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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ungrammatical translation wordings -- Part 2

In our first post in this series, yesterday, we examined translation wordings which are ungrammatical for most fluent speakers of English since they have incorrect subject-verb number agreement. In this post let's look at another category of ungrammatical wordings in some Bible versions. This category has to do with transitivity, specifically, when an English transitive verb is missing an object and creates a wording which sounds ungrammatical to most English speakers.

First, here's a brief reminder of the difference between intransitive and transitive verbs. An intransitive verb does not take an object, that is, something or someone upon which "action" is done. The following are each intransitive sentences:
Peter ran.
Martha sang.
Some intransitive verbs never take an object. Others can take an object in certain contexts, as in:
Peter ran the meeting.
Martha sang a lullaby.
Transitive verbs usually require an object, as in these sentences:
Rachel sold her book.
George killed an elk.
The object can be another sentence or clause, as in:
John wants to go to college.
Mary forgot to buy bread.
Most English Bible versions word sentences with intransitive and transitive verbs properly in most cases. But there are a number of sentences in some English versions where a transitive verb is used which requires an object, but the object is missing. This creates an ungrammatical wording. I find such sentences jarring when I read them.

Here are wordings from a verse where the object of a transitive verb is missing. As in yesterday's post, I will not identify the version yet, so that we can evaluate these wordings as objectively as possible:
1. I sent to know your faith
2. I sent that I might know your faith
3. I sent to learn about your faith
4. I sent to find out about your faith
5. I also sent to find out about your faith
6. I sent to find out about your faith
7. I sent to assure myself of your faith
8. I sent Timothy to find out about your faith
9. I sent Timothy to you so I could learn about your faith
10. I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong
Sentences 1-7 lack a required object of the verb "send" and so are ungrammatical. The remaining sentences are grammatical, having a required object.

In English (unlike some other languages) it is not grammatical to say "I sent" without an object. A person who hears someone say a sentence with "sent" without an object is left hanging and may ask "sent whom?" for clarification.

There are a number of other transitive verbs in some Bible versions which similarly lack their required objects, as in:
John 1:20 He confessed and did not deny ("deny" requires an object)
James 4:2a: You desire and do not have. ("have" requires an object)
James 4:2b: You covet and cannot obtain ("obtain" requires an object)
In my opinion, any Bible version which aspires to have good quality literary English should be revised to repair the ungrammatical portion of such translation wordings. We do not want our children to learn to speak ungrammatical English, based on ungrammatical wordings they read in Bible versions. It is easy to revise ungrammatical wordings to be grammatical, without changing the basic translation approach used in a Bible version. What is required is a commitment on the part of Bible translators to respect the grammar of the target language, in this case, English, just as much as we respect the grammars of the biblical source languages. And it is also required that each translation team have checking procedures which spot ungrammatical wordings and English scholars who are able to revise ungrammatical wordings to become grammatical. No meaning change takes place during this revision process. No translator interpretations are placed in the text. No thought-for-thought translation occurs. A translation can continue to be "essentially literal" while having only grammatical sentences in English or any other language into which the translation is made.

For those who are curious, in yesterday post, in the list of 11 sentences, the wordings were taken from the following versions (1-3 were ungrammatical; the remaining were all grammatical):
Proverbs 11:8
1. RSV, NASB, NKJV, ESV: The righteous is delivered from trouble.
2. HCSB: The righteous is rescued from trouble.
3. NJB: The upright escapes affliction.
4. REB: The righteous are rescued from disaster.
5. NET: The righteous person is delivered out of trouble.
6. NIV, Tanakh: The righteous man is rescued from trouble.
7. TNIV: The righteous are rescued from trouble.
8. TEV: The righteous are protected from trouble.
9. GW: A righteous person is rescued from trouble.
10. NCV: The good person is saved from trouble.
11. NRSV: The righteous are delivered from trouble.
In the list of 10 wordings in today's post, above, the versions are (1-7 are ungrammatical; the remainder are grammatical):
1 Thess. 3:5
1. KJV, NKJV: I sent to know your faith
2. RSV: I sent that I might know your faith
3. ESV: I sent to learn about your faith
4. NRSV, NET, REB, NIV, TNIV: I sent to find out about your faith
5. NASB, HCSB: I also sent to find out about your faith
6. NJB: I sent to assure myself of your faith
7. TEV: I sent him to find out about your faith
8. CEV, GW, ISV: I sent Timothy to find out about your faith
9. NCV: I sent Timothy to you so I could learn about your faith
10. NLT: I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong
For any of you who are not familiar with the Bible version abbreviations, they can be found in the right margin of this blog. If you do not see them now, click here.

