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Monday, May 01, 2006

Potential Bible Translators

When Philip asked the Ethiopian (Acts 8:31) if he understood what he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, he replied, How can I, unless someone guides me?

This reminds me of an article entitled Translators Are Born, Not Made by Dr. Eugene Nida (published in The Bible Translator by the United Bible Society). After discussing with experienced translators and teachers of translation what the key element of successful translation is likely to be, Dr. Nida concluded that the most important factor for potential Bible translators is creative imagination, which involves the following:

A capacity to spot problems in the source-language text (e.g., Greek), to detect things which are difficult to understand and things which can have more than one meaning (e.g., foundation of the apostles – Ephesians 2:20)

An ability to spot statements which do not really make sense (e.g., less than the least – Ephesians 3:8)

An ability to recognize figurative expressions which at first sight appear to be completely non-figurative (e.g., filled with the Spirit – Ephesians 5:18)

An ability to recognize mixed figures of speech, which produce serious problems in transferring thoughts from one language to another (e.g., rooted in love – Ephesians 3:17)

An ability to recognize the potential problems of transferring meaning into another language (e.g., God and Father – Ephesians 1:3)

A capacity to recognize expressions that could appear to be contradictions in a given language (e.g., sweet-smelling sacrifice – Ephesians 5:2)

A capacity to sense ways of communicating meaningfully in a particular language
Dr. Nida concludes his article by stating that one key to the potential ability of a person to be a translator is their deep-seated dissatisfaction with existing translations and their creative use of words in wanting to explain to people what these wooden and often misleading translations are really trying to say.

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11 Comments:

At Tue May 02, 05:22:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

"...one key to the potential ability of a person to be a translator is their deep-seated dissatisfaction with existing translations and their creative use of words in wanting to explain to people what these wooden and often misleading translations are really trying to say."

That is an interesting statement on what it means to be a (good) translator.

In my experience (I am not trying to put myself above Dr. Eugene Nida, just saying what my first reaction to what he said was – if I am wrong, please, correct me), it is actually the opposite.

For me, in the country and language I work with, it is my deep-seated dissatisfaction with existing translations that are floppy (sorry, couldn't think of a better word opposite "wooden") and often mislead readers through over-explanation and contextualization that moves me to desire to be a part of translating a new Bible version in the future (I am returning to school for that very purpose this July).

If a translation existed that was wooden, personally I would be much happier (though I would not be satisfied), because you can move on from that (teach how to read it and how to interpret it) - but since the translations that exist are floppy how do you go back? When the "Word" of God explains and takes the mystery out of a passage that has been debated about for centuries - where do you go in your study from there? There is nowhere to go, because a floppy, over-explaining, contextualized translation has cut you off from going any farther.

 
At Tue May 02, 05:53:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

I thought I would give an example - I know this is not English - so forgive me. But I am interesting in hearing what you all think (this isn't really a huge, huge deal, or a verse that has been debated about for centuries, but I think just the easiest problem to give as an example).

John 3:16 in the Khmer Old Version (the new translations also have this same problem, though it is translated using slightly different words) is back-translated from Khmer into English as follows:
"Because God loves the word to the nth degree He gave His only Son in order to grant the person that believes in the Son's name to not be destroyed but rather to have a life that is eternal"

I believe anyone who knows Greek should pick up a problem in this translation (hint: "to the nth degree")

Can anyone shed some light on this? Are there other translations that translate like this or is it because the English Bible was misunderstood ("so loved the world")?

-Nathan

 
At Tue May 02, 05:54:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Dan, I was wondering, you posted some verses here that seem to always have trouble being translated into other languages - do you have a bigger list?

If you do (or know of one) I would be very interested in seeing it.

Thanks,
Nathan

 
At Tue May 02, 06:36:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Nathan, Thanks for your comments.

> ... moves me to desire to be a part of translating a new Bible version in the future (I am returning to school for that very purpose this July).

I'm glad to hear that and I wish you well in that endeavor.

Thanks for the example from John 3:16.

> I believe anyone who knows Greek should pick up a problem in this translation (hint: "to the nth degree")

That's an interesting expression, but I'm not sure how much of a problem it is. I might consider the expression anachronistic, since it is unlikely that Jesus used such terminology in his day. But if this expression in Khmer conveys the Greek idea (which English translations often render "so much"), it may not be inappropriate. I would suggest doing some field testing to see who misunderstands the expression and why. By the way, what expression is used in the New Khmer translation?

> you posted some verses here that seem to always have trouble being translated into other languages - do you have a bigger list?

I've posted a number of comments on this blog regarding the CEV and The Message. You might find those helpful.

 
At Tue May 02, 08:57:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Does it convey the Greek idea?

What does ουτως mean?

Does it not mean, "Like so" or "In this way"?

(English versions that say "For God so loved the world" are not incorrect, because the word "so" in this case does not mean "so much" but rather, "in this way". We still use the word "so" like that today in a sentence such as, "Hold the bat like so" but it really is an older usage of the word [I heard Bill Mounce talk about this and the discussions he had when they were translating the ESV - he did not want the ESV to use "so" in this verse, but because of tradition he was ruled out - interesting]).

Am I mistaken? I don't really know Greek.

The reason I chose "nth" is because I couldn't really think of an English equivalent of the Khmer phrase.

