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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Excluding unnecessary clutter

There are many instances in which every word of the Greek New Testament does not need to occur in English to convey the meaning accurately, clearly, and naturally. In an article entitled Being Less than Explicit in Notes on Translation (published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics), Ballard and Palleson state that the meaning is often clearer if unnecessary clutter is excluded.

In the following examples, I’ve highlighted in red information that occurs in the original Greek text but is excluded in some English translations. On the first line of each example, I’ve listed some translations that include the information. On the second line, I’ve listed some that exclude it.

Matthew 3:15
Jesus answered and said to him, (NKJV, NASV)
Jesus answered him, (RSV, NIV, TEV, CEV, NLT, Message, God’s Word)

Matthew 13:32
… the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV)
… the birds come and make their nests in its branches. (TEV, CEV, NLT, Message)

John 16:21
a human being has been born into the world. (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV, TEV, CEV, NLT)
when the baby is born, (Message)

James 2:15
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (NKJV, NASV, RSV, NIV)
If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, (TEV, CEV, NLT, Message)
For the target audience of The Better Life Bible, I’ve also excluded unnecessary clutter so the meaning is conveyed clearly and naturally.

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At Thu Apr 06, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Dan, good post. From my POV, a lot of times people object to "taking out" the "clutter" thinking that there is something significant about it. I personally think that in many, perhaps most, cases it was a circumlocution in the original language, a way of saying what we in English would say more concisely. It seems to me more accurate to use the English translation equivalent.

The converse works also. There are concise wordings in the biblical languages which are most accurately translated sometimes with a greater number of words in English. Counting number of words is definitely not an accurate way to measure translation adequacy. But there have been some who have used that methodology. I know it has been used as part of a translation theory to check translation equivalence in one non-English-speaking country, but I won't mention the name.

At Thu Apr 06, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

I'm all for avoiding unnecessary circumlocutions, but I cringe at the word "clutter". I think a line must be drawn between translating and editing. Making clear, concise translations is an admirable goal, which likely involves making what is circuitous in the donor language less so in the recipient language. However, I worry that attempting the removal of "clutter", as a goal unto itself, could introduce bias into the text.

At Thu Apr 06, 01:21:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Dan, I'm not yet done with the orthotomeo thread, and you bring up another biggie. I have a lot to say about quote introducers like the first example, viz. that some languages (like English) allow a wide range of verbs to introduce quotes, esp. verbs that express manner of speaking (whisper, mumble, shout, bark, etc., etc.) Most languages of the world don't. If you want to say He shouted, "Get in here this instant.", you have to say something like He shouted and said, "Get in here this instant.". That isn't clutter. It's the price of introducing a quote. When the orthotomeo discussion is over. I'll post on this.

At Thu Apr 06, 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich, I'd like to clarify what I think you are saying in case someone might misunderstand (and please do correct me if I have misunderstand you).

What I hear you saying is that there are some languages which require both the verb of speaking *action* as well as the speech quote margin verb itself. Right?

Now what I heard Dan saying is that there are languages like English in which the speech quote verb is "mplicit" within the speech action verb (and you affirmed this about English in your comment).

I just want it to be clear that Dan was posting about English translation, not about removing something from the text of the biblical canon. In his translation to English, Dan has been trying to follow the rules of the English lexicon rather than those of the biblical languages, which is only proper for translation *into* English.

At Thu Apr 06, 01:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

funky dung said:

I'm all for avoiding unnecessary circumlocutions, but I cringe at the word "clutter". I think a line must be drawn between translating and editing. Making clear, concise translations is an admirable goal, which likely involves making what is circuitous in the donor language less so in the recipient language. However, I worry that attempting the removal of "clutter", as a goal unto itself, could introduce bias into the text.

I appreciate your concern, Eric. But I think that Dan was quite specific about removing only real clutter, that is, words which are not properly found linked together in the English lexicon as they are in the lexicons of some other langauges, specifically, in this case the biblical language texts. I don't understand how bias can be introduced by such careful, specific, accurate translation. In fact, if we retained a word for word English translation of the original text for the circumlocutious wordings, we can introduce a kind of bias, causing many English people to think that the biblical authors are referring to two related by different actions, such as shouting and saying. But in Hebrew and Aramaic (and the Greek direct translations of it) they were a single action. This is case where literal translation is not accurate.

At Thu Apr 06, 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

I didn't mean to imply that Dan was insincere in his motives. However, even sincere motives can have nasty consequences.

Perhaps some of my concern comes from not knowing Greek. ;) I don't know what's a linguistic necessity and what's a creative choice.

I agree with the shortening of the Matthew verses, but I'm not so sure about the John and James verses. Just as Occam's razor can become Occam's machete if folks aren't careful, the desire to avoid clutter could destroy particularly evocative (perhaps even poetic) aspects of a text. For instance, is "born into the world" truly redundant or a deliberate stylistic choice? In James, is "brother or sister" expendible or is it meant to remind us to treat everyone as family?

I'm feeling a bit of deja vu. Haven't we addressed this issue before? ;)

At Thu Apr 06, 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Wayne, Thanks for your excellent responses to the concerns Funky and Rich raised.

