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Monday, July 24, 2006

translation checking

Every Bible translation (or translation of any text, for that matter) should be carefully checked before it is published. Checking should take place regardless of the exegetical expertise of its translators or whether the translation is being done for a major national language, such as French, Swahili, Mandarin, English, or Hindi, or for a previously bibleless people group.

Translation checking should involve careful examination of at least two parameters:
  1. Accuracy
  2. Naturalness
Even if a team of highly trained exegetes, such as biblical scholars with doctorates in biblical languages and exegesis, has produced a translation, that translation should still receive an exegetical check by some group of well-trained exegetes who did not participate in the translation itself. Such independence helps create objectivity for an exegetical check.

A critically important aspect of translation checking which has often not been done for national language translations (such as English) is checking for linguistic naturalness. Here it is absolutely essential that a team of highly qualified native speakers/writers of the language, independent of the original translation team, perform a check for lingustic naturalness of every sentence in the translation. These individuals should be recognized by their speech community as outstanding in terms of their ability to spot translation wordings which are not native to the translation language. Typically they will be recognized as good orators or authors. They will constantly be asking of the translation: "Do we actually say (or write) it this way in our language?" If the answer is "no," they can be empowered to revise the translation until it is written in a manner that all speakers of the language recognize as being of high quality, ideally sounding like it was written originally in the target language. Or the process may call for them to note each wording which the checkers felt was unnatural and send the translation back to the translation team to revise. In any case, the process of translation, checking, and revision continues in a cyclical feedback fashion until a translation passes all appropriate checks. The goal would always be that the translation have the same propositional and rhetorical meanings, to the extant that it is humanly possible, as those intended by the original biblical authors.

Translation checking should take place on any translation of the Bible, regardless of which translation approach was used to produce it. There is a range of translation acceptability possible within the varieties of registers and reading levels which translation teams can used. So various translation approaches can be used to produce differing translations which reflect these desired literary levels. There is no one single "correct" translation for any single biblical text sentence. Different Bible versions will reflect differences desired for different audiences, such as those who might desire a more formal sounding Bible for liturgical use and others who might desire a less formal Bible version for use with unchurched individuals or children. But each version should still undergo a rigorous translation checking process, to try to bring each version up to the best level of exegetical and linguistic quality as possible.

The world has yet to see an English translation of the Bible which has undergone a meticulous checking process of the kind called for in this post. When such a translation is produced or when a current translation is revised with such checking, we will have better Bibles, ones which are not only accurate but pleasant to read because they sound good to millions of native English speakers.

9 Comments:

At Mon Jul 24, 05:28:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Mon Jul 24, 06:44:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Why do you qualify this as a criterion for Bible translation?

Thanks for asking this. I did not intend to limit this to Bible translation. I just happen to be in the Bible translation profession myself where employees in our organization are required to do such translation checking. I evaluate English versions as a sideline and I see that English versions are often deficient precisely because they have not undergone such checking which any kind of translation, whether of the Bible or any other text, needs.

The need for such checking exists for all kinds of translation, as you probably have noticed reading some websites created by non-native speakers of the language in which the website is written, or an appliance manual with the same issue.

 
At Mon Jul 24, 07:35:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon. (and ever and anon.?!),

I have revised the post slightly to address your question.

 
At Tue Jul 25, 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Maeghan said...

English versions are often deficient precisely because they have not undergone such checking

How do we know the versions we are using have actually gone through such a checking process?

Out of curiousity, how long would this checking process normally take? As I would imagine it to be, having an entire new team looking into the translation would spark off another round of discussion/debates/what-have-you as there will bound to be disagreements.

God bless,
Maeghan

 
At Tue Jul 25, 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Maeghan asked:

How do we know the versions we are using have actually gone through such a checking process?

The first version to do such a check will surely say so in its introduction. It will be such a breakthrough that its publishers will want to promote it.

Out of curiousity, how long would this checking process normally take?

It would depend on how large the checking team is. A single checker (there should be more) *might* be able to complete a naturalness check in a year.

As I would imagine it to be, having an entire new team looking into the translation would spark off another round of discussion/debates/what-have-you as there will bound to be disagreements.

Yes, that is a possibility, but each team in a translation process can be trained to understand the boundaries for their own work. Checkers should not be making changes to the text itself. Instead, they should just flag wordings which appear inaccurate or unnatural to them. They should then send the translation back to the actual translators to make revision. This feedback cycling should continue until the translation passes translation checks. I probably did not make it clear enough in my post that checkers should only check and not translate. Each separate team has its specialized responsibilities in a translation project.

 
At Tue Jul 25, 12:56:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Wayne, I have a question about this "translation checking" and it has to do with the "naturalness" factor of a translation.

My question is, when a translation is rendered as natural sounding as possible, does this necessitate a more "dynamic/functional/closest equivalent" approach to translating in the first place? Or can a formal/literal translation be rendered as natural as a closest equivalent translation?

I honestly have no idea personally, and this is why I deposit this question here. I am particularly interested in the opinion of everyone on this blog (including Peter, Wayne, Suzanne, Marlowe, Dan, Anon, whoever).

Also, be aware, I am not attempting to start a closest equivalent vs. formal equivalent battle. I am merely asking whether or not a translation into natural english more or less necessitates certain tasks foreign to a formal method of translation.

 
At Tue Jul 25, 12:59:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Also, to add to the post above. What translations (both formal and functional) would everyone regard as more or less better at the whole "naturalness" aspect?

 
At Tue Jul 25, 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Matthew asked:

My question is, when a translation is rendered as natural sounding as possible, does this necessitate a more "dynamic/functional/closest equivalent" approach to translating in the first place? Or can a formal/literal translation be rendered as natural as a closest equivalent translation?

Very perceptive questions, Matthew. I would like to think that, as I tried to state in my post, natural language can be used with a variety of translation approaches. I suspect, however, that there are limits, that some translation approaches would not lend themselves well to being in natural language. Again, though, I do think there is a range of literary quality within which natural language can be used. And I think there are degrees of naturalness. Some wordings are more natural than others. I would have little problem if someone preferred a more "dignified" "sacred" "formal" sounding Bible, as long as it was written in natural dignified language. And there are registers of language which are more formal but still use natural phrasings at the social level of language.

 
At Tue Jul 25, 04:30:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

My own opinion on Matthew's comment is that:

1) It would be possible to improve the naturalness of current English formal equivalence translations significantly, especially in terms of giving them a more contemporary and less formally literary feel, without compromising their general formal equivalence character;

2) There are limits to this process in that there is a fundamental contradiction between formal equivalence which means using the grammatical structures of the source text, and naturalness which implies among other things using grammatical structures which are natural in the target language. For there are bound to be places where the source text uses grammatical structures which are completely unnatural in the target language. At such places some generally formal equivalent translations do make some structural adaptations for the sake of naturalness, but where they do so they compromise their formal equivalence character. I don't consider this a bad thing, but some might!

 

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