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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cognitive Bibles

A number of years ago my wife, Elena, was talking with a Native American Christian lady. This lady told Elena, "When I hear the Bible in English, I don't have to do anything about it. But when I hear it in my own language, I have to do something about it."

When we hear, read, or have signed to us a Bible translation which is not in our mother tongue, most of us respond as did that Native American lady. Even if we understand, cognitively, what is in that translation, we are not affected by it in all of the ways that God intends for his written Word to affect us.

I suggest that English Bible versions which are not written in our mother tongue English typically impact us cognitively, and not emotively nor volitionally. Yet God has designed our so that we communicate with more than just our cognition. Typically, when we speak or write to someone else, we do more than just give them information. We often are trying to get them to feel the delight we experience with a newborn granddaughter (my delight these days!), or a personal change where you are able to worship God more intimately. Or we may be encouraging someone to change their attitude or behavior. We use natural (mother tongue) English syntax, lexicon, discourse flow, and rhetoric to impact one another with more than just our cognitive faculties, even though cognition is one of the most important elements of what it means to be created in the image of God.

Are you regularly using at least one Bible version which is truly worded in your mother tongue, so that it is able to affect you not only cognitively, but also in every other part of your being? If not, I encourage you to use such an English version. The benefits can be eternal, and can make a difference in how you relate to God and others in your life. And, from my own experience, I can say that you will have to do something about what you read if your Bible is in English that uses the linguistic forms and expressions of your mother tongue, the English that you learned at your mother's knee.

Shabat shalom.


At Sat Sep 24, 07:44:00 AM, Blogger Talmida said...

What an interesting thought!

It reminds me of Peter Gzowski's 2 questions to determine whether a person was bilingual or not: In what language do you curse? And in what language do you pray?

Gzowski was the host of one of the most popular programs ever on CBC Radio, and he interviewed enough Canadians (many of whom are or attempt to be bilingual) to have a decent sized sample.

French is not my mother tongue - I didn't start learning it until I was 4 or 5. But I learned it from Sisters at a catholic school, and they taught me to pray in French while my parents taught me to pray at home & church in English. I am very comfortable hearing the Bible in French, sometimes even more so than in English - perhaps because I am more critical of English translations? I don't even know of more than one French one.

However neither the French nor the English scriptures ever affected me the way the Hebrew scriptures do, now that I am learning that language. I am not fluent. I don't even really read, mostly just decipher at this stage. But I feel more in one verse, in the connotations of each word, of what God is trying to convey to me than I ever did in either my mother-tongue or my second language.

Maybe it's just the excitement of reading the Scriptures in the original language, the shininess of something new? It might be that.

But I think that the more languages one knows, the more depth one can draw from the Bible.

At Sat Sep 24, 09:23:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

First of all I want to thank you for this blog. I have received much valuable information and insight from it.

I have heard that when the Bible was translated into the Inuit language Christ was refered to as the Seal Pup of God, since the Inuit had no point of reference with lambs.

Do you know whether this is true, and if so, how should that affect our understanding of who Christ is?

At Sun Sep 25, 05:19:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I have heard that when the Bible was translated into the Inuit language Christ was refered to as the Seal Pup of God, since the Inuit had no point of reference with lambs.

Joe, I have heard this story, also, but I do not know it is true or not. I have also heard the frequently told story that the Lamb of God was translated as the Pig of God in some language in Papua New Guinea. But then I heard later that the story from New Guinea was just one of those Internet legends that keeps getting repeated. I might be able to find out the facts of the Inuit translation from the Canadian Bible Society.

At Mon Sep 26, 07:16:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Please define "mother tongue English." For those of us who have English as our mother tongue, this phrase seem pleonastic.

At Tue Sep 27, 11:25:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

I tried a cognitive translation of a passage from Antigone to get the feel of it - and deal with the Greek font issue at the same time. I found that it was hard to maintain because eventually one has to translate the imagery and metaphors somehow.

In theory I like the idea of a cognitive translation but it is very difficult to achieve.



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