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Friday, December 28, 2007

the 12 opossums: hearing the Bible (clearly?)

This is cute; it's circulating the Internet:

The Bible explained by kids - truth has been redefined!

One of our favorite jobs has been leading junior church. We try to do more than baby-sit our church's beloved little ankle-biters during their time in our special junior church facility. We aim to give them a solid background in biblical history. At the end of each year, we give them pencils and paper and ask them to chronicle what they have learned. This assignment never fails to elicit some intriguing responses. In case you're a little foggy on your biblical history, let our junior church students help you with this complete overview of the Bible, compiled from their essays:
In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord thy God is one,' but I think He must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something. One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then He gave them His top ten commandments. These include don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's bottom (the Bible uses a bad word for bottom that I'm not supposed to say. But my Dad uses it sometimes when he talks about the President). Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua, who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town. After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me. After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of the New Testament. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn, too, because my mom is always saying to me, Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.')

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead. Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven, but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.
There! Now you understand it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Advantages of a Somewhat Traditional Bible Translation

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Advent thoughts

Advent thoughts

Dark earth
God saw
stable birth
manger straw

Sudden light
shepherds heard
strange night
hopeful word

saw child
hope born
king foiled

Still night
savior son
heart born!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Translating "Law" in the New Testament

An important term in the New Testament is the Greek word nomos which the King James Version translates law in all of its 195 occurrences. However, this term conveys a wider range of meaning in the New Testament than many people realize, including the following:

1. law in general
2. the normal order of things
3. the guidelines God gave people so they could enjoy a better life
4. the traditions which contradict God’s guidelines
5. the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament)
6. the Old Testament as a whole
7. the teachings of Christ

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he uses this term 67 times to convey several of these meanings in various contexts. The problem with translating the term as law in every instance is that the reader may apply a meaning that Paul did not intend. The reader might even conclude that Paul contradicts himself, since in Romans 7:6 he says, we have been delivered from the law, implying that the law is bad, while in verse 12 he says, the law is holy, and in verse 16, the law is good.

In my translation of Romans in The Better Life Bible, I tried to clarify the meaning Paul intended for each context so the reader does not become confused. For example, I clarified that Paul’s remark in Romans 7:6 is a reference to delivering people from traditions which contradict God’s guidelines.

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Nursing fathers and nursing mothers

After reading Isaiah 49 in the King James version I felt overwhelmed by the memories of my early childhood. My mother had her hands full with a baby and the running of a large household. I was usually passed off to the care of older brothers or sisters or my grandfather, who called me "duckling." (That must be where I got the idea from that diminutives and endearments are the domain of men.)

All this came back to me when I read Isaiah 49:23 and Numbers 11:12. Christmas is about two things - remembering the deity and his care for the world, and giving those children who are in our care a bank of memories. This has little to do with being the person who actually gave birth to the child. It has to do with having the feeling of being the one who gave birth to the child.
    And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. Is. 49:23

    Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Numbers 11:12

    But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. 1 Thess. 2: 7-8
Paul and Moses were not shy of thinking in endearments, of being the nursing fathers to those under their leadership. If Christmas calls us to look to God as one who comes down to earth, it also reminds us, men and women, to give tender love to those in our care, whatever age they are.

A Northern Nativity

William Kurelek, the celebrated Canadian painter, introduces this book with these words,
    Times were hard that Christmas during the Depression of the 1930's when William was twelve years old.

    Everywhere across the country men traveled in search of work. They begged food, slept wherever they found shelter, rode boxcars - led on always by the hope that in the next town they would find a job and money to send to wives and children back home. Some families had lost their homes and they traveled in broken-down cars, trusting to the kindness of strangers to keep going ...

Kurelek's book features a series of illustrations of the birth narrative contextualized and set in the poorest shelters in Canada during the depression. Here the family has found shelter in an old hut the fishermen use to store fish in on the Atlantic coast. Kurelek writes,

    Boatloads of fishermen in black rubber nor'westers are arriving. Each boat docks at the foot of a flimsy-looking ladder which the men use to scale the rock. All of them carry small offerings of fish - the one gift they are able to bring to Mary and her Child. As they kneel in adoration, Mary holds up the Child for them to see.

    How had they heard of the Child's presence on their shores, William wondered. Had the angels announced it to them as to the shepherds? Or was it something from the heart? Or a belief in miracles? A deep-sea fisherman faces death each time he goes out to sea - perhaps this is why he is more in tune than others with the Source of life.

This book is exceptional as a contextualization of the Christmas narrative. For me it has both a universal message and a personal landscape. Published in 1976, it is timeless in nature.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Translation quality

Those of you who have been following my posts know that, as a polyglot myself, a one-time interpreter, and professional linguist of over three decades experience (i.e., someone who knows a little something about the matter), I continue to insist that there is a uniform measure of translation quality, regardless of whether the translation is functional (for personal, business, or governmental purposes), literary, or Scriptural. The same principles distinguish good translation from bad translation.

So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write on something I ran across while doing research for a longer piece I had hoped to post today. It’s a reference to a document which sets international translation standards. I didn’t know that such a thing existed, although I probably should have guessed. The European Union, which certainly needs it, has an official agreement, a copy of which can be downloaded here. Those standards contain some truly telling points that are well worth thinking about in the context of Bible translation.

Most of the document is about the business standards around the process — not germane to our concerns. The section of the document most relevant for us is the one which addresses the translation itself found in §§5.4.1.-5.4.2. I have supplied them as an appendix. One subpart is of particular interest.
The translator shall transfer the meaning in the source language into the target language in order to produce a text that is in accordance with the rules of the linguistic system of the target language ... [emphasis mine]
Notice that this is a statement of dynamic equivalence.

There is no reference to the wording of the original. There is no reference to the structure of the original. These key points of formal equivalence, whether you try to spin doctor them under a euphemism like “essentially transparent” or not, are not considerations at all.

