Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ungrammatical translation wordings

Has your child ever said something like this?
"Daddy, I bited my tongue."
If so, you probably did as I have done and corrected the verb to "bit" (an irregular verb) rather than "bited," the logically expected form which the child used.

And if you are helping someone from another country who is learning English and they say,
"That tree big is pretty."
you will probably help them reorder the adjective so it precedes the noun it modifies, so we get the grammatical
"That big tree is pretty."
When we correct English like this we are demonstrating that certain ways of speaking or writing English are, by social agreement, grammatical while others are not.

In my study of English Bible versions I have found some wordings which are ungrammatical and should be corrected if we want the versions to display the best quality, literary English. I will mention two such ungrammatical patterns in this post.

First, let us think about one of Jesus' statements:
"The poor will be with you always."
The word "poor" is an adjective. There is no noun. The adjective stands alone and does not require a noun. I call this grammatical form an adjectival substantive. Perhaps you know it by some other label.

As you know, English has a rule of subject-verb number agreement, that is, the number (singular or plural) of the subject of a sentence must agree with the number of the verb with which it is associated. Going back to little children learning English, if they say,
"They is nice."
We parents recognize this as being ungrammatical, and correct the statement to:
"They are nice."
since "they" is a plural pronoun and so the verb must be plural, "are," instead of "is."

OK? Now back to Jesus' statement about the poor:
"The poor will be with you always."
Here is "the poor" singular or plural? Is Jesus referring to a single poor person or more than one poor person? From the field testing I have done, as well as examining my own language intuitions, plus looking at the statement in its biblical context, the answer is that Jesus was using "the poor" as a plural. Therefore, if we use a verb which needs to be inflected for number along with this noun-less adjectival substantive, the verb needs to be inflected as a plural, such as:
"The poor need your help."
but not
"The poor needs your help"
which most fluent English speakers regard as ungrammatical.

Let us now examine how some adjectival substantives appear in various English Bible versions. I will, for now, use numbers for different versions, so that we will be able to consider the data more objectively than we might if we knew which versions were being cited:
1. The righteous is delivered from trouble.
2. The righteous is rescued from trouble.
3. The upright escapes affliction.
4. The righteous are rescued from disaster.
5. The righteous person is delivered out of trouble.
6. The righteous man is rescued from trouble.
7. The righteous are rescued from trouble.
8. The righteous are protected from trouble.
9. A righteous person is rescued from trouble.
10. The good person is saved from trouble.
11. The righteous are delivered from trouble.
Three of the wordings are ungrammatical (1-3) because English speakers interpret the adjectival substantive noun phrase to be plural, but singular subject-verb agreement is used.

Several other similar ungrammatical wordings appear in some English Bible versions, including:
"The wicked is a ransom for the righteous"
" The wicked borrows but does not pay back"
"He seizes the afflicted and drags him in his net."
Well, it has taken more posting space than I had anticipated to get this far on this topic. I'll leave for another post the identification of which versions use the ungrammatical wordings and which use the grammatical wordings. And I'll also post on the second category of ungrammatical wordings.

Category: ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home