Perhaps "clutter" isn't the best term to use because of its negative connotation. I borrowed it from the article I referred to. Others use the term "noise", but that also has a negative connotation. As I think about it more, my view is that anything that distracts the reader from the focus of the message is a negative factor. That will vary widely from language to language and culture to culture, but I think translators should be extremely conscious of such distraction. Rich Rhodes and Mike Sangrey have recently addressed this in relation to metaphors.

Funky raised the question about the redundancy of "born into the world". I suppose there may be a time when people will be born outside of this world, but I don't think we're there, yet. If "into the world" has some metaphorical meaning in this particular context, I haven't heard or read about it. The focus of James is on "daily", not "brother or sister".

At Thu Apr 06, 08:59:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Regarding speech introducers, I've always found John 1:19-23 to be interesting. It is the passage where the priests and Levites are interrogating John the Baptist. A wide variety of speech introducers are used and I think John (the Evangelist) is using them very consciously.

Steven Levinsohn first put me on to speech introducers in his book "Discourse features of New Testament Greek."

I would be exceedingly cautious in "eliminating clutter." True we don't want to copy Greek forms into our English, but it behooves us to understand the uses of those various forms and try to use the equivalent in the translation.

At Thu Apr 06, 11:27:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Thanks, Wayne. I was talking about the differences between English and Greek, purely as a matter of language, and not implying anything Dan's take on the canon of Scripture.

There are actually two different factors in play -- manner of speaking verbs(whisper, shout, etc.) and verbs that express what you are doing by speaking (answer, rebuke, etc.) English is very liberal in allowing all manner of speaking verbs to introduce quotes ("Get off the couch," he yelled.). As for verbs expressing what you are doing by speaking, some are OK ("No thanks," he answered., "I'm leaving," he announced.,) others are ungrammatical, or at least quite weird: (*"Don't do it that way," he corrected.)

At Fri Apr 07, 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Would have been nice to see some other modern translations in the comparison list.


I know people can look them up on their own.


At Sat Apr 08, 08:00:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I don't want to steal Richard's thunder, but I think one of the languages he has in mind as generally using a specific speech introducer is biblical Hebrew. In the Hebrew Bible, most although not all direct speech is introduced with a word לֵאמֹר le'mor, which is literally an infinitive form of אמר 'mr "say" but is in fact functionally little more than a marker than direct speech follows. We shouldn't forget that quotation marks were not used in ancient texts! But some Old Testament translations attempt to translate this particle as something like "and said". Also, when the Greek New Testament has an apparently redundant verb "said", this is very likely either a literal translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic original or an attempt to reproduce Hebrew or Aramaic idiom in Gree - and so it should not be understand as having any meaning beyond that of a speech introducer.

The authentic Greek speech introducer, often used in a similar way in the New Testament, is ὅτι hoti. The complication here is that this word also has other uses.

At Sun Apr 09, 06:30:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Not so fast Peter. It is often cited as a Semiticism that in Greek manner of speaking/result of speaking is separated from the quote introducing verb (λέγω). Not so at all my learned Greek professor friends tell me. The very syntax of quote formulae that David Alan Black asserts is evidence of Semitic substrate is actually formulaic in Homer which means that it is REALLY old in Greek. When I get through with ὁρθοτομέω, I'll post on the syntax of quotes in Koine.

This also brings up a logic fallacy -- to borrow lingamish's term -- regarding arguments for Semitic influence in Koine. If you go looking for similarities between Koine and Aramaic, you will find them. The unasked question is why are they there? Everyone seems to assume, more or less as a matter of course, that Palestinian Koine got them from Palestinian Aramaic.

It ain't necessarily so. Indo-European has been sitting next to Semitic for a very, very, very long time. When those Russian Nostraticists in the 1960's proposed that Indo-European and Semitic are ultimately related, they had to work hard to figure out which words were inherited from a common Nostratic root and which had been borrowed at a later time. One of the original Nostraticists, the Semiticist Dolgopolsky (U Haifa), has done absolutely brilliant work showing loan words from Proto-Semitic into Proto-Indo-European (including *septm 'seven'). Then, of course, there is evidence of Semitic influence on Celtic (the work of Orin Gensler, now in Leipzig) -- at a later period than PIE, and finally more recently Greeks were using Aramaic as a diplomatic language for contacts into the Middle East since Classical times. So what shows up in Biblical Koine is not always, and maybe not even that often, due to Palestinian area language contact. More on this later.

At Mon Apr 10, 02:27:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Richard. Well, my main point was about Hebrew. But it seems that Greek also used this kind of redundancy, and not only in Semitic influenced Koiné. But natural modern English does not. So that strengthens the case for removing the redundancy from translated Greek as well as Hebrew texts. For one cannot argue that the redundancy should be retained in translation of the NT to retain its special Semitic flavour and style - an argument which I would anyway reject as no one except for a few scholars would recognise this allegedly Semitic flavoured English.

At Fri May 12, 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Given the significance of 'kosmos' in John, I can't assume that "into the world" is unimportant in John 16:21.


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