannot this ground sanctify. The courageous men, the lives and dead which fought here, must consecrated add or remove far on our bad energy. The world will of little notices it remembers still a long time, which we say here, but it cannot never forgets, which it here. It be for we the life the work incomplete being start rather here that they which it fight here, credit him its to we be so splendid advanced until now present rather with a try before we, that honour, largely remain we use here take dead increase devotion that with a cause for which them give last fully the measurement of devotion that we repair here high that that must have not death futile die in that nation, under a god, must have again the birth of freedom, and that the government of a person, for a person, must not die from the earth."
Version 2:
"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Which version sounds like better English to you?

You probably answered Version 2, and that is the answer I would give also. Version 2 is the famous Gettysburg Address delivered by the U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, written, in my opinion, with truly great literary elegance. Version 1 is that same speech processed three times by the Alta Vista Babel Fish Internet machine translator, first translated to German, then from German to French, then from French back to English. Version 1 reflects "interference" from the foreign language(s), something which many English Bible versions also reflect.

In my next post we will evaluate literary style in some passages from different English Bible versions.



At Sat May 14, 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Marla said...

Hi Wayne. I don't see the versions in the left that feature coming? Also, have you posted anything about the TNIV? Parableman (Jeremy Pierce) and I were discussing it a bit on my blog.

At Sat May 14, 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

You're right, Marla. That wording got left when I shifted the versions to the right margin but forgot to revise the Welcome message. And that's not right but now it's been writed (er, I mean righted)!


Yes, there are comments under the TNIV section. And I might blog on the TNIV someday. It, like several other English versions, would benefit from further revision.

Thanks for visiting. Come back again. And feel free to post. Whenenever you come across a wording, when you are reading your Bible, that seems to be odd English, why don't you head to my blog and post a comment under that version?


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