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Sunday, March 11, 2007

man of my peace

One of my projects these days is updating my chart evaluating translation of Hebrew Bible idioms. I am trying to pay more attention to the Hebrew text than I did when I first worked on this chart several years ago. In the process, I am having to make changes to my chart, deleting some entries and adding adding some. I'm a word collector. I get real pleasure learning some new metaphor or idiom in a language.

One of the most delightful Hebrew idioms I discovered recently is found in Psalm 41:9. The psalmist refers to his close friend as, literally, "man of my shalom." Isn't that beautiful?! Someone you can trust, in whom you can confide, is part of your shalom, your peace.

Of the 21 English versions I am evaluating for translation of Hebrew idioms, every one translated the idiomatic (figurative) meaning to English, as, for instance:
my close friend (NASB, NIV, TNIV, NET, ESV)
my trusted friend (NJB)
my most trusted friend (CEV)
my best friend (TEV)
my ally (NJPS)
my bosom friend (RSV, NRSV)
And these idiomatic translations are proper, because few of us English readers would understand a literal translation as "man of my peace." But, at a minimum, for those of us who like to know literal meanings, when they do not communicate well in translation, it would be good for the literal meaning to be footnoted.

After thinking about translation of "man of my peace," my mind jumped to the New Testament where Jesus sent his followers out to evangelize. He told them (Luke 10:5-6):
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. (ESV)
Jesus' followers were first to say "Shalom," the Hebrew greeting still used today, when they entered a house. Then, if a "man of peace" (NIV) lived there the greeting would stay with that man. If there was no man of peace in that house, the greeting would not stay there. The Greek phrase huios erenes is literally 'a son of peace,' as found in the more literal English translations of this passage. The genitive is attributive, describing the kind of person, in this case a "peaceful" (NLT, NCV, GW) or "peace-loving" (TEV, CEV, NET) one. The word erenes, which, I assume, was a literal translation of the Aramaic word Jesus used, is, appropriately translated with the English word "peace" in this case. But the corresponding Hebrew word shalom in Psalm 41:9 is appropriately translated idiomatically to English, because few of us would understand its figurative meaning if it were literally translated as "man of my peace."

We can see almost the same idiom, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament, which are translated differently, and properly so. The difference is in the contexts and what audiences would understand from the translations in each case. In the context of Luke 10:6, there is a focus on peace, whether or not someone is peace-loving. In Psalm 41:9, the focus is on the relationship between the psalmist and his trusted friend. The focus is not on literal peace, but, rather on the meaning of the entire idiom, which is the lexical unit to be translated, not the meaning of each individual word of the idiom, including the wonderful word "shalom."

I want to be a man of peace, of both kinds, a trusted friend, who never betrays a friendship, as well as a peace-loving person.

Shalom!

27 Comments:

At Sun Mar 11, 06:10:00 PM, Blogger John said...

The lexical unit in the Hebrew probably has a nuance that you do not discuss. Its usage in Obadiah 7, and more generally as an antonym to adversary, suggests a meaning like 'ally, confederate.' NJPSV in fact translates 'ally' in the Psalm you start from.

Whether or not 'son of peace' in the Greek calques an Aramaic phrase is a question I can't answer off the top of my head. Ralph the Sacred River probably could.

 
At Sun Mar 11, 07:41:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here is the KJV which is quite nice also, I think.

mine own familiar friend

And the Louis Segond,

Celui-là même avec qui j'étais en paix

The one with whom I was at peace

 
At Sun Mar 11, 08:28:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Thanks, Suzanne. I considered including the KJV translation and perhaps should have. But when I thought about it, I realized I didn't understand it (I'm serious). I don't know what a familiar friend is. I know what it means that I am familiar with someone. I know what a familiar is, or at least what it means today. I wasn't sure I wanted to include a wording that might give some people the idea that my friend was a familiar. Wow, how time does change the primary meaning senses people have for words!

 
At Sun Mar 11, 08:33:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The lexical unit in the Hebrew probably has a nuance that you do not discuss. Its usage in Obadiah 7, and more generally as an antonym to adversary, suggests a meaning like 'ally, confederate.' NJPSV in fact translates 'ally' in the Psalm you start from.

Thanks, John. I think you and I might have been posting at the same time. I was revising the post to add the NJPS rendering to it. I wanted to add Alter's translation, but he hasn't yet published his translation of the Psalms (he's got at least the first draft done).