From my point of view this statement of an international standard for evaluating a translation puts the burden of proof on anyone who wants to argue for formal equivalence. DE is the standard for the European Union where there are sizeable numbers of bilinguals around to judge and, possibly more importantly, where there’s money (in no small amounts) on the line.

For the life of me, I don’t know why these kinds of facts don’t seem to bother those who maintain that there is value in formal equivalence. I can only assume that this is because those who champion FE are monolingual and linguistically naive — or have a translation related agenda. (Now before all you literary types get your knickers in a knot, I take what El Shaddai Edwards has recently proposed to call literary equivalence to be quite a different matter from FE.)

And just so things are really clear, in the fourth appendix (interestingly called an Annex) the EU agreement outlines as errors almost all the features (after referential inaccuracy) that DE translators object to in FE translations.

Point 8 in Annex D (Style guide)
— common errors to be avoided (e.g., false friends, cognates, language interference, register mismatches, etc.)

5.4. Translation

5.4.1. Translation process

The translator shall transfer the meaning in the source language into the target language in order to produce a text that is in accordance with the rules of the linguistic system of the target language and that meets the instructions received in the project assignment.

Throughout this process, the translator shall pay attention to the following:

a) Terminology: compliance with specific domain and client terminology, or any other terminology, or any other terminology provided, as well as terminology consistency throughout the whole translation.

b) Grammar: syntax, spelling, punctuation, orthography, diacritical marks.

c) Lexis: lexical cohesion and phraseology.

d) Style: compliance with the proprietary or client style guider, including register and langauge variants.

e) Locale: local conventions and regional standards.

f) Formatting(see Annex D).

g) Target group and purpose of the translation.

5.4.2. Checking

On completion of the original translation, the translator shall check his/her own work. This process shall include checking that the meaning has been conveyed, that there are no omissions or errors and that the defined service specifications have been met. The translator shall make any necessary amendments.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Child of her womb: Is. 49:15

    Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
    Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15 ESV

    הֲתִשְׁכַּח אִשָּׁה עוּלָהּ
    מֵרַחֵם בֶּן-בִּטְנָהּ
    גַּם-אֵלֶּה תִשְׁכַּחְנָה
    וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ

    μη επιλησεται γυνη του παιδιου αυτης του
    μη ελεησαι τα εκγονα της κοιλιας αυτης
    ει δε και επιλαθοιτο ταυτα γυνη
    αλλ' εγω ουκ επιλησομαι σου ειπεν κυριος

    Will a mother forget her child
    so as not to have mercy on the
    descendants of her womb?
    But even if a woman should forget these,
    Yet, I will not forget you, said the Lord.
All the translations in the King James tradition, except for the NRSV, have "son of her womb" in this verse. The (T)NIV and several other modern translations have "child of her womb". The Septuagint has "descendants" or "offspring" of her womb.

Although the Hebrew ben-bitnah most literally says "son of the womb", I have to question whether the actual referent here is a son or a daughter; and if a daughter, wouldn't it be better translated "child of her womb." In verse 14 the referent is clearly Zion, a female entity, and usually treated metaphorically as a female. Does it really make sense to call Zion the "son of her womb?"

My second reason for questioning the use of the gender exclusive "son" here is that this entire passage compares the love God has for his children to something both a mother and a father feels. But the feeling is for the children, not specifically a son.

I found the phrase "child of my womb" recently as the title of a post on a blog authored by a woman who had just lost a stillborn child, a daughter. I argue that she would never have used the phrase "son of my womb" in this situation. I feel strongly that if the Hebrew or Greek word refers to children, both male and female, then that needs to be made clear in English.

I look forward to hearing comments as to whether there are any reasons why "son of my womb" should be retained.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Brick Testament

I hope y'all don't think I have lost my funny bone. I have been fairly busy recently. But in dedication to Lingamish's wiping out his sidebar, let me add a little salad to the mix.

The Brick Testament has an interpretation of the Garden of Eden in which Adam names the animals "Doug" "Ralph" and "Murdock". Nope, not what he was looking for! He finally gets his matching Lego mate. Ah ha! This interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3 is completely by the book, no surprises - it is rated N for nudity (if lego figures can be called nude) and C for cursing. Yes, there are indeed curses in Gen. 3.

One thing really puzzles me, however. Who are the redhaired and greenhaired angels with God in the second last frame of this sequence? This is an interesting interpretation of the phrase "like one of us."

I would have linked to this resource much earlier but it is quite difficult to find an appropriate narrative that is free of overt violence and sexual content. Oddly the Garden of Eden seems to be one of the few.

PS The Christmas story uses a more modern translation of the text than the Garden of Eden.

PPS I have not been responding to comments either here or on my bookshelf blog recenlty. They are very much appreciated, but I have only limited time and I felt that it would be best spent writing new posts, ones which focus on encouraging and building community through answering special blog post requests or sharing a little light humour.

Thank you to the blogging community for friendship, and all the Christmas greetings and newsletters, etc. I hope to keep writing through the holidays, at least a little.

Psalm 68:20 Sovereign Lord

This post is terribly late. I was asked several months ago if there was an explanation for the use of "Sovereign" in the (T)NIV, when it does not appear in other translations. I have been taking my own sweet time in responding. Fortunately, it is fairly straightforward. Here is Psalm 68:20,

    הָאֵל לָנוּ, אֵל לְמוֹשָׁעוֹת:
    וְלֵיהוִה אֲדֹנָי--לַמָּוֶת, תֹּצָאוֹת

    God is unto us a God of deliverances;
    and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues of death.
What concerns us is the phrase "GOD, the Lord", as a translation for יהוִה אֲדֹנָי. As I noted recently, יהוִה, YHWH, is usually translated LORD and אֲדֹנָי Adonai (master), as Lord. English translations do not like to use "Lord, Lord," although that is the equivalent given in the Septuagint. Here is the phrase in several different translations.
    יהוִה אֲדֹנָי

    του κυριου κυριου LXX

    Domini, Domini Vulgate

    of the Lord, of the Lord DR

    Lord God Geneva

    GOD the Lord JPS, KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV

    Lord GOD HCSB

    Yahweh, My Lord Rotherham

    the Lord, Our Lord Good News Bible

    Sovereign LORD NLT, (T)NIV

    The LORD Master Alter
The expression "Sovereign Lord" occurs 289 times in the NIV and usually translates Adonai YHWH. In Psalm 68 it translates YHWH Adonai. "Sovereign" is used as the alternate translation for Adonai, which means "master" or "lord."

