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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Translation is not an exact science

This is adapted from a comment I made on Richard's post What's in a Word. In a previous comment, Nathan had suggested that a translation must be corrupt if it cannot be translated precisely back to the original text.

All translators realise that translation is not an exact science. This means, among other things, that if you translate a sentence into another language and then back into the original language there can be no guarantee that you will get precisely back to the original text. This is true whatever translation style or philosophy you use, at least unless you use a highly artificial interlinear gloss type "translation" which would on its own probably be quite incomprehensible to the target language reader. It is just as much true of allegedly "full access" translations like ESV as it is of the most dynamic translation. I think I can safely say that there is not one single English Bible translation which could be translated perfectly back into the original language - especially because Greek word order is very fluid and its nuances can never be captured in English. I would not expect any Greek scholar, who had not memorised the Greek NT text, to be able to translate more than an occasional sentence of ESV or any other version precisely back into the original Greek - and similarly for Hebrew.

Does this mean that every English Bible translation is a bad translation? No, it means that there are fundamental limitations to what can be done in translation. If you really want full access to the original text, you need to learn the original language.


At Sat Jan 13, 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

I guess the only way is to compare various translations, from the NASB, ESV, T/NIV to NLT in order to get a fuller understanding. Learning the original language is a lot of work but so is comparing all the translations.


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