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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Getting the key point right

There are two choruses that make me think of Ken Pike. I got to know him well in his last years at the University of Michigan where I was a grad student and then a junior faculty member. We went to the same Reformed Church and he and Evie hosted the monthly Wycliffe prayer meeting when they were in town. We never missed it.

One of the choruses is It will be worth it all. It was Pike’s theme song. The other is Turn your eyes upon Jesus. (OK, so the second one is really a full hymn, but for years I only ever sang it as a chorus.) I'm not sure why I connect it to Pike other than that it seems that I sang it a lot in Wycliffe contexts.

Why am I talking about these choruses?

Well, we sang Turn your eyes upon Jesus in church last week and it’s been running through my head for a week now. And this got me thinking about Ken Pike and Wycliffe and how all Bible translation for languages other than those with a long history of translation is done on the basis of dynamic equivalence. These translations, by the way, are overseen by very theologically conservative folks and nobody bats an eye.

One wonders why.

Maybe it’s because the folks in the non-theologically-driven Bible translation business know enough not fall prey to the most insidious misunderstanding regarding dynamic equivalence: that it is somehow unconstrained, that the translator is allowed to say anything.

They know that nothing could be further from the truth.

And it just so happens that singing Turn your eyes upon Jesus at Berkeley Covenant provides a great parallel about what it means to translate something and get the key point right.

At Berkeley Covenant Church we have blended worship. We sing contemporary worship music and hymns from the hymnal all in the same set. There is a pianist some Sundays, but the worship is guitar driven. We never play hymns straight from the book with four part piano accompaniment (although we have been known to sing a verse in four part a cappella every now and again). You’d think that guitars would ruin the hymns but they don't. We’ve learned how to translate hymns from piano to guitar.

The secret is that most hymns have a hook — one particular part of the hymn — and if you get that right, it counts as the hymn, even to the old-timers like me, and even if the rest is only an approximation.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus is a good example. If you get the right chord progression on strangely dim, you can approximate the rest and it still feels like Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Most of the available guitar transcriptions miss this. So the Worship Archive has:

  C        G        Am C7
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
F Dm7 G7
Look full in His wonderful face
C C7 F Fm
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
C G7 C
In the Light of His glory and grace.

Nice, but not quite right. Play the third line like this

          C    G7   C         G7     Am  C7  F
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

with a walk down bass on the last three chords, A - G - F, and you have a winner. You can even leave out the G7’s, as long as you get those last three chords. (BTW, unless you’re a bass or a low alto, you might want to capo up three or four frets. The hymnals pitch this one in F for good reason.)

A similar situation holds for Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee. Get the progression around the circle of fifths at the end of the third line

 D7   bm   B7     em7   A7   D
Drive the dark of doubt a - way

and it sounds like Beethoven.

You get the idea.

Well, that’s the way dynamic equivalence works. There’s a key point to the communication and if you get that right you have a good translation. That was what I was getting at when I put up a post about a joke last year. Examples of the need to decide what the key point is just to wrest the text into English are everywhere in Scripture.

This Sunday’s sermon was on I John 2:18-27. The pew Bibles are NRSV. The first two verses read:
Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.
This is pretty much literally Greek although with one interesting deviation which I will mention later:
18 παιδία ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν καὶ καθὼς ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἀντίχριστος ἔρχεται καὶ νῦν ἀντίχριστοι πολλοὶ γεγόνασιν ὅθεν γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐσχάτη ὥρα ἐστίν 19 ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν ἀλλ' οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθ' ἡμῶν ἀλλ' ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν ὅτι οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες ἐξ ἡμῶν
Last night my wife asked me what I thought John meant. I believed I had a pretty good idea, but we thought we’d look and see what other, more English-sounding translations had, starting with Phillips:
Even now, dear children, we are getting near the end of things. You have heard, I expect, the prophecy about the coming of the anti-Christ. Believe me, there are anti-christs about already, which confirms my belief that we are near the end. These men went out from our company, it is true, but they never really belonged to it. If they had really belonged to us they would have stayed. In fact, their going proves beyond doubt that men like that were not "our men" at all.
And I was also interested in what Peterson’s take was:
Children, time is just about up. You heard that Antichrist is coming. Well, they're all over the place, antichrists everywhere you look. That's how we know that we're close to the end.