Since יהוִה YHWH was usually pronounced as Adonai in Hebrew, this sequence יהוִה אֲדֹנָי YHWH Adonai poses a problem. It looks as if it should be pronounced Adonai, Adonai, and the LXX translation suggests that it might have been. However, יהוִה was usually pointed with the vowel marks for Elohim in this phrase, and so it was likely pronounced Adonai Elohim, "Lord God." In short, YHWH was read in Hebrew as Adonai, "Lord," but if the previous word was already Adonai, then it was read as Elohim, giving the translation "Lord God" in the KJV and "Sovereign Lord" in the (T)NIV.

This rather curious feature of translation argues against concordance or formal equivalence as integral to communicating essential religious knowledge about God across languages. However, it is only through having access to formal equivalent translation in the first place that one can become aware of these irregularities in translation, if one does not read the text in the original languages. My sense is that a formal equivalent translation does not have great spiritual significance, but it does affect one's intellectual understanding of the scriptures.

There is, however, a certain aspect of the text that is fixed in translating YHWH. Whether LORD or GOD, YHWH is marked in the text by the use of capital (or small capital) letters. The name of YHWH is communicated to us in an unambiguous way through a visual or non phonetic feature of the text.

HCSB interview

Will Lee at Antworth blog has posted a very informative interview with Ed Blum, the general editor of the HCSB. Dr. Blum gives a detailed response to the question of how the HCSB differs from the ESV.
Well, the ESV comes from the King James tradition. The King James was revised continuously until about 1750. In 1870 they did a major revision of the King James which never became really popular which was called the English Revised Version, and I think popularly known as the Revised Version. It actually came out in 1881. The Americans who worked on it weren’t happy with it, but they had signed an agreement not to publish for 20 years, so they came out in 1901 with the American Standard Version, their revision of the King James tradition. And that stayed in print until the mid 1930s and the National Council of Churches who owned the copyright started on the RSV. And the RSV NT was done in 1946, and the OT was finished in the early 1950s. Everybody thought the NT was fairly decent, but the OT, they had a number of Jewish scholars and they felt that it wasn’t quite what they wanted. So a group of Americans from the Lockman foundation took the old American Standard Version and made the New American Standard Version. That one began as a revision of the King James tradition. And then there was the revision done by Thomas Nelson; they did the NKJV. Then the NASB was revised again in 1995. The English Standard Version took the old RSV and revised about 7% of it. So it’s not a new translation; it’s a revision of the King James tradition. Although they worked on a lot of things, if you really compare them you’ll see that it’s still the King James tradition. They’ve taken King James word order, much of the vocabulary is still the same. The HCSB is a new translation from the original text. For example, the standard Hebrew lexicon that we used is the most recent one. The ESV is a lot closer to the NASB95 and the King James tradition. For example, how often do you use the word “shall”?
The entire interview has substantive, detailed answers like this. It would be well worth reading, if you are interested in comparing the most recently published English versions.

HT: Rick Mansfield, who summarizes the Blum interview very well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Best Bible Translation

Rick Mansfield has posted thoughtfully on The Best Bible Translation. I share his view when people ask which is the best English version of the Bible:
I do not really believe that there is a BEST translation out there for all people, preferring to ask, “Best for what?”
Rick then goes on to make some good recommendations for versions appropriate for different uses.

at this hour I'm blogging

Linguist Geoff Pullum notices that the comment preceding the time stamp on his blog is ungrammatical:
Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 16, 2007 10:59 AM
Grammatical English calls for that line to be worded, in full as:
Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum on December 16, 2007 at 10:59 AM
Pullum lists proper usage of English prepositions in time phrases:
at for seconds (at that very second)
at for minutes (at 15 minutes past the hour)
at for hours (at eight in the morning)
on for days (on December 16)
in for weeks (in the third week of December)
in for months (in December)
in for years (in 2007)
I would add "during the year." For me, "during 2006" would be used, rather than "in 2006", when a speaker/writer focuses on a more durative (or iterative) aspect of event(s) that took place, rather than on the event scene as a whole. (Greek scholars should be perking up now, as we're dealing with what is called "tense" in traditional Greek grammars.)

Pullum concludes by asking why the prepositions pattern this way:
Why is it at for short periods of time recorded on a clock face, on for medium ones punctuated by the cycle of sunrise and sunset, and in for longer ones recorded in the calendar? One day I might set that as an essay question in a course on grammar and meaning. I have no idea what the right thing to say about it would be, though.
English prepositions do not simply indicate location in time or space, but also a kind of duration or amount of space indicated. English "at" is the most punctiliar of the prepositions used in time phrases. Notice how we say
at exactly that point
but not
in exactly the point
on exactly that point
Now, what does this have to do with translation, and, in particular, Bible translation, which is the focus of this blog? It has just as much to do with translation to English as anything else we do with the English language. When we use English we need to follow English patterns (syntactic and lexical rules) which are used by enough people that they "sound right" to those people. (Among English speakers there are different groups, dialects, who use different rules.)

As I have evaluated English Bible versions over the years, my editor's ears often sense that a wrong preposition in used in some time phrases. This is not surprising since those who translate more formally often try to match up a form in a biblical language with an English form. But sometimes in that matching process, they pay more attention to the rules of the biblical languages than they do to English, and the English turns out ungrammatical.

