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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Can you stomach this translation poll?

A few months ago I read a comment posted by someone on the Internet who was dissing an English Bible version because it used the wording "she was found to be pregnant" rather than "she was found to be with child" for Matt. 1:18. The underlying Greek is eurethe en gastri exousa, which is a euphemism, literally translated to English as "being found to have in the belly."

I thought it would be interesting to ask you, our blog visitors, what you think is the best translation of this Greek phrase. So I have created a poll to do just that. Feel free to interpret the words "best translation" in the poll question however you wish, including that it could mean "most accurate translation." You will find the poll in the right margin of this blog. It has a blue background.

For those of you who feel you cannot pick one of the translation options the way the poll question is worded, consider picking the last option, which is:
The poll question can't be answered properly without further explanation.
And for those of you who might wonder if I'm hoping to make a point with this poll, you wonder well.


At Wed Jan 18, 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

None of the above isn't an option- so I'll go ahead, break outside the box, and answer here with my own-

(oh, there is no 1:28 btw- so it's really 1:23)-

Look! the girl is pregnant! She will bear a son! And they will call his name Emmanuel.

At Wed Jan 18, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Christopher Heard said...

Jim, Wayne is referring to Matt 1:18, not 1:23. I chose "she learned she was pregnant," but I am open to the possibility that the emphasis is not on Mary learning of her pregnancy, but others learning of her pregnancy, especially Joseph I suppose. If so, then "she was found to be pregnant" is better than "she learned ...," just because it shifts the focus to what other people know rather than what she knows; but "she was found ..." is really clunky English, in my ear.

At Wed Jan 18, 11:50:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jim, Chris is right about the reference. I have now corrected my typo.

At Wed Jan 18, 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Exactly, Chris, she didn't figure this one out on her own - more than likely.

However, the real question is whether we should supply an empty "they" pronoun, in order to get rid of the passive tense, and say "They found out she was pregnant." Is it essential to supply the antecedent for 'they'? My bet is that first her mother found out, then the aunts, then her father, then other relatives, and finally Joseph.

Readability tests show that the number of passives in a text raise the reading level, besides sounding awkward. Somewhere there is an analysis of the different Bible versions which compares the number of passive constructions. I'll see if I can find it.

However, the question is, can one legitimately switch 'voice' and still retain meaning. I think so.

At Wed Jan 18, 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree with Christopher that the idea is probably not so much that she found out as that others found out - in particular Joseph, whose reaction is mentioned in the next verse. I wonder if the Greek passive can be retained and its connotations reflected by a translation "She was found out...", but perhaps in English that wrongly implies that she was at fault. But how about "She was discovered to be pregnant"? This English construction is perhaps more colloquial than literary, but I think it makes the point well, as well as satisfying the literalists!

At Wed Jan 18, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Ah- well my bad, as the kids say- I simply found the nearest text with the erroneous verse phrase.

At Wed Jan 18, 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

But how about "She was discovered to be pregnant"?

Or maybe:

"It was discovered that she was pregnant."


"It became known that she was pregnant."

At Wed Jan 18, 01:13:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

'Discovered' is good. Is the consensus that one should not reduce the complexity and do away with the passive in this case?

At Wed Jan 18, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

I like discovered, too. Regarding passives, can I ask a related question? Suzanne raised the issue of reading levels earlier - should a bible translation (intended for a general audience - much in line with the original NT readers, say) seek to maintain the reading level of the original documents? In which case, if the answer is yes, maybe the passives ought to be retained. Just wondering...

Dick Myerscough

At Wed Jan 18, 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dick asked:

Regarding passives, can I ask a related question? Suzanne raised the issue of reading levels earlier - should a bible translation (intended for a general audience - much in line with the original NT readers, say) seek to maintain the reading level of the original documents?

Dick, I think a reasonable answer would be yes. One issue is that different languages use passives for different purposes, so a Greek passive may or may not be functionally equivalent (have the same meaning) as an English passive. This would not be a matter of reading level, but of accuracy, retaining the same meaning as that of the original text.

At Wed Jan 18, 06:20:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

"In the oven a bun! Isn't that fun! It will be God's Son." Oops, you weren't asking for a translation of our own?!? I have trouble following directions...

At Wed Jan 18, 06:38:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Ευρεθη is just an expression so I don't see that the grammar matters much. The BAG says "It was found that she was to become a mother" The point is that the passive has an empty subject. It is not that 'she was found to be' or 'found out to be' but just "it was found that..." pretty common and not a difficult level of prose.

At Thu Jan 19, 06:18:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I was torn between "found to be" and "learned she was."

One might indicate that others knew, the other that she, herself, knew.

In the end, it does not seem critical to the overall point that she was carrying the incarnate God.

At Thu Jan 19, 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Christopher Heard said...

Suzanne et al., I would see no problem with transforming the passive voice into active voice, on a case-by-case basis while taking care not to introduce unwarranted distortions or emphases. In this case, an "impersonal" construction might work, and might even preserve the ambiguity of emphasis. Would "It became obvious that she was pregnant" be too paraphrastic? What about "her pregnancy began to show"--too colloquial?

At Thu Jan 19, 05:14:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I want to backtrack to "it became known" since the Greek was a common expression, not too marked, it should be something very simple in English.