They left us, but they were never really with us. If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong.

So we started talking about whether you could argue from the Greek that it says:
Little children, the end is near! You have heard that a False Messiah, an opponent of the true Messiah, will arise. In fact, many have already become opponents of the true Messiah. That’s how we know the end is near. They were among us but they left. They aren't real believers. If they had been, they would have stayed. By leaving they have shown that they never were real believers.
The basic question is what are the key points John is making? It's pretty clear that they are:
1) the end of time will be soon
2) someone will show up who is the opposite of Jesus
3) there are former church people who oppose what is true
4) they aren't saved even though they were in the church
You can judge for yourself how well the translations (including mine) convey these ideas in English. All of them leave things out that are in the Greek, most notably the word play around the word ἀντίχριστος which can't be expressed in English. ἀντίχριστος is ambiguous meaning either the end times false Messiah or opponents of the Messiah in John’s time. I tried to capture that with some paraphrasing, and that, in turn, allows me to use the verb become in the third sentence, which is exactly what it says in Greek (γεγόνασιν). Ironically that makes my translation more literal than the literal one, at least on this point. This is a key point that the literal translation misses altogether.

In evaluating the translations you should ask yourself what are the key points? Does the translation get the key points right?

If so, that’s dynamic equivalence.

9 Comments:

At Mon Nov 19, 07:51:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Richard,
Hooray for Kenneth Pike and his ideas of language as dependent on people, and our insider and outsider perspectives. (At UTA, Pike ran a seminar one late semester to refine and enrich Tagmemics, and I had the wonderful privilege to take that with him and six others, only two of us linguists. He never mentioned "dynamic equivalence" once the whole semester, though we talked lots about "talked about" reality and about translation. The "somehow unconstrained" was not as interesting to Pike as was "radical relativism within rigid restraints," Pike's paraphrase of Nelson Goodman in Ways of Worldmaking)

So I wonder why ambiguity has to be so constrained? Why make it so "either / or"?

You say:

what I thought John meant. I believed I had a pretty good idea. . . All of them leave things out that are in the Greek, most notably the word play around the word ἀντίχριστος which can't be expressed in English. ἀντίχριστος is ambiguous meaning either the end times false Messiah or opponents of the Messiah in John’s time.

Hooray for Greek word play, "which can't [ever?] [easily?] be expressed in English"!!

So how would you translate this?:

ἀγγελίην ἐλθόντα σὺν ἀντιθέῳ Ὀδυσηϊ

It's Homer's Illiad.

You know ἀντίθεος is used more than 60 times by Homer, and mostly means not anti-theos or anti-God or one against god(s). Rather, it means god-like. So the line above is something like, "[as] an announcer [he] came with godlike Odysseus."

That brings us forward to Aristotle, who writes:

η ρητορικη εστιν αντιστροφος τη διαλεκτικη

How must we translate that, ambiguously? Is ἀντιστροφος only an opposite, either (a) one kind of opposite or (b) the other kind? If Aristotle would insist we learn to read his Greek (and never translate it), my guess is he'd be happy with that kind of binary.

But fast forward more. Why do the Septuagint translators of the Psalms use ἀντιλήμπτωρ so consistently positively for things of God? As in:

βοηθός μου σοὶ ψαλῶ ὅτι ὁ θεός ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου εἶ ὁ θεός μου τὸ ἔλεός μου

And later, in the New Testament, we read these names: Ἀντι-όχεια and Ἀντι-πατρίς as places the Christian named Ἀντι-πᾶς might have gone. Why don't Bible translators translate these? And if they would translate such names, could there by "dynamic equivalence" of any sort? Could the Greek word play actually play in English?

So we come to John. He seems to coin ἀντίχριστος. Is it used by anyone else?