This blog is dedicated to helping Bibles become better. One way of bettering Bibles is to revise them so that ungrammatical wordings become grammatical.

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6 Comments:

At Tue Jun 14, 06:34:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

With respect, "send" does have an intransitive use. The Shorter Oxford defines it,

Dispatch or transmit a message, letter, or messenger. (Foll. by to, after, to do.)

eg. Send to find out. Send to say you'll be late.

The verses you quote are not missing objects, they are examples of the intransitive use of the verb.

It is completely acceptable English to my ears, but then my ears are Canadian and I read as much British literature as I do American. Maybe the intransitive use doesn't occur in American English?

:)

 
At Tue Jun 14, 09:31:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Very interesting, Talmida. Thanks for giving your take on "send" as intransitive. Yes, it must be a dialect thing. I wish I could take more blog space so I could have given several other examples, besides "send." We might come up with some verbs which could only be transitive in both our dialects. BTW, my dialect isn't too different from yours. I live not too far from the Canadian border. I was born and raised in Alaska and some "Americans" have, therefore, asked me if I'm from Canada! :-)

How about "want"? Would that be only transitive for you?

"obtain"?

"receive"? (other than its use, as in football, the American or Canadian game, when the winner of the coin toss chooses whether to go on offense first or to "receive," shortcut for "receive the ball")

 
At Tue Jun 14, 10:25:00 PM, Blogger Talmida said...

Hmmm....can't think of an intransitive for want, oh! what about someone found wanting? That's intrans. Waste not want not, too.

Obtain? Yes, there's an intransitive meaning, but it means something else - to succeed or prevail at something is to obtain.

Receive. Only the proverbial better to to give than to receive. And of course communion - does one recieve under both species or not.

But maybe what it comes down to is what kind of English you are aiming for. Maybe you need to call it non-formal English or non-poetic English. Many of the archaic and literate forms are still quite common in 20th century literature, and they are certainly correct and grammatical, even though many North Americans might not be familiar with them.

I'm still exploring your blog. It's very enjoyable reading.

 
At Wed Jun 15, 06:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Wayne,

I'm a native speaker of British English and I'd agree with Talmida on the use of the verb 'to send' without an explicit direct object. My intuition is that it's used with an infinitive of a verb requesting or offering information, goods or services (e.g. We sent to ask/tell them ... I've sent to find out whether ... ). Although it's not the most common construction, you can find examples from a variety of sources by carrying out a range of appropriate phrase searches on Google.

Presumably this use occurs where the identity of the person sent is irrelevant to the speaker's purposes, or otherwise can easily be recovered from the context.

Come to think about it, is it possible that a number of verbs that are typically used transitively can be used without an explicit direct object when a speaker wishes to generalise rather than specify? Examples come to mind like, "You shall not murder" and "You can ask, but you won't get" (cf. Jam 4.2). Though I'd never use the latter example in more formal speech or writing, I wouldn't regard it as ungrammatical.

Finally, I don't think that your reference to John 1:20 is quite fair, given that the part that you've quoted introduces direct discourse.

I've very much enjoyed my visits to your blog. Thanks for the stimulation of your thoughts.

With warm greetings from Wales,

John
--
John Kendall
Cardiff
Wales

 
At Wed Jun 15, 07:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

John said: "Finally, I don't think that your reference to John 1:20 is quite fair, given that the part that you've quoted introduces direct discourse."

John, I would agree if the quote were an English indirect quote sentential complement to "deny," but it is not. The quote in John 1:20 is a complement to the verb "confess."

It is appropriate in English to say, "He denied that he was the burglar." The sentential complement "that he was the burglar" serves as the direct object of "denied." This is good English.

I still find no direct object in the wording I cited for John 1:20, but I could be missing something that you are seeing.

 
At Wed Jun 15, 04:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, you're not missing anything Wayne. In focussing on the transitivity issue, I got carried away and carelessly skipped over your explicit restriction of your comment to the verb "deny". I was referring to the interesting way that "confess" is used without a direct object or other complement in the part of the verse that you quote, but is then repeated to introduce direct discourse, a situation that somewhat complicates matters. In this respect -- regarding something that you weren't addressing at all! -- I thought that the example was not quite fair. But I misread, and my comment was wrong. :-(

John

 

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