 
At Sun Mar 11, 10:29:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

familiar as an adjective means something from a family or someone who is intimate. It's in the dictionary.

 
At Sun Mar 11, 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

familiar as an adjective means something from a family or someone who is intimate. It's in the dictionary.

Yes, it is, but it's not in my personal lexicon of English. Not every English speaker has every meaning sense for every word which is found in an English dictionary.

Let me illustrate:

In my idiolect I cannot say any of the following, where "familiar" is an adjective modifying a noun:

my familiar book
my familiar teacher
my familiar friend

I can use "familiar" as a predicate adjective as in:

I am familiar with John.
I am familiar with the poetry of Luci Shaw.

 
At Sun Mar 11, 11:34:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Without any offense intended: your range of English is narrower than what is normally considered standard received English.

"Familiar book" gets seven hits in the New York Times since 1981. "Familiar books" get six hits "Familiar teacher" gets two hits. "Familiar teachers" get three hits. "Familiar friend" gets twenty-one hits. "Familiar friends" gets thirty-three hits. Seventy of these seventy-two references are noun phrases.

Moreover, the phrase "my familiar friend" is well established in English literature -- being used in works as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne's Ethan Brand("Come, deadly element of Fire -- henceforth my familiar friend!") to the title of Cristina Sumner's latest potboiler mystery to the chorus of that Stephen Foster song you must have learned at camp: "Sadly to Mine Heart Appealing" (actually, in the latter, it is usually as "old familiar lay.")

Indeed the expression "an old, familiar friend" is a standard cliche in English. I am shocked that it is not in your vocabulary.

Obviously, just using a fancy word for the sake of using a fancy should be shunned, but often unfamiliar words (does the expression "unfamiliar words" seem unintelligible or ungrammatical to you?) have a nuance that is important. For example, "familiar friend" means a friend who is as close as a family member. Now, other possibilities exist, but "intimate friend", for example, carries a second meaning that is not implied by "familiar friend."

And, indeed, familiar can be a noun -- I am surrounded by my familiars.

I'm a little disturbed by the notion that books cannot use grammar or words that are not our personal idiolect. How are we to expand our vocabulary or range of expressions?

 
At Mon Mar 12, 02:50:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, thank you for telling me that ""familiar friend" means a friend who is as close as a family member". Although I was familiar with the expression, I honestly didn't know that it meant this. I thought it was some kind of tautology, because if someone is a friend they must be someone one is familiar with.

But I am disturbed to read "I am surrounded by my familiars". In my dialect "familiar" as a noun is used only in the sense "An attendant spirit, often taking animal form", sense 2 in the American Heritage Dictionary, and so this would imply that you are some kind of witch surrounded by "familiar" spirits in animal form. I hope this is not true!

 
At Mon Mar 12, 08:14:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon., I respect your position, but we have a fundamental difference in how we determine what is the lexicon and grammar of a target audience for a Bible translation. Mine is that of a descriptive linguist who does field work with the target audience to discover what is the lexicon and grammar of that audience. Then, using the scientific method, once we have created a tentative translation we field test it with the target audience to discover if it communicates the intended meanings to that audience.

We do not discover the language used by our target audience by googling or from dictionaries, even though there is some value in both of these resources. Rather, we do our research with the actual language community for which we are creating a translation.

It doesn't bother me that my idiolect does not include some lexical items found in the idiolects of other speakers of English. Nor is it a concern to me that I have some jargon terms in my lexicon which many other speakers do not know.

As a translator I operate from the assumption that the most adequate translation is one which does not use jargon from any specialist dialects, whether or my own or anyone else. Instead, I desire to create translations which will sound like good quality, natural language to the widest number of speakers of a language community.

That requires careful research into the lexicon and grammar of both the source and target languages. Both, IMO, must be honored. The rules of both must be followed, IMO, in a translation.

Again, I respect your position. It is one which is held by a number of people who are concerned with Bible translation issues. Some express the idea like this, "People can be taught the meaning of words in the Bible. The Bible is intended to lift the literary standards of people."

That is a reasonable approach to Bible translation. It happens to be more difficult for people, since it creates one more barrier for people to understand the Bible. But if people are quick learners and have good teachers it can work. This method creates a subset of a language group that understands a special kind of "Bible language".