At Fri Jan 20, 04:49:00 PM, Anonymous Carl Conrad said...

Wayne, I was one of the first to vote on this; but on checking it just now I see that the latest numbers are 16 for "she learned she was pregnant and 10 for "she was found to be pregnant." I would like to think this means that more people are becoming aware that hEUREQH is not really passive but middle. But if that's the case, they
probably aren't aware of thinking of the verb that way -- they just realize that it must mean "she discovered that she was ..."

I do think that a traditionalist tendency to convert all Greek "passives" or -QH- forms into English passives just because of the morphology accounts for a sizable number of questionable phrasings like "she was found to be ..." -- but I don't know how much agreement I'd get on that.

At Fri Jan 20, 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

So is BAG out of date when it gives 'it was found that?' I admit to not having a recent edition. Would 'she found herself to be" be more literal?

LSJ also gives "it was found that" However, is that now passé? Or am I missing something more obvious?

By the way I have written about 'Qness' here

At Fri Jan 20, 07:43:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Carl,

I get it now about the middle voice. I was so distracted by Q and the symbol font. I am not used to it yet.

At Sat Jan 21, 03:43:00 AM, Blogger gabriel said...

Why the enthousiasm for pregnant? The phrase 'with child' preserves the euphemism in the greek without obscuring the meaning.

The traditional construction does not lack for clarity or accuracy in the translation & is better literary English than the other proposals. Why change?

At Sat Jan 21, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Gabriel asked:

Why the enthousiasm for pregnant? The phrase 'with child' preserves the euphemism in the greek without obscuring the meaning.

Hello Gabriel. I appreciate your comments which reflect a widespread view about Bible translation. Let's look at the translation issue here.

If we want to preserve the Greek euphemism most literally, we should do so with English something like "she had it in the belly." And at least one poll respondent answered that that would be the best translation. But would that communicate the meaning of the original euphemism most accuately and clearly. Is that an English euphemism which is widely understood to refer to being pregnant?

The traditional construction does not lack for clarity or accuracy in the translation & is better literary English than the other proposals. Why change?

Keeping traditional English in a translation does not necessarily make a translation more accurate or clearer. Each translation wording has to be tested on its own merits.

You have, ultimately, raised an empirical issue which needs to be addressed empirically, namely, Do English speakers today use "She is with child" as a euphemism for "she is pregnant"? For that matter, do English speakers even use any euphemisms today for "she is pregnant"?

Different languages use different euphemisms. Not every language uses euphemism for the same things.

The best translation for the widest audience is one which preserves the meaning of the original using an English wording which is commonly used to express that meaning. Matt. 1:18 was written using a commonly known and used euphemism. The English translation should also use a commonly known and used euphemism in order to be in the same kind of language as Koine (common) Greek.

You've raised an important empirical question, Gabriel, and it is being answered by the poll respondents. Thanks, again, for your contribution.

At Sat Jan 21, 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I agree that pregnant sounds a little clinical, maybe not what we want. She learned that she was going to have a baby might be the best equivalent for 'have in the belly' although I would also suggest "it became known that she was going to have a baby." I am finding that I am a true devotee of the GNB for natural language.

At Sat Jan 21, 03:14:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Gabriel, I disagree with your assertion that the phrase "with child" does not obscure the meaning. At least here in the UK, it would not generally be understood. If I read in a newspaper that "the woman was with child", I would understand that to mean that the woman was accompanied by a child, and that a poor writer has omitted "a". Matthew 1:18 RSV, "she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit" sounds like she has been caught with a stolen baby, whatever it might mean that that baby was the child of the Holy Spirit. So clarity demands a different rendering. And so does accuracy, for this RSV rendering links "of the Holy Spirit" with "child", whereas in fact there is no such link in the Greek (there cannot be because there is no word for "child") but rather the Holy Spirit should be linked with her state.

I would agree that an appropriate euphemism might be an improvement on the plain word "pregnant". But it needs to be one which is in current use and well understood. The best candidate I can think of is "expecting", but that now sounds a bit old-fashioned to me as most people here don't use a euphemism any more but simply say "pregnant".

At Sat Jan 21, 03:39:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Carl, are you really saying that we should tear up our Greek grammar books, the ones which teach us that εὑρέθη heurethē is passive, whereas the correct middle form would be something like εὕρετο heureto? Is there in fact no such distinction of forms? Was there no way in Greek to distinguish between "She found herself to be pregnant" and "She was found (by others) to be pregnant"? These are two very different events, which in a difficult case like this, where Mary had every reason to conceal her pregnancy from others, might have been separated by several months. So it is important to make the distinction properly. If the meaning of εὑρέθη heurethē was in fact ambiguous, surely the author would have clarified it? And if the passive meaning was ruled out, how would a Greek author have expressed the passive sense?

Anyway, εὑρέθη heurethē and similar forms cannot always be middle in sense. A passive sense is required in Romans 10:20, 1 Corinthians 4:2, 1 Peter 2:22, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 5:4, 12:8, 14:5, 16:20, 18:22,24, 20:11 - in these cases either the grammatical subject is inanimate and so cannot be the agent as well as the patient, or there is a semantic impossibility of the subject is the agent. So I conclude that in Matthew 1:18 εὑρέθη heurethē cannot be unambiguously middle, and so it must be either ambiguous or passive.


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