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Monday, February 12, 2007

All things are lawful 2

To continue our discussion of 1 Cor. 10:23, I would like to identify a few criteria for a good translation. Frankly the term 'literal' is simply irritating to me. I have no idea what value a word-for-word translation could possibly have.

I do think that a translation which is 'transparent to the Greek' might have value. But I do not agree that this has ever been properly calibrated, so when that claim is made it does not mean much to me. Let's try these qualifiers.

First off, if the translation gives some idea of the semantic relationships it might be more transparent to the Greek. It might not be a good translation on the basis of actual meaning but it would connect the reader to allusions and relationships within Greek discourse.

Second, the stylistic characteristics are important. Is there a concrete metaphor in Greek and can it be translated? Often these metaphors are dead, and may counter the communication of meaning - but sometimes they are not - they add colour.

Third, with reference to style. I personally hold that the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary reflects the Greek language better. Greek does not have the mix of language roots that English does. In fact, English is unusual in having such a mixed source of vocabulary. Not unique, but atypical. I leave myself open to correction here by others - let's see what comes up.

Here is the verse again, (I am avoiding textual issues)

Now, let's try this,

    "I have the right to do anything," but not all things are helpful. "I have the right to do anything", but not all things build up.
Let's make this a tad closer to the Greek.

    "One has the right to do all things," but not all things are helpful. "One has the right to do all things," but not all things build up.
Now we have the Anglo-Saxon roots, it is about as transparent to Greek semantics as one can get, and the word order and other grammatical features are preserved. I am not saying that this is the best translation - that depends on your definition of best - but I suggest that it is transparent to the Greek.

I have deliberately chosen the impersonal pronoun to strengthen the impression that this is a quote - an aphorism - and to avoid imposing a pronoun not supplied in the Greek. This may not be the best register, but I would suggest it is 'transparent to the Greek'.

I don't suppose that anyone will like this version, but simply, this could be an example of what is 'transparent to the Greek'. Let's define this quality and then make claims about certain translations.

I had the unfortunate experience of hearing a minister recently explain that he had chosen a certain translation on the basis of a claim he read in the preface. But he was unable to verify whether this claim was true. I have also heard remarks that certain translations are "dumbed down." And how would one define that - I ask.

Thank you to commenters for inspiration.

11 Comments:

At Mon Feb 12, 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I have no idea what value a word-for-word translation could possibly have.

It may be a moot point, Suzanne. As various ones have wrestled with defining "word-for-word translation," everyone of them has recognized that not true word-for-word translation exists, except for some interlinear translations. I recall reading something Wayne Grudem wrote somewhere, not too long ago, in which he defined a word-for-word translation as one in which everyone word of the original text is accounted for in the translation. That seems like a reasonable definition to me, but then the result of such a translation approach is often not very different from what word-for-word translation advocates decry.

Each approach recognizes that word order cannot be strictly retained from a biblical languages to a translation language. Each approach recognizes that some biblical idioms simply do not make sense in English, so that are not translated "literally". Each approach recognizes that there often is not a mapping one-to-one of a word in the original language to a word in the translation language. Sometimes more words are needed in the translation language to accurately express the same meaning, sometimes fewer words. Ultimately, it all seems to come down to a matter of degree: To what degree is a particular Bible translation matched up with a word in the original to a word in the translation? And much of the time that is not a very helpful question. We really need to ask additional questions to determine whether or not a translation is as accurate and adequate as we would like.

I appreciate what you are trying to do, to get a better handle on these concepts that become slippery when we try to pin them down. I also appreciate the fact that, in practice, few who translate the Bible translate it as closely as they might to how they say that they want it to be translated. We all benefit because the form-meaning relationships between any two languages are never exact. There is always slippage.

Thanks for continuing this interesting series.

 
At Tue Feb 13, 03:35:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

I agree with your statement that the impersonal fits better to the Greek, rather than the indefinite (see GW vs NLT). It seems that using a personal pronoun for the first clause becomes an accusation, even an attack, and the Greek does not warrant that. Of course, GW then uses the first person pronoun in the second half...which might be legitimate theologically in Paul's argument, but I think your choice is better if we want the translation as transparent as possible.

