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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Should stylists change a translation?

In a comment on Christopher Heard's Higgaion blog, Jack Poirier suggests that NIV is "a paraphrase rather than a translation". Here is his comment in full:
One of my former professors was on the translation committee for the NIV, but even he hates that Bible and won’t use it. According to him, once the translation committee did its work, their completed translation was given to a group of English professors in order to “improve” the wording from an English standpoint. In other words, the final wording of the NIV was determined by a group of editors who don’t read the original languages. That, in my opinion, makes the NIV a paraphrase rather than a translation. (BTW, the translation committee was not warned in advance that their work would be changed by a group of English professors.)
Has anyone heard this point made before? Can anyone confirm its truth?

[Update, 14th September: The Chairman of the NIV translators has effectively denied the truth of this account. See the comments by Wayne Leman.]

Is it a reasonable policy to allow the text of a translation to be changed by stylists of the target language, apparently without reference back to the original translators?

My own answer to this would start by affirming that target language stylists should indeed be involved with the translation process. However, this should not be a separate stage following translation by original language experts, but from the beginning an integral part of the translation process, with stylists working alongside original language experts. Changes proposed by stylists certainly need to be approved by experts in the original languages.

However, I can see that it might not be practical to agree every stylistic change with every original translator. Also it might not be possible to agree on every kind of change, especially if the translator's instincts are rather literalistic. So it is not surprising, however well a project might be run, that some members of translation teams become rather disgruntled with the whole process.

Bible translation is difficult and time-consuming. Translators who are part of a team, rather than those producing one man or woman versions, need some give and take, and to accept that sometimes their preferences will not be accepted by the majority. All of us who work in this field need plenty of humility.

12 Comments:

At Wed Sep 13, 05:55:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

It sounds like an apocryphal story. I have two separate books that chronicle the origin of the NIV, and I've never heard anything like that.

First thing to confirm would be the name of Poirier's professor.

Regardless, he can have whatever opinion he wants--the NIV is not a paraphrase.

It simply sounds like more rhetoric from those who believe that formal equivalency is the only way to translate.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 06:37:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

By the way, in recent decades, translation committees have all worked with stylists to one degree or another. It's just more evident with some translations than with others.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 08:14:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rick, if you think this story needs confirming, why don't you ask about Poirier's professor at Higgaion? I have no other way to contact him, as he hasn't even provided a profile or URL to view. But he does seem to be repeating something which he has heard directly from a translation committee member, so it is not just an urban legend, although it may be a story which has become a little distorted in the memory and retelling.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 08:38:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

There is no stylist on the CBT which is responsible for the text of the NIV and TNIV.

There is no other person(s) who revises the text after it has been worked on by the CBT.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 08:49:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I have just added my own response on Chris Heard's blog to the claim about the stylists altering the work of the CBT. And I have notified CBT members of the claim and my response. I should get a response from the CBT before too long, if they are not too busy.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 08:55:00 AM, Blogger CJ said...

Could it be this Jack Poirier?

 
At Wed Sep 13, 11:57:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I guess, Peter, that I was implying that I don't believe him. Or you may be right that the story has been distorted. It seems that there's always something about this or that committee member being disgruntled or an immoral person or whatever coming from the detractors. None of it really matters though as any translation has to be judged as a final product in relation to the original texts.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 12:11:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

I guess, Peter, that I was implying that I don't believe him.

I would hesitate to disbelieve him unless he has exhibited controversial behavior in the past. On the other hand, something like this definitely needs to be confirmed before it can be trusted. He may be honest, but perhaps his professor was not. A person can relay bad information with all the integrity in the world, but the information itself may not be reliable.

Hmm, kinda reminds me of a lot of "Christians" that I know (not bashing all of us, but we all know the kind... only Christians in church types).

Peter said, All of us who work in this field need plenty of humility.

To bad that "need" is not a "have"! Not against you personally, but I'm sure you, as well as many others know plenty of translators or just "educated" people who think they know the original language better than the original authors did.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Of course it could just be that Poirier and/or his professor made a mistake, have faulty memories of something said many years ago, or totally misunderstood the situation at the time. I wonder if in fact Poirier's professor worked not on NIV but on NRSV, concerning which similar claims have recently been made and documented on this blog.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 07:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Here is a response from the current chairman of the CBT:

"Wayne,

I don't know about other recent English versions, but as for the NIV and the TNIV no English stylists (or any other hands) touched the text that came from CBT's own final reading and editing of the approved text. Some English stylists were consulted during the preparation of the NIV, but the final reading and editing was done by CBT alone sitting in plenary sessions. A couple of English stylists sat with CBT in the preparation of the NIVI [published only in the UK], but no English stylists were involved in the preparation of the final text of the TNIV. Some proposals were submitted for CBT's consideration by those who were/are professional English stylists, but no stylist touched the final text that CBT decided upon.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to this rumor."

 
At Thu Sep 14, 04:08:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, thanks for confirming that this story is not in fact reliable. Perhaps I should have done before posting this. I will edit the post to reflect this. But it does seem clear that other translations have been changed by stylists. So the latter part of my post is still valid.

 
At Thu Sep 14, 09:00:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I would, however, want to ask the CBT chairman if his comments also apply to the UK editions of NIV and TNIV. Did the full CBT actually approve the British TNIV reading "feel sympathy" at Hebrews 4:15, or was this a change made by English language stylists made without reference to the CBT? The theological misunderstanding behind this change suggests the latter.

 

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