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Monday, November 21, 2005

Journal of Translation: Discourse study article

We have included links to good Bible translation resources in the right margin of this blog. The Journal of Translation (JOT) is one of them. JOT articles are well written and peer-reviewed. They deal with important issues for Bible translators.

The first article "Source-Language Versus Target-Language Discourse Features in Translating the Word of God," is by my friend Robert Dooley. Bob makes the point that the quality of Bible translations will improve to the degree that Bible translators better understand the discourse (rhetorical) structures of each language involved in the translation process. Bob also addresses the question of micro-level discourse structures and macro-level structures. Macro-level discourse patterns allow us to grasp the connections among larger sections of writing. Ultimately, study of macro-level patterns can help us understand the overall purpose a biblical author has for a discourse, including a discourse the size of an entire book of the Bible.

The better that we understand the discourse patterns of the Hebrew and Greek in the biblical source texts, the more accurately we can translate authorial intention from the biblical languages to a target language such as English. Study of discourse patterns in the Bible are not simply esoteric exercises for people interested in linguistics. Such study has been going on for many years by non-linguist exegetes who have included within their study of books of the Bible a focus on the rhetorical purposes for sections of the biblical text larger than sentences, clauses, or phrases.

I remember visiting once in a Sunday School class on the book of Mark, I think, taught by a seminary professor. I was amazed and excited to learn that Mark was not simply a string of unrelated narrative events attached to each together until the book was complete. The teacher pointed out how different narratives were connected with each other by the author of the gospel, to maintain a theme. Thematic continuity is one focus of discourse study.

Finally, the better we understand how writers of a target language, such as English, maintain connectedness (cohesion), overall themes, allow for flashbacks, etc., the more accurately we will be able to translate the discourse features of the biblical source languages into equivalent discourse structures of target languages. And more accurate translations are, as we all know, better Bibles.

The SBL and ETS conferences have been taking place in the Philadelphia area. I am glad that an increasing number of papers are being included in both conferences on technical details of Bible translation. Bible translators need insights from exegetes. Exegetes need insights from those who approach the biblical and target languages from a linguistic viewpoint. We all need each other. Interdisciplinary cross-pollination cannot help but bring us better understanding of the scriptures, with one result being better Bibles.

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