I am curious what direction your study will take with regard to transparency, because I think most translations fail here. But then again, what exactly is the criteria for transparency?

 
At Wed Feb 14, 09:10:00 AM, Blogger jdb548 said...

Sometimes more words are needed in the translation language to accurately express the same meaning, sometimes fewer words. Ultimately, it all seems to come down to a matter of degree

Wayne,

Do you agree with Leland Ryken's distinction between linguistic and thematic interpretation when translating?

Joel

 
At Wed Feb 14, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Do you agree with Leland Ryken's distinction between linguistic and thematic interpretation when translating?

Joel, I'm not familiar with that distinction. Could you explain it to me and then I should be able to tell you whether or not I agree with Dr. Ryken's point there? I suspect that I do, but I need to understand it before I say something.

 
At Wed Feb 14, 08:54:00 PM, Blogger jdb548 said...

Sure, Wayne.

Ryken defines linguistic interpretation as "a judgment that translators make regarding what English words best render the meaning of the words in the original biblical text."

Ryken defines thematic interpretation as changing "the words of the original in ways that explain the meaining of the text or influence a reader's choice of one possible meaning over another option."

 
At Wed Feb 14, 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Joel clarified:

Ryken defines linguistic interpretation as "a judgment that translators make regarding what English words best render the meaning of the words in the original biblical text."

Ryken defines thematic interpretation as changing "the words of the original in ways that explain the meaining of the text or influence a reader's choice of one possible meaning over another option."


Thanks, Joel. Well, just from that extract, I would prefer linguistic interpretation.

But even Bible versions which Dr. Ryken prefers, and even the ESV on which he worked, include thematic interpretation, as he has defined it. The ESV, for instance, makes choices for us as to whether or not a passage is addressed to male believers or to a group of believers which includes both males and females. One example is Rom. 12:1 where the ESV translates Greek adelphoi as English "brothers" even though many Bible scholars believe that the book of Romans was addressed to a body of believers in Rome that included both males and females. The ESV use of the word "brothers" chooses one meaning, that of a male-only group of believer, over another possible meaning, that of a group which includes females, as well. The Greek word can mean either in the appropriate context and Rom. 12:1 is one context where it is quite likely that female believers were included. We can see that from the greetings Paul gives in Rom. 16 which includes references to both male and female believers.

There are other choices that Bible versions which Dr. Ryken prefers make for readers, as well. So, while he states the definitions fairly clearly, in actual practice, translators, including Dr. Ryken himself, are not consistent in following them. Most Bible versions are a mix of the two approaches that Dr. Ryken presents. Most Bible versions are a mix of other Bible translation factors, as well. It is quite difficult to describe any single Bible version with broad stroke labels. On this blog, we attempt to show the different factors that enter into making a translation adequate. And we try to show that each translation passage needs to be evaluated on its own merits according to the various factors which enter into Bible translation. Such factors include whether or not to translate figurative language in the biblical text figuratively or literally, how closely translators will follow the natural, standard syntactic and lexical of English, what reading grade level they will translate to, whether or not they will use technical theological terms, etc.

This is not to say that there aren't tendencies. On the whole, for instance, the NASB is more literal than the NIV. But the NIV is quite literal in many passages. English Bible versions can be placed on a continuum from more literal to less literal, but when any specific passage from those versions is evaluated, the ranking among the versions with regard to degree of literalness can change.

And versions vary significantly for the other factors that enter into Bible translation decisions. We need to look at all of the factors when evaluating versions and choosing what kinds of versions to use for what kinds of purposes or which audiences.

Which of the translation approaches that Dr. Ryken defines do you prefer?

 
At Thu Feb 15, 01:16:00 PM, Blogger jdb548 said...

Thanks, Joel. Well, just from that extract, I would prefer linguistic interpretation.