I have previously blogged about how "in that day" sounds ungrammatical to me, as in:
in that day (Is. 12:1; KJV, RSV, ESV, NRSV, NIV, TNIV, NJPS, NLT)
Now, as some respondents have pointed out when I have blogged about this in (!) the past, "day" in the biblical language texts often is used for a span of time longer than a day in English. So when "day" is used for a longer period of time, it is not necessarily ungrammatical to use "in" with "day" but it is more natural to use the noun "time" to refer to such a period, and then use "at" with "time."

Other Bible versions, in particular those which are more idiomatic, use grammatically expected prepositions in the time phrase for Is. 12:1:
on that day (NASB, REB, HCSB)
at that time (NET, CEV, GW, NCV)
Notice that the more idiomatic translations use "at that time" for a time period longer than a 24 hour day. The NASB and HCSB stand out as nice counter-examples to the usage of "in" with "day" in the more formally equivalent translations. All Bible versions, including FE ones, do use "on" with "day" when their translators consider that "day" is referring to a particular day, not a longer time period, as in:
on that day (Gen. 15:18)
The same issue occurs with "hour". Today we usually think of an hour as consisting of 60 minutes. But an older usage of "hour" still persists for some speakers where "hour" refers to a longer period of time. For the latter group, including some English Bible translators, the "longer time" preposition, in, is used:

in that hour (Matt. 10:19; KJV, RSV, ESV, NASB,

I prefer to refer to a longer time period with the noun "time" as is done in Matt. 10:19 in these versions:

at that time (NRSV, NIV, TNIV, NET, CEV, NCV)
when the time comes (REB, TEV, GW)

The HCSB is unique with "at that hour."

There are two issues intersecting in this post:
  1. whether or not to literally translate biblical times longer than a day or hour with the English words "day" or "hour"
  2. which preposition is grammatically proper with various time nouns
My own preference is to use the word "time" in an English translation for an indefinite period of time, even when a biblical author literally used a word referring to an hour or day (but which was metaphorically extended to refer to a longer period of time). I believe that using the word "time" for time longer than an hour or day better reflects the way that most English speakers today speak and write. I think that most speakers today would not say "The Hour of Decision" (even though it has been the name of a religious radio program for many years). Today they would say something like "this is the time to make a decision", or, more concisely, "decision time".

I suspect that use of "hour" or "day" to refer to time periods longer than an hour or a day reflects the influence that English Bible versions (almost all of them translated literally until the last century) have had upon the English language. That influence is waning, and so am I :-)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rooster scratches -- Monday, Dec. 17

Somehow "Rooster scratches" doesn't have quite the appeal as Suzannes's "Hen scratches," but maybe it will serve its purpose anyway.

I want to point you all to a blog post by ElShaddai Edwards which is a passionate appeal to all users of English Bibles. It's titled "Inerrancy in translation?.

I like one of his ending points:

Believe it or not, this is not a rant against any one translation or even against translation in general. It is simply a call for those of us who speak English to be reminded that we are reading a copy of God’s word as it was originally handed down to humankind. When we elevate any translation as the full meaning/form of God’s word, we are in legalistic error.

You'll want to read the comments to ElShaddai's post also.

Henry Neufeld also discusses inerrancy in his post Biblical Inerrancy and Evolution. Henry discusses a connection between belief in inerrancy of the biblical text and literalist readings of that biblical text.

Rick Mansfield tells us Eleven Ways to Care for Your New Bible.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Diminutive

    In our English language some of the tenderest, sweetest and most endearing, yet most elusive words are our diminutives. Webster's dictionary tells us that 'Charley' is the diminutive of 'Charles.' Her Majesty the Queen might call Prince Charles, 'Charley,' but we may not do so: it is too intimate, too endearing a name, for a stranger to use.

    Nor is it only to children that we use diminutives. I had an uncle by name of Charles, and he was 'Uncle Charley' to his nieces and nephews as long as he lived: so a diminutive may lose the sense of size, by being overpowered by the sense of endearment; Yet not all diminutives have the sense of endearment, though many have. 'Rivulet' is the diminutive of 'river,' and has no other sense than the smallness of its size.

    'Bairnie' is the diminutive of 'bairn' and really means 'a little bairn;' but a Scotch mother may say to her boys and girls, even after they are grown up: "My bairnie!" and they will understand that she does not refer to size, but affection: and if they are nice children, they will return that affection with a kiss.

    We have various ways of forming our diminutives in English, as noted: rivulet, bairnie, lambkin, and so forth. In the Greek New Testament we also find diminutives, but they are formed by adding the letter "i." Thus, 'teknon' a child, becomes teknion in its diminutive. 'Thugater,' 'daughter,' has 'thugatrion' for its diminutive; but I know of no diminutive in English for 'daughter,' though a beloved friend tells me they have one in German.

    We do not very often use diminutives in English; in a sense they are almost too sacred to be dragged into ordinary usage; and are reserved for occasions of special stress or feeling. The same, I think, is true in Greek. This makes them the more precious when they are used.

    To me, one of the loveliest diminutives in the Greek New Testament is 'teknion', mentioned above. The Lord himself is speaking when we first hear it in the New Testament. It is on the same night in which he was betrayed; and He exclaims, 'Teknia!' (the plural of Teknion), "Teknia, Yet a little while I am with you!" That parting was before His soul, and well He knew what it would mean to His disciples; and so, with a heart full of love, He exclaims; "Teknia!" I know not how it can be translated.

    Our Authorised version has, "Little children!" Mr. Darby has, "Children", Rotherham has "Dear Children." All, in a sense, are right; but none seem to me to even begin to translate what was in the Lord's heart, and what He expressed to His disciples that night, by that one little word, "Teknia." One excellent dictionary suggests that the best translation of 'teknon' is the Scottish word 'bairn.' Both come from a word meaning 'to be born.' Those who have had the privilege of a Scottish mother or wife will know exactly what was meant when she said to her children: "Bairnies!" That, I think, is what the Lord meant when He said, on that dark betrayal night 'Teknia!"
So wrote Christopher Willis, a missionary to China, who spent his last days in a small Northern Ontario town, isolated and excommunicated from his assembly for no reason at all but the hard hearts of his brethren. Shortly before he died he came to stay in our home. Everyone else was out till later that evening, and I was left to cook the dinner and entertain him alone. I was 12 years old. He brought with him a copy of his recently written Hid Treasures Found in the Greek New Testament, from which I have taken this passage, as a hostess gift.