And twice already for his Greek readers in his gospel he's already defined part of the word as "anointed" (as used in the LXX numerous times), now to be the translation of מָשִׁיחַ or his Greek transliteration, "messiah":

τὸν Μεσσίαν ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Χριστός (1:41)

Μεσσίας ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός (4:25)

So can Messiah really unambigously be Christ, two transliterations for the price of one single translation?

When we get to 2 John (through Homer, Aristotle, the Septuagint translators, the other New Testament writers, the gospel writer John, and the first-epistle writing John), can we say we think we know what John means?

Can we impose our twenty-first century euro north american christian readings with such a limited, if ambiguous binary reading?

Willis Barnstone, possibly a translator you might classify as one of "the folks in the non-theologically-driven Bible translation business," translates John 1:25 and 4:25 as follows:

First he found his own brother Shimon and told him, "We have found the mashiah" (meaning "the anointed").

and

The woman said to him, "I know a mashiah is coming who is called the anointed. When he comes he will declare all things to us."

I'm looking forward to reading how Barnstone translates I John 2:18-27.

Before we get his more playful English, look further at John's playful Greek in 2 John 1:7. Your "the key points" are there. And, with χριστὸν and ὁ ἀντίχριστος in such close proximity, in a tight context with the context of so much Greek before it (as Pike would have us see), there's even more:

ὅτι πολλοὶ πλάνοι ἐξηλθον εἰς τὸν κόσμον οἱ μὴ ὁμολογουντες ιησουν χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλάνος καὶ ὁ ἀντίχριστος

Thanks for the post to stretch notions of ambiguity in translation (if stretched only just a bit).

 
At Mon Nov 19, 11:55:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Kurk,
There's a lot of language change from Homer to Roman era Palestinian Koine. I would argue that it's inappropriate to read the NT with Homeric, classical, or even Septuagintal readings unless you can show that those readings are warranted for the NT. (Check out the changes in meaning over time for ἐπιτιμάω, for example.) This is the point of C. S. Lewis' The Discarded Image that I keep referring to.

You and I interact with our texts in a different way. I assume that speakers are using language in quite precise (and discoverable) ways. That is, I'm essentially a modernist.

You are approaching the texts as a post-modernist, seeing what you can see in the wording as a range of possible interesting meanings.

To make sense of Bible translation, I have to be modernist, so I do have to say that the ambiguity here is exactly either / or.

That said, don't stop commenting like this. It is most stimulating.

 
At Tue Nov 20, 08:49:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Dear Rich,

Thank you for your thoughtful, stimulating, and encouraging words. I really do appreciate how you characterize "modern" and "postmodern" with respect to translation. And now you've gotten me rereading Lewis all over again. Yes, you remind us of his strong points in The Discarded Image. (So will you forgive me if I just extrapolate this one sentence from context to reinsert my point too? "The suggested antithesis between Pagan and Christian conceptions of history is certainly overdrawn," says Lewis [p. 175]).

I wonder if Pike is a modernist? To be fair, he wrote well against postmodernist deconstruction of a sort. In his wonderful, "Reminiscences by Pike on Early American Anthropological Linguistics," he provides his passionate thoughts on "Postmodernism" and "deconstructionism and postmodernist ideas" and "Postmodernist anthropology" which he "fears" may be why and how "American anthropology is in a major crisis today." While not offering a full critique of such, Pike does leave us with
his brilliant poem on author agency, as if to deconstruct deconstructionism:

Inkblot Poetry—A Query

“Me, trying to say something?”
“Oh, no—you’re just the author.
Someone else must say
What’s said … Right?”

(Author’s rights
Are semantically bankrupt,
Faced by interpretive
Staked-out claims
Affirming that poems
Are pretty inkblots
Waiting readers’
Dreamy impositions!...
But reader “re-write” rights?...)

“And when you are
Saying I said—
Are you then ‘saying’
Something to me?”

“No, just throwing words
At other unhearing wordless ‘things’.”

