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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Translation audience III: a response

I mentioned in a preceding post that Paul Whiting has followed up on our post on Translation audience. Paul wrestles well with issues concerning translation audience. In his final post, he discusses his feelings pro and con toward his church's decision to use the CEV as its pulpit Bible. Essentially, he concludes that the CEV is good as a first Bible in their newly formed church, especially for the children and new believers in their congregation. But he feels that there needs to be a version that is more challenging and makes up for some of the weaknesses of the CEV, as the church matures. Paul has thought through the issues well, and raises important issues. I then asked him what might be an appropriate next-stage version, emphasizing my belief that it, like the CEV, should also be written in natural English. I'll repeat my comments here:
Paul, my wife and I really like the CEV, largely because it speaks our English. But I recognize that it is probably not the best version for more "serious" Bible study. So, here is my question: What other Bible version would you recommend that is still written in natural English (not unnatural Bible English) but which would be better for more mature Bible readers?

FWIW, from my own quantified studies of the post commonly used English versions, the following versions do not qualify has having natural English:


So what other version is left for more mature Bible readers if we include the requirement that its English be natural? NLT? GW? ISV?
What do others of you think? Please try to limit your suggestions to those Bible versions which truly have natural English, English which is normally used by a wide range of English speakers from English professors to taxi drivers? (Not dumbed down English or "lowest common denominator English" but good quality literary English written in natural vernacular English.)

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At Sat Aug 13, 09:06:00 AM, Anonymous rich shields said...

Wayne, I think you might guess my choice - God's Word, GW. One of the issues I have with GW is the non-use of "righteousness" in the NT. But otherwise, of the "clear, accurate, natural English" translations, GW is top. My hope is that a revision would be forth-coming for GW to address some of these issues.

As for second place, I would probably put Beck,originally called An American Translation, and while it was the forerunner of GW, there are enough differences to consider them as two separate translations. Even though 40+ years old, it retains a currency in language that few can. Obviously there are a few oddities, but far less than many others of that era. (William Beck died in 1966, before the final OT portion was published - he was still revising it while under the oxygen mask in the hospital.)

At Sat Aug 13, 10:21:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, I wonder if you are entirely fair in dismissing NIV and TNIV as not "having natural English". I accept that they are not perfect in their style of language; on the other hand, their language is in general far more natural than that of NASB, NRSV and ESV. NIV and TNIV may not be suitable for new believers with below average reading levels, the audience for which Paul's church has very sensibly chosen CEV. But those who are capable of more serious Bible study should be able to cope with the English of NIV and TNIV, surely.

I can understand some people objecting to NIV and TNIV on more theological grounds, for some of the exegetical choices made - especially the way that NIV (but less so TNIV) has read the New Testament back into the Old. But that is a separate issue.

At Sat Aug 13, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter, I agree with you that the English of the NIV and TNIV is more natural than that of the NASB, NRSV and ESV. However, I have been studying these versions to help the TNIV team with its revisions and I am amazed at how much unnatural English there is in them. I just received an email message from a member of the TNIV CBT (Committee on Bible Translation). I wish I could give the person's name but I cannot since I haven't had the change to ask permission to quote from the email message. Here is an excerpt:

Just got a packet with John Stek's assessment of your suggestions for the TNIV. Many, many good suggestions. You have a great ear for real English. It is amazing how many non-sensical
phrases appear in a "meaning-based" version like the NIV/TNIV.

For those not aware, John Stek is the current chairman of the CBT.

At Sat Aug 13, 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich, I agree with you that GW is a good translation to use. One advantage it has, along with the CEV and TEV, is that it was directed by a Bible scholar with a great deal of training and experience in Bible translation and Bible translation theory. Too many English version teams have very few, if any, scholars on their teams who have been trained in translation. The assumption seems to be that if someone is a native speaker of a language (such as English), they can translate to that language. But this can been shown time and time again not to be the case. We have found this true in the Cheyenne program. Not every fluent Cheyenne speaker can translate well. It takes a special kind of person who has natural translation skill or else a person who is trainable in translation skills to do quality translation work.

At Sat Aug 13, 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, thanks for your reply re NIV and TNIV. Maybe you just have a better ear for English than I have. Maybe I have simply been reading NIV for too long - perhaps 25 years as my main Bible. In most respects familiarity breeds contempt, but with Bible versions familiarity breeds uncritical reverence. And that is why, in my opinion, there is so much nonsense still being written about KJV being good style. Well, I have been meaning to get back to that subject which I commented on before.

At Sun Aug 14, 03:04:00 AM, Blogger Paul W said...

Wayne, thanks for your comments on my post. One of the reasons why I indeed like the CEV and GNT is because they are "Not dumbed down English or lowest common denominator English but good quality literary English written in [the] natural vernacular" of most English speakers. Personally, I believe the CEV and GNT to be superior products to the NLT in the quality, economy and readability of their English style. IMO the NLT sometimes reads clumsily. And to the cynical New Zealander in me, the NLT sometimes feels as if its renderings reflect the subcultural language and cliches of American Evangelicals.

Overall, I suggest the GNT is one of the best versions for most English speakers in terms of general reading and devotions--which is how most Christians use the Bible. I especially like the improvements that have been made to it in the 1992 revision. I hope the ABS continue to develop and improve this product.

But if someone regularly reads the CEV and has memorised Scripture from it, etc., I don't see why we have to "wean" them from it and introduce them to more "meaty" translations (this is where I've changed my mind since 2004). So I'd encourage them to buy the _CEV Learning Bible_, if they want to study the Bible more in depth. With groups and from the pulpit, I've done close exegesis of the Bible using the CEV and I've found no problems with it largely. I consider the CEV among the top three translations around.

I believe that the NJB and REB consistently demonstrate "good quality literary English written in natural vernacular English" in their translation. But what counts against them for more general use is that their renderings are sometimes opaque and that the English idiom they employ is that of British middle-class, or the Oxbridge common-room, rather than English speakers more generally. I hope when the third edition of the NJB comes out in English that its translation committee gives more attention to issues of natural English style.


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