Me too. :-)

But even Bible versions which Dr. Ryken prefers, and even the ESV on which he worked, include thematic interpretation, as he has defined it. The ESV, for instance, makes choices for us as to whether or not a passage is addressed to male believers or to a group of believers which includes both males and females. One example is Rom. 12:1 where the ESV translates Greek adelphoi as English "brothers" even though many Bible scholars believe that the book of Romans was addressed to a body of believers in Rome that included both males and females. The ESV use of the word "brothers" chooses one meaning, that of a male-only group of believer, over another possible meaning, that of a group which includes females, as well.

I don't think the example you've chosen falls under the rubric of thematic interpretation necessarily. Translating ADELFOI (B-Greek nomenclature) as "brothers" does not reveal, ipso facto, a thematic interpretation (still using Ryken's taxonomy, of course) on the part of the translator(s), IMO.

Which of the translation approaches that Dr. Ryken defines do you prefer?

I prefer a translation that sticks to linguistic interpretation and leaves thematic interpretation - as much as possible - to the discretion of the reader. I don't disagree with you that translations fall on a continuum and involve a mix of both approaches. But I do think word-for-word translation - depending on how it's understood - is possible and desirable. One of Ryken's contentions in one of his books is that no author would tolerate to his or her own work the thematic interpretive liberties that are regularly taken when translating the Bible. I think it's a point worth considering. But then again, I'm an amateur. :-)

Thank you for the exchange, Wayne. I'm relatively new to this blog and will enjoy reading it. Let me warn you, however, that I tend toward the "essentially literal" camp. :-)

Joel

 
At Thu Feb 15, 02:45:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Joel wrote:

I don't think the example you've chosen falls under the rubric of thematic interpretation necessarily. Translating ADELFOI (B-Greek nomenclature) as "brothers" does not reveal, ipso facto, a thematic interpretation (still using Ryken's taxonomy, of course) on the part of the translator(s), IMO.

How is it not "thematic interpretation", Joel? How does it not make a translation choice for us, choosing the option that Rom. 12:1 was addressed only to males and not to a group that included females?

Let me warn you, however, that I tend toward the "essentially literal" camp.

Good, Joel. Some of my best friends are in your camp! :-)

Seriously, the ISV, which I am reviewing now, is in the essentially literal camp and its quality of English in its wordings often satisfies my craving for good English in translations. My issue is not with how literal a translation is, but whether it accurately communicates the meaning of the biblical text and does so with English that sounds like it was written by a native speaker of English. There is room for different kinds of translations within those parameters.

I do *not* advocate freer translations if they are not accurate to the meaning of the biblical text. I don't want to waste my time reading them. But I also don't want to waste my time reading Bible versions which are only partially translated to English, that have English words but Greek or Hebrew syntax much of the time. Such translations obscure accuracy and keep Bible readers from knowing what the biblical texts meant.

I'll say it again, and am willing to say it thousands of more times: It is possible for a Bible translation to be both accurate and natural in the target language. The problem is that not enough English translators know how to word translations in good, grammatical English. They need to take refresher courses in how to write well in English and then need to discipline themselves and each other to practice what they learned in those courses.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 03:57:00 PM, Blogger jdb548 said...

How is it not "thematic interpretation", Joel? How does it not make a translation choice for us, choosing the option that Rom. 12:1 was addressed only to males and not to a group that included females?

If you look at Ryken's taxonomy, then there's your answer. Translating ADELFOI as "brothers" instead of "brothers and sisters" is a linguistic interpretation.

BTW, if this is in the realm of thematic interpretation, then explain to me why - as one example - NET has a footnote after "brothers and sisters" at Romans 12.1 that reads, "Grk 'Brothers'"?

I'll say it again. I think you've chosen the wrong example to illustrate ESV's thematic interpretation.

but whether it accurately communicates the meaning of the biblical text and does so with English that sounds like it was written by a native speaker of English.

I guess I don't accept those parameters. Why must an ancient text sound as if a native English author wrote it? Why must poetry be translated in the form of prose when brought into the receptor language? Etc.

Such translations obscure accuracy and keep Bible readers from knowing what the biblical texts meant.

The very same objection could be brought to bear upon freer translations: they impede a reader's understanding of what the Bible means because of their "editing" of what the Bible says.