Pike, clearly, is interested in viewpoint, whether the etic outsider's or the emic insider's. He often questioned aloud to those of us in his seminar whether "etics" was a sort of "emics." I think he's closer to some postmodernists than he would want to admit. What he dislikes about anthropological postmodernists, other than the fact that they viciously attacked some of his friends doing fieldwork, is this: deconstructionists can simply pretend the author says nothing. Which is how Pike can ask these deconstructionists, "what do you think you're saying, if you can pretend to say something"?

When it comes to language, to linguistics, and to translation, Pike is a genius. His monolingual demonstration simply demonstrates that, absolutely, two human beings who share no language at all actually do share the capability of learning the language of either one, as outsiders being let inside.

Linguist Alton Becker, Pike's friend and co-author (of Rhetoric: Discovery and Change written also with rhetorician Richard Young), would note how postmodern Pike is with respect to language and translation. Becker, in his wonderful book Beyond Translation: Essays in Modern Philology, says:

Translation "is a starting point, not a goal. The task is to deconstruct the translation, to the end of greater authenticity or fullness in interpreting the text. It is self-correction in the direction of emic understanding" (page 80).

And Becker's already noted:

"The goal is not a theory of language but something more like usefulness--usefulness in helping us [English language translators] make the adjustments necessary to understanding the Javanese, the Cree, our own neighbors, and ourselves. And the rigor here is not the rigor of theory (with particular bits of language as examples) but the rigor that comes from the particularity of text-in-context" (page 73).

But Becker has already made claims about how Pike helps us:

"For Pike, I think the motivations toward a linguistics of particularity is part of his strong conviction that one's understanding of a language, or another person, is a movement from an etic perspective--an outsider's perspective--to an emic understanding, a more fully contextual understanding . . . [for] the linguistic observer is a particular observer, full of biases he or she is never fully aware of--the biases of his or her own language and his or her own understanding of that language. Like the horse's hoof and the prairie grass, the observer and the text co-evolve" (page 72).

Does Becker get Pike's key points right?

Sincerely,
Kurk

 
At Wed Nov 21, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Kurk,
Sorry I wasn't able to get backto you yesterday.

Yes, I think Pete (Alton) Becker was (is?) very much on the same page as Ken Pike. The emphasis on particularity was one of the key points for Pike and Pete understands that in quite a deep way. That's why he was so vocal in supporting Clifford Geertz' notion of thick description.

It's interesting that a linguistics of the particular is neither modern nor post-modern. The point of Pike's (and Becker's) approach to particularity is that there is a large degree of relativism. It is a reaction to the Platonic underpinnings of modernism (and of the positivism that lies at the heart of the Chomskyan take on universals). On the other hand it stands against post-modernism in that it does assume there are deep universals in being human and that such universals balance the arbitrariness of relativism. So Pike (and Becker) both believe that authors have intentions and those intentions are discoverable and that it's a mistake to think that the value of a text is only what effect it has on readers here and now.

Absent the assumption that texts embody the author's discoverable intentions Becker's very useful notion of the remoteness of a text is meaningless.

 
At Wed Nov 21, 02:34:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, Rich, for the dialog. You said a couple of things I'd like to talk about:

To make sense of Bible translation, I have to be modernist, so I do have to say that the ambiguity here is exactly either / or.

and

It's interesting that a linguistics of the particular is neither modern nor post-modern...there is a large degree of relativism...On the other hand it stands against post-modernism in that it does assume there are deep universals in being human and that such universals balance the arbitrariness of relativism.

Are you equating relativism (and its arbitrariness) and postmodernism?

Is that why you "have to be modernist"? to guard against arbitrary relativism in Bible translation?

Is such postmodernism the sort which can not do anything but "think that the value of a text is only what effect it has on readers here and now"?

(I would agree that most postmodernisms are perpetually stuck in binary. It's either modernism or it's its deconstruction. Anti-post-modernism depends on that "either / or" duality too, but it's a denouncing not a deconstructing binary. The pomo process is a bit more refreshing than modernism, which denounces everything not Truth. The pomo process can be perpetual in at least 3 ways: Socratic, a dialog; or Hegelian, a blending; or Derridean, a deconstructing of a construct which also requires -- if it could happen -- the construct's deconstruction of the deconstruct. Wackiness abounds. But the modernist binary is Platonic, a sifting of Truth from the false, the Universal from the particular, the Ideal from the real, the Absolute from the relative.)