I wonder sometimes if we have lost the ability to express such tenderness, across age and gender gaps. How thrilling for a child to be given a gift which says, some day you will grow up and maybe you will study the Greek New Testament as I did, and teach the things that I teach. Such tenderness, to treat a child with this kind of respect.

We never know who we will touch with tenderness and endearments. How my heart turns to a translation like Rotherham's. Unenglish as it is, it is full of the expression of endearment, "Dear Children." Let's not lose the ability to address each other with tenderness.

John 13:33 τεκνια

Children - Darby, HCSB
Dear Children - Rotherham, NLT, Tyndale, Coverdale
Little Children - KJV, ESV, NASB, Bishops, Geneva
My Children - (T)NIV, CEV, GNB
Liebe Kindlein - Luther

I am always touched and enriched by knowing that people read this blog, and I am very grateful to cobloggers, the blogging community and blogreaders for creating such an affectionate community.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blind, but now I see

Last Saturday afternoon I got a call from the woman in charge of Scripture readers. She needed someone to read Sunday’s passage. I was playing on the worship team, but I’ll read Scripture at the drop of a hat. I’ll even do it cold, if need be. (There were some years when I was the go-to person for Pentacost Sunday because I can read all those place names without stumbling. It comes of being an academic who reads papers on arcane topics in front of sometimes hundreds of people and a linguist no less.)

Anyway, this Advent we’re going through John’s gospel to get his take on Incarnation. So my assignment was John 9:1-25. Yes, we’re all familiar with the story of the man blind from birth. The associate pastor, whose turn it was to preach, asked for the passage to stop with the punch line quoted in Amazing Grace — I was blind, but now I see. She used that line to make a very effective point about the power of testimony, as opposed to apologetics, to make God real, that is incarnate, to unbelievers.

But I had to read before she preached. I had a certain amount of trouble with one small section of the text, and my trouble is worth posting about.

Our pew Bibles are NRSV, so I had to read:
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”
Now, if you just look at the conversational parts, you notice that nobody talks like that anymore. The choice to say Is this not ...? is solely archaism for archaism’s sake. (I addressed that issue last Christmas.)

Then we come to
It is he.
Ouch! There’s no way to read such schoolmarm English with anything like a sensible intonation. Sure we read over such things in our silent Bible reading and don’t much notice. But try to say it out loud.

I can only say It is he half seriously, and then only with the stress on the he. The correct reading in the context of this passage would have to put the stress on the is. But
It IS he.
isn’t English. It sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. To get a phrasing that fits the intonation you need to say
It IS him.
OK. But even that has a problem — and it isn’t that your overly strict high school English teacher from the days before corporal punishment was politically incorrect is going to appear out of your past and rap you across the knuckles for having an accusative in a copular clause.

If you ask the question
Isn’t that X?
The affirmative answer has to be
It IS.
So I don’t care if the Greek clause is οὗτός ἐστιν. Don’t translate the οὗτός. It isn’t English. You buy nothing but needless foreignness by insisting on the he/him.

Then we come to the next line in this conversation
No, but it is someone like him.
This time the issue is not naturalness but accuracy. What is being referred to is the way he looks as opposed to, say, the way he acts. Compare the two English sentences
John is like Bill.
John looks like Bill.
The former means that John acts like Bill in some respect; the latter means, well, John looks like Bill. Referential accuracy is at stake here. The translation must include the verb look to be an accurate translation, so you could render
No, but it is someone who looks like him.
But looking at the Greek this seems unnecessarily wordy. There are just five words οὐχί ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος. There is no reason not to translate into completely natural English.
No, he just looks like him.
Now we have something that is both a faithful and accurate translation and a natural English conversation.
Isn't that the man who used to sit and beg?
It is.
No, he just looks like him.
There is nothing in the Greek to suggest that the conversation was anything other than natural sounding to the original audience. For all the myriad ways in which Roman era Palestinian culture is foreign to the 21st century English speaking world, this isn’t one of them. Don’t make it seem foreign by translating
Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?
It is he.
No, but it is someone like him.
Now there is one more conversational piece in this passage. The formerly blind man responds
I am the man.
The Greek has ἐγώ εἰμι. I don't see man in here anywhere. You could argue that man is also missing in the very first line οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν, and I was happy with that translation. But I’ll point out that the οὗτός ‘that[masc. sg.]’ in that context forces you to supply a noun in English. I was even tempted to say guy,
Isn't that the guy who used to sit and beg?
but that makes it a more casual style than I’m ready to argue for in this case. The problem with ἐγώ εἰμι is that the NRSV translators, looking for a faithful equivalent, are trying to preserve the I am.

At this point the linguists roll their collective eyes.

You see, clauses with the verb to be, a.k.a. copular clauses, serve essentially two functions. One is to assign some property or state or identify the class or category someone/something belongs to
He is tall.
He is sick.
That’s a dish.
She’s a doctor.
The other is to specify a connection of identity between two known entities.
Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow.
That’s my second cousin.
Now there is an interesting cross-linguistic point about the syntax of to be clauses which function to specify identity. Linguists call them specificational copular clauses. Languages are of two types with respect to specificational copular clauses depending on which way the agreement goes. So English has
It’s me.
But most of the other major European languages go the other way
Spanish : Soy yo. [lit. (it) am I]
German : Das bin ich. [lit. that am I]
Needless to say, Greek is in this second class. So the most faithful translation of ἐγώ εἰμι is
It’s me.
or maybe better in context here.
It IS me.
Adding the man is simply misunderstanding the construction. (There’s a lot of that going around under the guise of faithful equivalent translation.)

So what would be an accurate translation of this passage?

