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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Oh, say can you say?

In English quotes are typically introduced with single verbs such as:
In Biblical Hebrew quotes are typically introduced with two verbs, the first one which is semantically rich tells us what kind of speaking is occurring, such as loud speaking, beginning of speaking, rebuking, calling, etc. Then the second verb simply means 'says'. The Hebrew conjunction vav usually intervenes between the two verbs.

English typically uses only a single verb of saying in a prequote margin. Verbs such as "answered", "shouted", and "whispered" include the semantic component of 'say' within their semantic structure. Hebrew expresses the meaning of 'say' in a separate verb.

Literal and essentially literal English versions usually translate both of the Hebrew quotation margin verbs to English, the semantically rich first verb, as well as the 'say' verb. Less form-oriented English versions often do not include a literal translation of both Hebrew verbs because an English translation of the first Hebrew verb of a quote margin already includes the 'say' verb.

I have been compiling a list of examples of English translations of Hebrew quote margins. They come from passages in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the New Testament. We should not be surprised that Jewish authors of the New Testament would use the form of Hebraic verb quote margins as they wrote Greek. They were, except for Luke, probably first language speakers of the dialect of Aramaic spoken during the time of Christ.

Here are some translation examples with both approaches to the translation of Hebraic quotation margin verbs (the pertinent words of the quotation formulas are boldfaced):
Gen. 18:29
Again he spoke to him and said (ESV)
Again he spoke to him (NRSV)

Gen. 22:11
But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said (HCSB)
But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven (NIV)

Gen. 31:43
Then Laban answered and said to Jacob (RSV)
Then Laban replied to Jacob (NASB)

Gen. 37:10
his father rebuked him, and said to him (NRSV)
his father scolded him (TEV)

Gen. 44:19
My lord asked his servants, saying (NASB)
My lord asked his servants (NET)

Ex. 32:5
And Aaron made proclamation and said (ESV)
Then Aaron ... announced (TEV)

Num. 23:7
And Balaam took up his discourse, and said (RSV)
Balaam uttered this prophecy (TEV)

Judges 16:17
he told her all his heart, and said to her (NKJV)
Finally he told her his secret. (NET)

1 Sam. 2:1
Then Hannah prayed and said (NIV)
Hannah prayed (HCSB)

Acts 2:14
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them (KJV)
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd (NLT)

Acts 10:34
Then Peter opened his mouth and said (ISV)
Then Peter began to speak (HCSB)
Please note that there is sometimes variation within a single version with regard to whether or not the Hebraic dual verb structure is translated to a single verb in English.

Some people would consider it a virtue for an English Bible version to have both verbs of the Semitic prequote formula literally translated to English. Others would consider it a lack of translation equivalence since English does not normally use two verbs of saying as Hebrew does.

What do you think? What are advantages and disadvantages of each approach to translate the Hebraic quotation formulas?


At Thu Mar 08, 05:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like it's the past/passive (?!) verb combination (called/said, answered/said, made/said) that feels awkward to me. I'm left unsure if there are two verb actions or one action described two ways. If you were to change the second verb to a more active verb form, it would better explain or expand the content of the original clause, e.g. "But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, saying..." or "Then Laban answered Jacob, saying..." or "And Aaron made a proclamation, saying..." Maybe not perfectly literal, but it still retains the semantically rich first verb and the "says" verb of the original Hebrew form.

At Thu Mar 08, 06:58:00 AM, Blogger Gary said...

Unless they're trying to make a translation as transparent to the original Hebrew as possible, I think it's wiser to translate it into clear, simple English.


At Thu Mar 08, 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Jungle Pop said...

To me, a good English translation is one that sounds like it could have been written by a (relatively) contemporary native English speaker. I know no one who says, "And then Jane spoke and said,...".

My vote (as it always will) goes to idiomatic.

At Fri Mar 09, 07:03:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

Wayne wrote: Then the second verb simply means 'says'

Could it be that as the originals languages referred to didn't use quotation marks, writers included a separate verb ("says") to make it explicit that they were quoting rather than just giving us the gist of what was said?

If that is the case, then the quotation marks effectively “translate” the second "says" verb form, and including both would be *over-translation*.

At Fri Mar 09, 07:39:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

John wondered:

Could it be that as the originals languages referred to didn't use quotation marks, writers included a separate verb ("says") to make it explicit that they were quoting rather than just giving us the gist of what was said?

Yes, absolutely, John. I believe that you have stated the purpose of the "say" verb. It is especially important in languages with long oral traditions, so people can tell where quotes occur.

And, yes, I agree with you that translating the "say" verb in English is overtranslation.


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