You should appreciate that I'm trying to get at your intentions :)

But do you ever catch yourself (or does, more likely, anyone else catch you) saying more than you mean? And (standing outside Plato's cave, apart from Chomsky's deep universal grammar) what is the "deep universal" of language in the Bible? Or, if you are bilingual (or if you can imagine yourself equally fluent in more than English), do you really translate when you code-switch?

Thanks for considering what I am asking you here. Sincerely, Kurk

 
At Fri Nov 23, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rich,
I just posted on the Problem of Parable. I did that, in part, because it seems Pike's tagmemics and Becker's "rigor that comes from the particularity of text-in-context" are very much like Jesus's use of parable. In this respect, they are alike: they relinquish the rights of the original author. I mean, Jesus doesn't even use the word, παραβολη. Jesus let's his disciples, who decide to translate his spoken words into written Greek, translate his method into their Greek gospels as "parable." More: the parable, if the listener has ears to hear, actually translates the audience (and now it can so transform us readers, in necessary translation). I'm going on with this because I think this whole practice rightly abandons modernism, and socratic, hegelian, and derridean postmodernisms. Parable is so much more than Aristotle, the rhetorician, could conceive it to be. Parable insists on both subjectivity and objectivity. It insists on incarnation but also good listening. It includes the body (as do French feminists like Helene Cixous) and the mind (as do most of the rest of us who shudder at the word "feminist"). Parable is a problem. But thank God for the parable in our problematic world.

 
At Fri Nov 23, 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Kurk,

You brought up my assertion:

To make sense of Bible translation, I have to be modernist, so I do have to say that the ambiguity here is exactly either / or.

At that point of the discussion I was assuming as you said:

… most postmodernisms are perpetually stuck in binary. It's either modernism or it's its deconstruction.

so I was stuck saying that I’m a modernist, even though I certainly am not a Platonist. But when I take the time to be more precise I can stake out a middle ground which, nonetheless, shares much more with modernism than with postmodernism. So I talk about relativism as a way to deny Platonism.

I, personally, have a lot of trouble with the squishiness of interpretations that can’t be argued for starting from properly contextualized first order readings of the text. That doesn’t deny that there are lots of interesting ideas that come out of literary analysis, pomo or not, it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak, and I’m interested in Bible translation, where most of the disagreements are about those first order readings.

Might I also add that literary types tend to grossly underestimate how much you can say about first order meanings and how interesting first order meanings can be.

 
At Sat Nov 24, 06:08:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Rich, Thanks for your very interesting post. This is how I conveyed the key points of this text in The Better Life Bible:

"A lot of your own family and friends will make your lives miserable because they refuse to follow God’s advice. They don’t believe that Jesus reflected the character of God, and they deny that he was the one that God promised would help people enjoy a better life. Don’t let them mislead you. The only way you’ll enjoy the better life God promised is by following Jesus’ example."

 
At Sun Nov 25, 05:02:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rich,
I, personally, have a lot of trouble with the squishiness of interpretations that can’t be argued for starting from properly contextualized first order readings of the text. That doesn’t deny that there are lots of interesting ideas that come out of literary analysis, pomo or not, it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak, and I’m interested in Bible translation, where most of the disagreements are about those first order readings.

Might I also add that literary types tend to grossly underestimate how much you can say about first order meanings and how interesting first order meanings can be.


Plato puts you and me together on the same page. And, congrats, you've persuaded me (really!) that "first order meanings" way too often and by "gross underestimation" get neglected in translation. (To be fair to postmodernists, I think the question is always what is not getting said, where the silences are. And so, if postmods are silent on "first order meanings," they ought to be the first to come back to them. Derrida, I think, is that good. But Cixous is better, returning us to the silent neglect of incarnation). Thanks for the clarifying comments, here and at my blog.

 

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