Something that contains the conversation given above. Something close to the NIV/TNIV.
8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” (NIV/TNIV)
But I would modify it slightly because I see no value in putting the middle line in indirect discourse, and the final line needs fixing as I just explained.
8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said “It is”. Others said, “No, he just looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “It is me.” (NIV/TNIV, modified)
Now, I have just taken you through a translation exercise. I’m applying the same principles of dynamic equivalence that I’ve been arguing for since the beginning. There is nothing theological at stake here. There is nothing literary about the passage. There aren’t any metaphors or allusions. The bulk of translation, at least NT translation, is like this. So I’m hesitant to relabel my translational approach from dynamic equivalent (DE) to literary equivalent (LE), because, in the last analysis, most of the questions that come up aren’t literary at all. Most of them are about recognizing the Greek for what it is, and making the English sound natural.

I think DE gets a bad rap because the popular view of it is that there are no rules, no constraints, and that the translator, who is thought to have no ear for good English, has free rein to interpret the Scripture however he/she wants.

Not true.

I hope that some who were blind to the value of DE will now see from this exercise that on all counts it is exactly the opposite.


As an appendix I’ll give the passage in Greek and ESV. The reader can evaluate the quality of the ESV translation of this passage as an exercise.
8 οἱ οὖν γείτονες καὶ οἱ θεωροῦντες αὐτὸν τὸ πρότερον ὅτι προσαίτης ἦν ἔλεγον οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν 9 ἄλλοι ἔλεγον ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἄλλοι ἔλεγον οὐχί ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος ἔλεγεν ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” (ESV)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Do we think in words? Part II

The trouble with being a linguist is that you can’t get away from your object of study. Every time anyone opens his or her mouth you are liable to hear something of significance for understanding how language works.

The late University of Chicago linguistics professor, Jim McCawley who, if they gave Nobel prizes in linguistics, would have gotten one of the first ones, used to carry a pad of paper in his pocket to make note of interesting examples he noticed in actual use. He would occasionally unnerve his interlocutors by whipping it out in the middle of a conversation, even a one-on-one conversation, and scribble down the crucial wording, all without missing a beat.

Well, I had one of those McCawley moments about a week ago. Those of you who have been watching sports recently have indubitably been subjected to this Lowe’s commercial.

Okay, it’s just a little too much. But it rings true to the common experience we all share of an occasional disconnect between our thoughts and our words. Linguists call this phenomenon anomia, the inability to retrieve the name of an object (or person) that we are thinking of.

And that’s the point. Our thoughts are not words. Something has to happen in our minds to connect our thoughts to words. Even the most articulate of us have been struck by anomia at the most inconvenient moments. Having anomia doesn’t mean that we have fuzzy thinking. After all, we know exactly what we mean, and like the woman in the commercial, we know it when someone else gives us the right words. For this to occur it must be the case that thoughts and words are distinct.

These facts fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Even very smart people, especially smart people who can write well, make the mistake of thinking that words are thoughts. We all read Orwell's famous essay, Politics and the English Language, in high school. Our English teachers all nodded approvingly as he argued that if people only made the effort to use English well, they wouldn’t think bad political thoughts.


While it is true that one can’t speak clearly without thinking clearly, it doesn’t work the other way around. Like the lady in the ad, we may know exactly what we mean and simply be unable to articulate it. (And I’m sorry, Mr. Orwell, but people with the most outrageous political opinions can nonetheless speak quite clearly about them.)

In the Bible translation debate I read the formal equivalence folks arguing as if the words were the thoughts. They blanch at the thought of rewording a passage in English because they believe that that somehow changes the meaning. They reluctantly concede that some changes need to be allowed so the translation isn’t complete word salad, but, they say, to be close to the real meaning we must use an “essentially transparent” rendering in English.

However conversations like the one in the commercial above show us that you can be very precise in thought and use less than exact wording (with a suitably cooperative interlocutor) to communicate exactly what you intend. There is no value in trying to mimic the wording of the original language if that’s not the way English works.

This is what I tried to convey in my inaugural post in this blog when I said that the meaning is not in the words. We use words as tools to communicate, but they are, in the last analysis, only the tools, and not the meaning itself. We get into trouble arguing about translation when we forget this fact (or ignore it unawares).

The last time I asserted that the meaning is not in the words, I was taken to task, as if that claim were tantamount to saying that meaning apart from words is vague and ethereal. Of course, that is not the case at all. Meanings are almost always quite precise, at least the first order meanings. The deeper implications of those first order meanings can be vague or difficult, but the first order meanings are rarely imprecise. So when the Greek in Matt. 23:2 says: ἐπὶ τῆς Μωϋσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν ‘they sit on the seat of Moses’ it means exactly ‘they bear Moses’ authority’. The argument isn’t about referential accuracy. Everyone agrees on that. The argument is whether the burden of getting to that meaning should be borne by the wording of the translation, or by teaching the churched to understand what an essentially transparent translation means. The supposed value of the second approach is that you don't you miss literary allusions (which were noted for this passage in Lingamish’s comment in the discussion on the translation of this passage over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry).

For me, the cost of the second option is too high. If the connection of the wording to the first order meaning isn’t automatic, the communicative force of the allusions will be lost anyway. You’re better off with the dynamic equivalent translation and an indication of the allusions with a footnote.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

LE translation

In today's post at his "He Is Sufficient" blog, ElShaddai Edwards suggests that the categories DE (Dynamic Equivalence) and FE (Formal Equivalence) do not adequately capture another important factor (desideratum, for those who like Latinate terms!) for Bible translation. It is Literary Equivalence, which ElShaddai abbreviates as LE. The post is a good read which I recommend.

I'll be gone for a long weekend, starting tonight. I'm flying to Alaska to help my father celebrate his 90th birthday tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Recent Post

I accidentally posted on Rough Crossings by Simon Schama here. It is now up on my own blog.

