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Friday, July 22, 2005

Essentially literal translation defined

Dr. Leland Ryken's book, The Word of God in English (WOGE), has brought a needed counter-balance to some aspects of Bible translation theory, including Dynamic Equivalence theory, as it has been widely taught for several decades.

In the Preface to WOGE Dr. Ryken defines "essentially literal" as:
By an essentially literal translation I do not mean one that renders the original text so literally as to be incomprehensible to English readers. The syntax must be English rather than Hebrew or Greek, and idioms that are incomprehensible to English readers need to be rendered in terms of meaning rather than literal equivalence. But within the parameters of these necessary deviations from the original, an essentially literal translation applies the same rules as we expect from a published text in its original language: The author’s own words are reproduced, figurative language is retained instead of explained, and stylistic features and quirks of the author are allowed to stand as the author expressed them.
I like this. I agree with it. Dr. Ryken's two main points are ones which all translation theorists, are far as I know, advocate:
1. Using the syntax of the target language
2. Comprehensibility
Now, as the old saying goes, "The proof of the pudding is the eating." Do essentially literal translations follow Dr. Ryken's guidelines adequately so that "English readers" read truly "English syntax" and "comprehensible" wordings of biblical idioms? The term "English readers", used by Dr. Ryken, has not yet defined, but, presumably, it has a commonsense meaning, something along the lines of 'any literate English speaking person, at least above a certain age or reading level.'

If a translation is called "essentially literal," that is an empirical statement about that translation, since we can logically assume by use of that technical label, that the translation is following Dr. Ryken's two parameters of target language syntax and comprehensibility. Such a statement about a Bible translation is empirically verifiable. One scientific way of doing this is through testing the "data" (that is, translation wordings) with those who would be considered "English readers". Such testing is one focus of this blog. In fact, we have been conducting such tests for several weeks in polls on this blog. Results have been available for blog visitors to view. We will discuss the poll results in the near future.

Stay tuned! And have a good weekend.

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