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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Translating different styles

In a new post on Bible English, Doug asks some interesting questions:
What I’d really like to know, from those who are better informed about translations than I am, whether people have tried, or indeed, whether there’s a case for trying, to work up translations that aim for equivalent styles as much as for equivalent meanings. How rough should a translation of Mark be? How poetic one of Job? Should one seek to write the opening of Luke in quite traditional Bible English and switch registers as it moves into the main story? What, in short, would be the result if one paid as much attention to equivalent affect as to equivalent effect?
Rather than try to answer this one myself, I shall throw it open to you, the readers of BBB, to comment here or on Doug's blog.

3 Comments:

At Tue Jul 24, 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

This is absolutely a desideratum, and one most closely achieved by the KJV (in the Hebrew Bible, at least -- the New Testament is less carefully translated), with Alter also worthy of note. It is a goal that has been almost entirely given up in translations aimed at those lacking literary sophistication, such as the NIV and NLT. The problem is that (a) many translators (including the hosts of this blog) believe in giving translations that put forward the meaning as clearly as possible (even when the original did not) (b) most Bible scholars know Koine Greek, a less literary language, and are unequal to the highly varied tone of literary Hebrew; (c) most Bible scholars lack a fine ear for the English language.

 
At Tue Jul 24, 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Iyov commented:

The problem is that (a) many translators (including the hosts of this blog)believe in giving translations that put forward the meaning as clearly as possible (even when the original did not)

untrue for BBB bloggers, from what I know of each of them, however, I'll speak only for myself: as I have repeatedly stated, a translation should be no clearer nor less clear than the original

(b) most Bible scholars know Koine Greek, a less literary language, and are unequal to the highly varied tone of literary Hebrew;

I don't think that we can substantiate this; there are many fine Biblical Hebrew scholars, a number of whom are well-versed in the different literary genres and devices of that beautiful language. If we read the messages on the B-Greek and B-Hebrew discussion lists, and read or listen to papers given at the SBT or ETS conferences, it should be clear that there are many good biblical scholars competent in one or more of the biblical languages. I am referring to biblical scholars regardless of their faith background, if any.

(c) most Bible scholars lack a fine ear for the English language.

I agree; some Bible scholars who work on English Bible translations even confess their weakness in this area. We need English scholars on English Bible translation teams, as well as biblical language and exegetical scholars.

 
At Tue Jul 24, 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I am entirely with Wayne on Iyov's point (a): "a translation should be no clearer nor less clear than the original".

As for point (b), Bible scholars not knowing Hebrew well enough, I can accept that there is inadequate understanding of the literary nuances of biblical Hebrew. Unfortunately there is a need to be extremely careful when reading back into biblical Hebrew the stylistic features of later Hebrew. Just as modern readers of English can easily misunderstand Shakespeare as writing in a high literary style when in fact he was often being very colloquial, so later readers of Hebrew who understood some biblical Hebrew as being in a high literary style may in fact have missed its real stylistic features.

And on point (c) I entirely agree with Iyov. I don't think anyone who writes or comments regularly on this blog has the kind of fine ear required for this.

 

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