Joel

 
At Thu Feb 15, 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Joel followed up:

If you look at Ryken's taxonomy, then there's your answer. Translating ADELFOI as "brothers" instead of "brothers and sisters" is a linguistic interpretation.

If this is what Dr. Ryken claims, then Dr. Ryken is wrong about Greek. ADELFOI does not mean "brothers" in every context. Sometimes it means "siblings" when it is referring to a group that includes both males and females.

Dr. Ryken's training is in English, so maybe that is how this error could come in.

BTW, if this is in the realm of thematic interpretation, then explain to me why - as one example - NET has a footnote after "brothers and sisters" at Romans 12.1 that reads, "Grk 'Brothers'"?

That is also in error, as is the same footnote in the NLT. The Greek ADELFOI only means 'brothers' when it refers to a group made up only of males. English Bible translators have gotten confused between different kinds of meanings and have passed that confusion on to those who read their translations. But don't take my word for it. Study the matter for yourself. Go ahead and study what ADELFOI means when it refers to a group consisting of both males and females. It means the same as any word we would use in English for such a group.

If you have both brothers and sisters in your family and you want to call all of them to eat supper, if you call them all "Brothers" and your sisters know that you are calling them also, then your word "brothers" includes both males and females. So far, however, in my field testing, I have found few, if any, English speakers who would ever use the word "brothers" to refer to their sisters.

I'll say it again. I think you've chosen the wrong example to illustrate ESV's thematic interpretation.

Well, you have the right to your opinion, but it is actually a very good example, *if* the English word "brothers" only refers to male siblings for most English speakers. We have to deal with the facts of both Greek and English when we are translating.

I said:

but whether it accurately communicates the meaning of the biblical text and does so with English that sounds like it was written by a native speaker of English.

Joel replied:

I guess I don't accept those parameters. Why must an ancient text sound as if a native English author wrote it?

It doesn't, if we read it in its original language. But if we are translating it to modern English, then it must sound like it was written by a modern speaker of English. That is how translation works. Translation expresses something originally said or written in one language to another language. Modern English is a language into which we are translating the Bible. It doesn't matter when the Bible was first written. There are plenty of cultural things in the Bible that will enable us to know that it is an ancient document. But if we translate the Bible to Early English, or even Middle English, then we have translated for people who have died. Few English speakers today understand Early English or Modern English, except those who have been trained in school to understand those languages.

Why must poetry be translated in the form of prose when brought into the receptor language?

Oh, but it shouldn't. But that is a different issue from what we have been discussing. It's fine, however, to discuss this one, also. Biblical poetry should be translated in a way that we can tell in English that it was originally poetry. I don't know of anyone who claims that Biblical poetry should be translated to English prose. I surely don't.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Sorry, Joel, I missed your final comment:

The very same objection could be brought to bear upon freer translations: they impede a reader's understanding of what the Bible means because of their "editing" of what the Bible says.

You are right *if* a freer translation changes the meaning of what the biblical text passages say. I repeatedly say on this blog, and will say it again, now, and probably many more times. The most important Bible translation factor is accuracy. Any Bible version which is a high number of inaccurate translation wordings should not be used.

Accuracy and readability (or "freedom" of translation) are two separate issues:

1. A Bible can be (essentially?) accurate but not very readable.

2. A Bible can be very readable but inaccurate.

Neither is an adequate translation. What we need are translations which are both accurate and written in natural, grammatical English. They will be both trustworthy and readable. It is possible to have both. I am currently checking the ISV translation for the ISV team. I am happy to report that the ISV, which is an essentially literal translation, also has a very high level of accuracy. In fact, for many passages it is more accurate than some more literal translations which follow traditional, but less accurate, wordings. For example, the ISV does a better job than most Bible versions of translating the tenses of Greek precisely. If there is a change in wording in the Greek then the ISV reflects that very carefully. But its translators, however it has happened, also write English rather well. It is not very common to find English Bible translators who can translate to good quality English. These men are unusual in that regard and I have told them how much I appreciate that quality about them. The ISV, of course, is not a perfect, translation. I have caught some problems, even some errors. But their team wants such input so that the final product will be as accurate and readable (both, not one or the other) as possible.

 

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