The other approach takes people where they are. Most native speakers of English have a fairly large vocabulary, not nearly as large, of course, as those who have majored in English literature. I forget the statistics, but I think that most native speakers of English can understand somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 words. Simplified English Bibles (for specialized audiences of people who have learned English as a second language) have vocabularies of about 500 words. Obviously, those simplified Bibles do not allow for the wide range of vivid metaphors and stylistic variation which many English speakers find so aesthetically satisfying.

It is possible to translate the Bible to English which is understood clearly by almost all native speakers and still use a rich English vocabulary, with several thousand English words used in the translation.

In summary, it has become clear to me that you and I have a different philosophy about how we determine what is the appropriate lexicon and syntax to use in Bible translations. I understand your position. I am familiar (!) with it. But my translation philosophy differs. I do my research directly with the people for whom I am translating to determine what lexicon and syntax to use with them.

Different kinds of Bible result from these two approaches. Some people prefer Bibles which are produced under your philosophy. Others prefer Bibles produced under mine. There are plenty of English Bibles available and everyone can choose which kind they want, which kind meets their own needs and language preferences.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 12:20:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I do my research directly with the people for whom I am translating to determine what lexicon and syntax to use with them.

I provided evidence (e.g., dozens of uses in the New York Times, song lyrics, cliches, literature) that "familiar friend" was in the lexicon and syntax of common English. For your position to be correct, all of these would need to be wrong and you would need to be right.

It appears that in your criticism you do not rely on user studies but rather on your own understanding of English. And that is fine if you are writing your own translation -- you write using what you think is the best language.

But we need to be humble in criticizing the work of others. If an expression is mentioned in the dictionary and commonly used in the newspaper, in book titles, and in songs ... I would not hasten to label it as exotic or aberrant.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anon., I outlined the approach to translation which I have been taught and which I personally believe results in a better fit for particular translation audiences.

I said nothing about anything being "exotic" or "aberrant." The kinds of data you provided from extant literature and dictionary entries are important kinds of evidence. There are also empirical studies conducted by descriptive linguists. We try to be as scientific, rigorous, and accurate in our research as possible.

Descriptive linguistics researches how a particular language community actually speaks and writes. I believe in using descriptive linguistics when we translate the Bible. I have written that your preferences are reasonable and many people prefer your approach.

Why don't we just agree that we believe in different approaches to determining how people speak and write and what kinds of translations would fit different language communities best? I'm happy to agree to disagree. Are you willing to do so?

I will continue to believe that the descriptive approach to language results in better Bibles. And I will continue to provide evidence which I believe supports that. But I am *not* going to say that some other approach is wrong. I have not said it and I have no intention to say it.

Can we let this disagreement be a disagreement and not try to prove the other wrong?

 
At Mon Mar 12, 01:17:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

There are also empirical studies conducted by descriptive linguists. We try to be as scientific, rigorous, and accurate in our research as possible.

Have you conducted a scientific, rigorous, accurate study of "familiar"? Because I've provided evidence.

My point is that you are not abiding by your own stated criteria.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 02:02:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Have you conducted a scientific, rigorous, accurate study of "familiar"?

No, not yet, but while you were posting this question, I was posting about putting up a new poll to *try* to get some empirical evidence to bear on the question. Of course, I am in full agreement with you that this will not be a "scientific, rigorous, accurate study" but it's the best I can do right now.

Because I've provided evidence.

Yes, you have provided some evidence. And I will say it again, it is important evidence. I would also like to see evidence gathered from a wide range of randomly selected native speakers of English.

My point is that you are not abiding by your own stated criteria.

I think you know that I would provide such empirical data if I could. I am trained to do this kind of research. I believe in doing it. But I do not have access to the test subjects right now, nor the funds, needed to conduct such a scientific study.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

dozens of uses in the New York Times, song lyrics, cliches, literature ... commonly used in the newspaper, in book titles, and in songs

What do you mean by "commonly"? "Dozens of uses" counts as rare, not common, if you are basing this on Google searches which turn up millions of hits, not dozens, for phrases which are really in common use.

I get just 528 Google hits for "my familiar friend" (others' results may vary), and nine of the first ten are quoting from the psalm. This is not the signature of an expression which is common use outside the Bible. I don't claim this as a rigorous empirical study, but it is a clear indication that this is a rare phrase in modern English.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

Don't you think you are biasing the results a little by including "my".

Let's disallow 'my' and google "familiar friend" - okay, 90,700. Not millions, I grant you that. But "close friend" has only 1,480,000. So they are within the same order of order of magnitude - I would say.

