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Monday, March 05, 2007

Oops, Bible translation checkers needed

Some typos, typesetting errors, grammatical problems, and other bloopers have appeared in Bible translations (as well as in blog posts about them!!). One of the more famous bloopers occurred in the 7th commandment of the 10 of a 1631 edition of the KJV: "Thou shalt commit adultery." That one was remedied as quickly as possible in the days of old typesetting, but the copies that had been printed became known as the Wicked Bible.

Other possible bloopers have occurred in more recently produced English Bibles. See if you can spot any problems in the following translation wordings. Don't worry if you can't spot any problems--not everyone will agree on what problems, if any, that there are in this list of five wordings. Feel free to use any resources you wish to help you, including Bible versions.
  1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)
  2. Your word is a lamp for my feet
    and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)
  3. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of God to follow a different gospel (Gal. 1:6)
  4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)
  5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back,
    but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)
To make it easy to respond, I have created a poll for the margin of this blog. It has a blue background and allow you to add comments to describe any translation problems that you spot.

(NOTE: The poll software has a maximum number of letters allowed for the introduction and each answer. For #3 I had to truncate the wording a little to fit within the maximum letters allowed, but what is there for #3 should be enough to respond to.)

7 Comments:

At Tue Mar 06, 10:52:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

No one has yet added comments to explain their responses in this poll. Perhaps that is evidence of how quickly we read blogs and move on to other blogs.

In any case, I did get responses from some on the public Bible translation email discussion list as well as from those who are on an email list of those who sometimes serve as translation test subjects for me.

Here is the response from AJB, a translator:

1. Phil. 4:5a: sounds like blowing one's own trumpet. What about, 'You should make it your aim to be known for your kindness'?

2. Ps. 119:105: To someone not familiar with the Bible's language, the first half could create the (interesting!) mental image of some kind of lamp that was attached to the feet! If we take it as an example of Hebrew parallelism, maybe 'for my feet' could be replaced by 'to guide me when I'm walking', etc.

3. Gal. 1:6: Yes, as it stands, this could be taken to mean that they had been called by the grace of God to follow a different gospel! Solution? You've somehow either got to put the last part ('to follow a different gospel') immediately beside the main verb ('deserting'), or to repeat the verb - what about, 'I'm really surprised that you're turning away so soon from the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and going off after a different gospel'?

4. 1 Jn. 3:18: I think there are at least two potential problems here: (1) making the first half an absolute negation - it's better, I think, to add the idea of 'not just...', 'not merely', or 'not only...'; (2) I think it's also better to treat the reference to the tongue as metaphorical, and translate it as 'speech', or whatever.

5. Ps. 37:21: The most obvious problem here is the word, 'cannot', which gives the impression that it's not really their fault. As fas as I can see, the Hebrew simply says that the wicked / bad / evil person DOES NOT pay back.

 
At Tue Mar 06, 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Here is a response from RM:

1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)

RM: Fine as English grammar, but culturally...sounds like boasting.

2. Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)

RM: This is fine grammatically. I don't like 'word' in the singular
except if it's referring to a single, discrete unit of speech (smaller than a sentence).

3. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of God to follow a different gospel (Gal. 1:6)

RM: I would take this to mean that the calling was to follow a different gospel. This sentence needs to be broken down into several smaller, more manageable ones.

4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in
deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)

RM: A bit high-falutin' in style. I would reverse 'not love', i.e. 'let us love not with...but in...'.

5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)

'The wicked' and 'the righteous' need nouns if they're to be used in the singular. '*A* wicked/righteous person' would be even more natural. I would expect an object for 'gives', or maybe an adverb to describe it (to explain the contrast with 'cannot pay back').

 
At Tue Mar 06, 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Here are the responses from our Peter Kirk of this blog:

1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)

The problem here is that "Let everyone know" in modern English implies actively telling them something, which in this case would be boasting of one's own good qualities. I'm sure that Paul's original meaning was that people should know this by seeing the readers' actions rather than
hearing their claims about themselves.

2. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)

Is "Your word" one thing or two?

4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue,
but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)

Oh dear, "love... with tongue" could get the teens giggling in the back of the church, if they are not doing it themselves. Perhaps more of a problem is "in deed", which if not the same as "indeed" is rather
meaningless.

5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)

Now I am not usually into prescriptive grammar, but this is full of grammatical errors by anyone's standard. "The wicked" and "the righteous" are PLURAL in English and require plural verb forms, rather than the singular ones given here. If the translators want to preserve the singulars in the original, they need to add a word like "person" or "one" to make the English singular.

 
At Tue Mar 06, 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

A response from an Australian:

1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)

Sounds contradictory. Are we supposed to tell them or show them? Is boasting being encouraged here or a lifestyle choice?

2. Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)

Are we talking about two different descriptions or one? The problem is with the word 'and'.

3. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of God to follow a different gospel (Gal. 1:6)

To what was the original call? There is no explicit object. It suggests that someone has called the reader to follow a different Gospel and has actually done this by the grace of God.

4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)

How can you love with your tongue? With words, yes, or perhaps lips. Sound like French kissing!

5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)

Sounds like the wicked is the sensible one. Also it sounds unfinished. Gives what or how? Perhaps gives money or gives generously?

 
At Tue Mar 06, 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

This is from a linguist working for the military:

2) The phrase "lamp for my feet" means nothing to me.
3) Too many clauses piled up in one sentence.
4) "Love with tongue" is meaningless to me.
5) The parallelism in unclear; the 2nd phrase doesn't seem to have any relation to the 1st clause.

 
At Tue Mar 06, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

This response is from a linguistically sharp lady (she's sharp in other ways also), someone I have lived with since 1972:

1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)

Sounds like I'm supposed to boast about how considerate I am.

2. Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)

My feet don't have eyes, so I don't know what they would do with a lamp.

Are there two different things happening?

3. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of God to follow a different gospel (Gal. 1:6)

Did God call me to a different gospel?

4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)

French kissing?

5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)

gives what?

 
At Tue Mar 06, 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

This is from a geography professor who has had training as a Bible translator:

1. Let everyone know how considerate you are. (Phil. 4:5a)

Would smack of arrogance, boastfulness

2. Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light for my path. (Ps. 119:105)

‘Word’ is figure of speech that refers to what God has said which illumines thot, not physical features like feet or pathways

3. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of God to follow a different gospel (Gal. 1:6)

Parallelism vs deserting people and following an idea breaks down

4. Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 Jn. 3:18)

Tongue love might be misconstrued

5. The wicked borrows, and cannot pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Ps. 37:21)

Using adjectives to refer to people and their actions may not communicate to many speakers.

 

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