The Newer translations translated back into English say: "God loves the world a lot" or God loves the world very much"



-Nathan

 
At Wed May 03, 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Nathan, it seems to me that there is a real exegetical uncertainty here about the meaning in this context of the Greek word Οὕτως Houtōs. The UBS Translator's Handbook states:

The adverb translated so much in TEV refers more to the manner than the degree of love. That is, it would explain the way in which God showed his love for the world rather than the intensity or extent of his love.

However, Don Carson, in his Pillar commentary on John, writes:

The Greek construction behind so loved that he gave his one and only Son (houtōs plus hōste plus the indicative instead of the infinitive) emphasizes the intensity of the love, and insists that the envisaged consequence really did ensue.

All of the Khmer translations you mention seem to follow Carson's exegesis in referring to the degree or intensity of the love. You may have good reason to prefer the alternative exegesis referring only to the manner of the love, but you should be aware that this is an exegetically debatable matter, not a problem or a misunderstanding.

 
At Wed May 03, 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Thank you Peter. I was unaware that there was much argument about this.

But isn't it incorrect English (if we are referring to degree) to say "I love you so" without including more information (like much, dearly).

If someone says, "I love you so"
I think the reply would be, "So what?"
The answer, "so much!"

If I am correct, then it seems most English translations agree with the UBS position.

If this is really all that debatable, why do most versions follow the KJV (I realize it is debatable, but it just seems like most Bible versions have chosen to side with the UBS line of thought).

Even the Message seems to go with UBS (they use "much" but not really in connection with degree or intensity, because they let what God did define how much He loves us):

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life."

I would be interested in knowing if the Greek word ουτως is ever translated as describing the "intensity" of something outside of John 3:16

In the versions I normally use I can't find one.

Something interesting is that all the Khmer Bibles are by the UBS...and they say (at least the newer ones) they used the handbook...strange.

-Nathan

 
At Thu May 04, 12:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Well, Nathan, the UBS is by no means a monolithic organisation which mandates that all Bible translations must use the precise exegesis given in its handbooks, although no doubt it is one source taken into account in preparing a translation. Indeed I am working on a project with a UBS Translation Consultant who frequently encourages the team to use a different exegesis.

I would understand the rendering in the Message as clearly following Carson's exegesis, with "how much" referring to the intensity or extent of God's love. And that is really how I have understood the traditional English rendering; "so" with a verb rather than an adjective does not usually imply intensity or extent, but this would not be a natural way either to refer to the manner of love. I would agree with your uncertainty about "I love you so", but "I so love you", with a strong emphasis on "so", would be a natural and rather colloquial way of saying "I love you with a very great intensity". In fact the traditional English rendering is ambiguous between the two options - which may be deliberate.

Of course the real reason for the Khmer reading may be that that is how a translator, perhaps with limited knowledge of the source language, understood an English, French etc translation.

 
At Thu May 04, 12:58:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Nathan, you also asked "Why do most versions follow the KJV?" The answer to that is clearly that most translations follow traditional renderings, especially of very familiar verses, unless there is a really good reason to change them. In some ways this is a good thing; it is certainly less confusing for readers who switch between versions, and for those who memorise verses. But there is also a real risk that the true exegesis of these passages will not be properly studied by new teams of translators. I suspect that that is what has happened with John 3:16: everyone thinks they know what it means, but as soon as you scratch the surface a little you spot the ambiguity.

This of course ties up well with the following part of what Dan quoted from Eugene Nida on requirements for Bible translators:

A capacity to spot problems in the source-language text (e.g., Greek), to detect things which are difficult to understand and things which can have more than one meaning (e.g., foundation of the apostles – Ephesians 2:20)

An ability to spot statements which do not really make sense (e.g.,
less than the least – Ephesians 3:8)

Unfortunately not all Bible translators have this kind of creative imagination, or they are not encouraged to exercise it. The result is wooden translations which simply repeat earlier translations but do not actually clearly teach anything, to those who don't already think they know what the passage means.

 
At Thu May 04, 05:28:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Peter, Thanks for your good responses.

Nathan, Here is a Translation Glimpse from one of my newsletters a year ago.

John 3:16 is a familiar verse to many of us:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." (NKJV)

Many people think the word "so" conveys the idea of degree in this verse. Although the Greek term "houtos" may convey that idea here, it more often conveys the idea of manner throughout the New Testament. Some translations such as the "Contemporary English Version" clearly express the idea of degree:

"God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son . . ."

Other translations such as "God’s Word" clearly express the idea of manner:

"God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son . . . "

Hart Weins, Director of Scripture Translation for the Canadian Bible Society (www.BibleSociety.ca), comments:

"Often the intended meaning is so rich that it is impossible to capture it fully in any one version. In this case, John may well have intended to express both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which that love was expressed. The challenge for the translator is to capture both thoughts in a way that is clear and natural."

 
At Thu May 04, 06:13:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Interesting stuff - thanks for talking with me about this (and for shedding some light on the subject).

Interesting how people can have different thoughts, though they are reading the same thing (refering to the Message passage). I guess that just goes to show how difficult interpretation really is.

I can't really say anything more than I have on this subject, because it is beyond my reach. Maybe in 10-20 years ;)

Thanks again,
Nathan

 

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