Now here are some examples, all from page 19 of the search engine, not completely random, but I did not read all 19 pages - I just skimmed along and decided on this page.


recognising some old familiar friend in such uncongenial surroundings

My favorite Girl Lauren Graham arrived at Entertainment Weekly's bash at Republic last night with a familiar Friend in tow:

and one should be able to tell from the dog's reaction whether the person is a familiar friend or a new acquaintance

you feel like you're in a familiar friend's living room

You make me wonder if there is a certain benefit of the stranger as missionary, over the familiar friend as missionary.


This portrays a nice variety of contexts for familiar friends.

It is not like google is the be all and end all, but there are other very worthy websites who use google judiciously to assess linguistic data.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 05:02:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Don't you think you are biasing the results a little by including "my".

Possibly, but this was the original phrase in question. Also it seems to me that the phrase is less strange as the indefinite "a familiar friend" or similar, as in the examples you quote above (among which even the single "the familiar friend" is in fact indefinite). But the definite "my familiar friend" seems more strange to me. But of course you are welcome to disagree as your dialect of English is different from mine.

Let's disallow 'my' and google "familiar friend" - okay, 90,700. Not millions, I grant you that. But "close friend" has only 1,480,000. So they are within the same order of order of magnitude - I would say.

No, not the same order of magnitude, a factor of more than 16 difference. Even if we round up 90,700 to 100,000 there is still one order of magnitude difference according to this definition from Wikipedia: "The order of magnitude of a number is, intuitively speaking, the number of powers of 10 contained in the number."

 
At Mon Mar 12, 05:40:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

You are absolutely right - I made an error in judging the order of magnitude from being in a hurry - serves me right. I did wonder why they would be so close.

However, I am considering comprehensibility and I do not think that the definite article/possessive interferes with that.

Wayne wrote,

where "familiar" is an adjective modifying a noun:

and

But when I thought about it, I realized I didn't understand it (I'm serious)

So I took the adjective and the noun alone "familiar friend", to compare with "close friend". I consider "familiar friend" understandable. I would consider "my familiar friend" certainly less common in conversation but still highly understandable.

Well we shall have fun watching the poll. At least, I don't see a doctrinal problem developing here!

 
At Mon Mar 12, 05:56:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Okay,

I don't get it. In Wayne's poll, 7 out of 12 people said,

I seldom, if ever, use "familiar" to modify nouns

What about a familiar book, a familiar phrase, a familiar name, a familiar restaurant, a familiar programme? How do people live without these familar expressions?

 
At Mon Mar 12, 07:49:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I get just 528 Google hits for "my familiar friend" (others' results may vary), and nine of the first ten are quoting from the psalm.

Was "the psalm" Psalm 55:13 (e.g., in the ESV) or Psalm 41:9 (e.g., in the KJV).

But I only wonder why those who dislike "familiar" as an adjective do not rail against Isaiah 42:16 in the NIV or TNIV or NLT.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 10:06:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Was "the psalm" Psalm 55:13 (e.g., in the ESV) or Psalm 41:9 (e.g., in the KJV).

We've been discussing Ps. 41:9. Sorry if I typo-ed some other reference on some occasion.

But I only wonder why those who dislike "familiar" as an adjective do not rail against Isaiah 42:16 in the NIV or TNIV or NLT.

Please, sir, this is starting to hurt. I have tried to explain that it's a matter of idiolect, differences in the lexicons and grammars of individuals, or for larger speech communities, a matter of dialect. I have nothing against using "familiar" as an adjective. I simply was observing that I don't have the wording "my familiar friend" in my idiolect. That's what descriptive linguistics is about. We don't make value judgments about usage. It's not a matter of whether I like or dislike "familiar" as an adjective.

As for your last sentence, I wasn't even aware of the NIV usage. I hadn't been dealing with specific words in the exercise that led to my first post, but, rather with idioms. I simply noted the KJV usage of Ps. 41:9 as I was making my idioms chart, as I stated in my post.

If you would like to discuss Is. 42:16 or any other verse from any version, I would request that you first reword your final sentence so that it comes across more objectively. Is there a specific translation question you would like to ask about usage of "familiar" or "unfamiliar"?

 
At Mon Mar 12, 10:17:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

My comment was addressed to Mr. Kirk -- who may have failed to note that "my familiar friend" is used in different psalms in different translations.

