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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Structure and translation (Part 2)

Rich's recent posting is a breath of fresh air to me. If the reader has not read his post (Structure and translation), please go and read it now.

There's a profound irony expressed by the misunderstanding of how language works, and therefore, how translation must work. If the Tower of Babel did what I think it did, then cross-linguistic comprehensibility must be very hard. Otherwise, those people would have quickly hired a few interpretors and went back to building. If Packer is right--access to foreign form is access to contextual meaning--then we are faced with explaining how it is that people don't comprehend the text. If the answer to that is “it's a spiritual problem,” then why is the form an issue to begin with? One should simply show the text to the person and deal with the rebellious, sinful response to what the text plainly says. If it's not a spiritual problem, then why is comprehension of the text, as Packer would have it written, so difficult?[1] These questions reveal the irony.

The same point Rich makes has led me to hold that we need two types of translations. I've talked about this before, so I won't belabor the point. I wish to make another. To review: one type of translation is analytic, the other is synthetic. Analytic assumes the reader is trained in cross-linguistic analysis. Synthetic assumes a complete analysis of the original formulation of the text in order to obtain meaning, and then synthesizes that meaning into the target language. Packer argues that the former is sufficient. Clear, accurate, and natural translation argues that only the later is complete.

Now, with profound irony, my point is that many, many people fail to grasp the obvious: that the end result of analysis is not comprehensibility.
One does not comprehend a linguistically foreign text until one has put the result of analysis of that text into one's own language.

Comprehending a text is a synthetic, cognitive process, not an analytic one. If the text is composed of foreign linguistic structures, then it deeply depends on analysis, most certainly true; however, analysis is only a single step across a two step chasm—pausing after only one step is certain disaster.[2]

For me, the deeply disturbing thing is that vocal, Evangelical leaders insist the majority of people need to function at the analytic level. People don't. Sadly, this is where the accusation of lack of spirituality becomes quite damaging. It is wrong to insist that spiritual people must be analytic. It is right to provide a synthetic translation so that any person can read and comprehend and be changed.

[1] I base this last statement not on an assessment of the average Christian. I base it on the variety of interpretations delivered by independent and largely unaccountable Bible teachers and preachers. If access to foreign form is access to contextual meaning, then why do these spiritual leaders come to different conclusions? And why are they deeply disturbed by translations that make one prominent exegetical option readily available to the reader? My answer: It's obvious; foreign form is ambiguous and the Tower of Babel had profound impact on cross-linguistic communication.

[2] Another irony is that the pedagogy of original language education in our Bible schools and seminaries is permeated with taking only the first step—it's only analysis.


At Thu Apr 20, 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I think we have to come to grips with the ambiguity. This was a good post on Chris Tillings blog.


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