Isaiah 63:1 - when "in" is out

Many English Bible versions use the preposition "in" in odd ways, using non-standard English. (They import biblical language syntax, rather than using English syntax.) An email message on a Bible translation discussion list just tipped me off to the odd usage of "in" in several translations of Isaiah 63:1:
  • I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. (KJV)
  • It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save. (ESV)
  • It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save. (NASB)
  • It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save. (NIV, TNIV)
I don't think I have ever heard or read a fluent speaker of English say "speak(ing) in righteousness". What is that wording intended to mean?

Oswalt in the NICOT commentary series answers:
One should not overlook the preposition B on [tsedakah]. It makes plain that righteousness is not what God speaks, but the manner in which he speaks.
The semantics of manner in English is typically worded with adverbs, not "in" phrases. I am suggesting to the TNIV team that they revise to:
It is I, speaking righteously ...
(On a side note, the wording "mighty to save" strikes my ear as non-standard English, as well. I have suggested to the TNIV team that they revise that to "having the power to save.")

Are there English versions that translate Is. 63:1 "speaking in righteousness" in more standard English? Yes, here are some:
  • It is I, announcing vindication (RSV, NRSV; note that the ESV (above) revises this to the more literal and non-standard English)
  • It is I, proclaiming victory (REB)
  • It is I, proclaiming vindication (HCSB)
  • It is I, the one who announces vindication (NET)
  • It is I, the LORD. I am coming to announce my victory. (GW)
  • I, the LORD, speak what is right. (NCV; note that this chooses the exegesis that Oswalt says is not in the Hebrew)

Monday, December 03, 2007

No harm, no foul?

My father was a microbiologist back in the day when microbiology was more about microscopes and stains and less about biochemistry. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry for Smith, Kline, and French (now GlaxoSmithKline) and helped develop time-release dosing. In the mid-60’s there was a big shake up in the pharmaceutical business and many in management positions were fired, most for highly political reasons. While the rest of my father’s colleagues simply moved to other big companies into the jobs vacated by their friends and former classmates, my father opted out of the big company scene and went to work as the lab director for a small veterinary pharmaceutical start up, Masti-Kure, (although one didn’t call new companies start ups in those days.)

The idea behind the company was simple and brilliant. It’s founder, Dr. Jules Silver, a large animal veterinarian, had come up with a slick solution to one of the biggest problems in the dairy business, mastitis, an inflammation of the udder. If a cow gets mastitis the milk is contaminated with the bacteria that causes the inflammation and if the inflammation goes on too long, the cow will dry up. The problem is that the time to diagnose the cause of the mastitis not only costs the farmer in lost milk, but also risks losing the cow for the whole year.

Dr. Silver’s brilliant idea was to combine all the antibiotics indicated for all the common bacterial causes of mastitis into a single pharmaceutical. It contained a half a dozen drugs, from penicillin to sulfas. Your cow gets mastitis, you don’t waste time figuring out what kind of mastitis she has, you give her one, maybe two, doses of Masti-Kure, and she’s cured.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) has long been interested in insuring that antibiotics don’t make their way into the food supply, so the manufacturer has to prove that all the antibiotics were gone from the milk within a certain time. Dr. Silver had tweaked things to get the milk out time down to 24 hours. The farmers cheered and lined up in droves to buy the stuff.

But then the big pharmaceutical companies started doing something that upset the FDA. To boost their profits they started mixing pairs of pharmaceuticals for treating single human ailments, giving the combination a new name, and charging more for it as if it were a new drug. The FDA responded by saying that the manufacturers need to prove that the combination was more effective than simply the effect of one drug added to the effect of the other. This makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately for you, me, and the dairy farmers, some smarty-pants bureaucrat decided that the same rule should apply to mastitis ointments. (If you’re interested and have the patience to wade through the legalese, look at FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine Guideline No. 27. Notice that Masti-Kure is referenced in section VI. A.) He didn’t take into account that the underpinnings are entirely different. Speed is of the essence and it doesn’t matter if the penicillin is only half as effective in combination. The point is to get the bug healed before it can do any more damage.

But, no, the government forged ahead and banned Masti-Kure’s product. (Masti-Kure then promptly moved to Ireland and is doing a land office business in the EU, where they are, in general, much better about drug laws.)

What the FDA didn’t realize is that the barn door was, by then, open. Once the farmers know that the economically smart solution is to throw everything at mastitis, pharmaceutically speaking, then they will do that, even if it means mixing their own ointments. So in an overbearing attempt to ensure that Masti-Kure was not gouging the dairy farmers, the FDA has lost control of the very thing it should be most concerned about, antibiotics in the food supply. If the farmers mix their own ointments, we have no way of knowing how soon the last antibiotic is gone from the milk. We’re in the land of unintended consequences.

I’d argue that that’s exactly were we are with Bible translations. By having influential theologians afraid of tampering with God’s Word insist on translations that hew too close to the original, we are left with versions that are far less clear in English than they should be, and we’ve placed too much of the burden of the translation work on our pastors, who are, for the most part, not fully up to the task. (Rick Mansfield, himself a Greek teacher, goes public on this here.) And it’s not their job, or it shouldn’t be. Wasn’t that the message of the Reformation? Shouldn’t we all have Scriptures that we can read without having to have the clergy explain them to us?

If you know any Greek or Hebrew at all, I’ll bet it’s not uncommon in your church-going experience that you have heard a pastor get it wrong from the pulpit. I will not list the ways—not the times, but the ways—I’ve heard well-meaning and theologically solid pastors get it wrong. The list would be quite long.

We’re in the land of unintended consequences. By trying to avoid making the hard decisions about what gets left out in the triage of translation, we farm it out to our pastors who far too often get it wrong.

Is it really safer to translate essentially transparently? Is there no harm, no foul?