I notice that one of the options on the poll is avoid using "familiar" to modify nouns, thus leading to my comment on Isa. 42:16. As Ms. McCarthy noted above, quite a few people seem uncomfortable with "familiar" as an adjective.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 10:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

As Ms. McCarthy noted above, quite a few people seem uncomfortable with "familiar" as an adjective.

Actually the poll results are shifting. More people now find 'familiar' acceptable as an adjective modifying a noun.

It is rather ironic that we should have a falling out over this expression, my own familiar friends.

It is at this point that I suggest we simply switch languages.

I would prefer to be among "mes amis avec qui je suis en paix." S'il vous plait.

 
At Mon Mar 12, 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I would prefer to be among "mes amis avec qui je suis en paix." S'il vous plait.

Oui, très bien.

 
At Tue Mar 13, 03:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Was "the psalm" Psalm 55:13 (e.g., in the ESV) or Psalm 41:9 (e.g., in the KJV).

Actually I think there were some of both. I should have written "the psalms". Thank you for picking me up on this small point. But my main point stands, that "my familiar friend" is a phrase primarily found only in certain Bible translations.

 
At Tue Mar 13, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne asked:

What about a familiar book, a familiar phrase, a familiar name, a familiar restaurant, a familiar programme? How do people live without these familar expressions?

As usual, I have continued to think about these wordings. In my idiolect it sounds much better to use "familiar" to modify a noun if there is an indefinite article preceding both. So the examples you raised sound fairly acceptable to my ear. But acceptability is squishy. And, of course, if I play the game and repeat some of these words too many times, the words all start to sound funny in my brain.

I think I can say "That's a familiar book" to me, but I'm not sure. I know that I can say "That book is familiar to me" or "That tune sounds familiar to me." It's sounds OK to me to say "That's an unfamiliar melody."

I can't say "He's a familiar friend" or "She's a familiar teacher." I don't know why these don't work in my idiolect.

Of course, as I explained to Anonymous, there is no value judgment with any of this. I am simply noting my own language intuitions. As the saying goes, your mileage (or kilometrage?!) may vary!

 
At Tue Mar 13, 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Wayne,

I think we have been discussing two different premises. I was working from this statement of yours,

I don't know what a familiar friend is.

First point, from this I understood that you were discussing our passive and not our expressive voacabulary. These are two very different things. I would not expect the Bible to only use phrases that were in my expressive vocabulary, but at least most it should be in my passive vocabulary.

Second, from your statement above, I understood that the possessive/definite article was not an essential part of the discussion, so I dropped it in my google search.

In my opinion, two many terms were left undefined for this to develop into a useful discussion. There have been several shifts in the premise, to the point that I am no longer sure what it was we were discussing. This is a familiar situation for me since I have been in many other forums before this one.

So it is not about whether one has value judgements about the terms, but about establishing a firmly defined linguistic term in the first place. Then interlocutors will feel more at ease.

 
At Tue Mar 13, 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I commented somewhere:

I don't know what a familiar friend is.

Suzanne responded:

First point, from this I understood that you were discussing our passive and not our expressive vocabulary. These are two very different things.

Yes, for sure, and I'm glad you've brought this up. It would make a good post someday. Hint, hint!

I would not expect the Bible to only use phrases that were in my expressive vocabulary, but at least most it should be in my passive vocabulary.

Correct. We can *read* and understand a wider range of vocabulary than that which is in our active expressive vocabulary.


Second, from your statement above, I understood that the possessive/definite article was not an essential part of the discussion, so I dropped it in my google search.

Sorry for not being precise enough. For me the issue has been with both wordings, "my familiar friend" as well as "familiar friend," although the latter sounds a little better in my idiolect (idiotlect?!) than the former.

In my opinion, two many terms were left undefined for this to develop into a useful discussion.

On the plus side, the discussion has helped to clarify things, I believe. That's the nice thing about communication, esp. if we stick with it. It gives us second chances.

There have been several shifts in the premise, to the point that I am no longer sure what it was we were discussing. This is a familiar situation for me since I have been in many other forums before this one.

Yes, I'm familiar with it as well. And on a slightly different note, it would not be proper for me to get too familiar with you, even though I am familiar with you, or at least I am familiar with some of your thinking and concerns.

So it is not about whether one has value judgements about the terms, but about establishing a firmly defined linguistic term in the first place. Then interlocutors will feel more at ease.

So true. Thanks for helping to bring some light to the exchanges.

 

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