ESV now on Kindle

Last Monday I blogged on Kindle,'s new book-like reading device. I noted:
Bible versions which are available so far for reading on Kindle are KJV, NIV, TNIV, The Word on the Street, and Young's Literal. But expect to see the ESV available for Kindle very soon, since the Crossway blog and technology team is keen on using the latest technology to promote the ESV.
True to form, the techno-savvy team at Crossway has been working fast and this Monday they announce on the ESV Bible blog:

The ESV is now available on Kindle, the new ebook reader from Amazon, for $9.99.

Wayne at Better Bibles Blog noted that the ESV wasn’t available when Kindle launched. The main reason is that we wanted to test the ESV on an actual Kindle to provide the best possible experience of the ESV on Kindle.

Let's see which other translations would we like to see "Kindled"? I would like to see NLT, NET, CEV, TEV, NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NRSV, NAB, NJB, NJPS, GW, NCV, REB in the Kindle format.

And it would also be nice if the price of Kindle could drop 50% or so. OK, I'm asking for the moon, but, all things are possible. I'd say that getting the ESV on Kindle was done in rather record time. Maybe other versions on Kindle and a price drop could be Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.

Oh, there's another gift already available. Comments on the Kindle post on the ESV Bible Blog are currently open for constructive ideas on ways that the experience of reading the ESV (or any other version) could be improved on Kindle.

Bible translation and Bible teachers

John Hobbins continues to post stimulating and provocative comments about the purpose of Bible translation, following up on Rich Rhodes' post here on BBB a few days ago. I just responded to his latest post on this topic by saying:

The job of a pastor, Bible teacher, or other biblical expositor is not to explain the language used in a translation. It is to help people understand the concepts which that language conveys and application to their own lives.

Perhaps you have heard the [legendary] response that some pastors have given when asked why they continue to preach from some old translation, "Well, what would I have to preach about if I didn't preach from that?"

What do you think? Is it one of the jobs of a Bible teacher/rabbi/minister/pastor to explain what words in Bible translations mean?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hen Scratches 02-12-07

Here are the names of God from Psalm 68 along with their transliteration, an approximate translation and for some a traditional translational equivalent. I have written about Shaddai and I hope to write about adonai next.

- elohim (plural form) God
- yah, abbreviation of yahweh, Jah
- adonai, (plural form) owner, master, Lord
- shaddai, Almighty
- yahweh, YHWH, LORD

יָהּ אֱלֹהִים
- yah elohim LORD God
- ha'el abbreviation of elohim, God
יהוִה אֲדֹנָי
- yahweh adonai
(translation to be discussed)

There are some fascinating posts around. First, Kurk offers an example of Barnstone's translation from Matthew. There are many other great posts found in the blogs in our sidebar and John will mention others. There is a good post by Kevin on gender language.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Do we think in words?

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’m teaching discourse analysis this semester. Well, the semester is almost over and we haven’t gotten as far along as I had wanted. But the students this round are very good. (Yes, I know that Berkeley attracts some of the best and brightest, but even in that crowd these kids stand out.) They’re pushing me to analyze the sample texts in more detail than I had when I last taught the course some years back.

On Thursday a particularly interesting example came up that has pinpoint relevance to the dynamic equivalence debate.

One of the more deceptively misleading arguments against dynamic equivalence is articulated by Leland Ryken, an apologist for the ESV, in his book The Word of God in English (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002)
“Not only does a translation that reproduces the very words of the original text have logic on its side (translation of ideas rather than words being an illogical notion); it is also the only type of translation that respects and obeys other important principles regarding the Bible.” (pg. 217) [emphasis mine RAR]
I want to look at the assertion that it is “illogical” to translate ideas rather than words.

Such a position is based on the fallacy that people think in words. The confusion is understandable. Most of us make the mistake of considering our inner dialogue to be thinking. There is a long tradition of doing so. For example, 17th century French grammarians believed in the superiority of the French language because, in their minds, it mirrored logical thought:
The basic expository word-order of French, above all, was held to favour clarity, and was commonly identified with the logical processes of thought. Le Laboureur in Les Avantages de la langue françoise (1669), and Fr. Charpentier in L’Excellence de la langue françoise (1683) both praise the logical order which they discerned in French. (A History of the French Language, P. Rickard 1989 Routledge, pg. 104)
But in my discourse class we came across a slam bang example that shows just how much thinking goes on beneath the level of the inner dialogue. Unfortunately it requires your reading a longish text to sufficiently frame the example. On the plus side, the text is hilarious.
Blading Barbie Sparks Up Hell On Wheels
by Dave Barry

As executive director of the Bureau of Consumer Alarm, I am always on the alert for news stories that involve two key elements:
1. Fire
2. Barbie
So I was very interested when alert reader Michael Robinson sent me a column titled “Ask Jack Sunn” from the Dec. 13, 1993, issue of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger. Here’s an excerpt from a consumer’s letter to this column, which I am not making up:
“Last year, my two daughters received presents of two Rollerblade Barbie dolls by Mattel. On March 8, my 8-year-old daughter was playing beauty shop with her 4-year-old brother. After spraying him with hair spray, the children began to play with the boot to Rollerblade Barbie. My little girl innocently ran the skate across her brother’s bottom, which immediately ignited his clothes.”
The letter adds that “There are no warnings concerning fire on these toys ... I feel the need to warn potential buyers of their danger.”

In his response, Jack Sunn says, cryptically, that “Mattel does not manufacture Rollerblade Barbie any more.” He does not address the critical question that the consumer’s letter raised in my mind, as I’m sure it did yours, namely: Huh?

I realized that the only way to answer this question was to conduct a scientific experiment. As you may recall, last year, in response to a news item concerning a kitchen fire in Ohio, I did an experiment proving that if you put a Kellogg’s strawberry Pop-Tart in a toaster and hold the toaster lever down for five minutes and 50 seconds, the Pop-Tart will turn into a snack-pastry blowtorch, shooting flames up to 30 inches high. Also your toaster will be ruined.

The problem was that I did not have a Rollerblade Barbie. My son happens to be a boy, and we never went through the Barbie phase. We went through the Masters of the Universe phase. For two years our household was the scene of a fierce, unceasing battle between armies of good and evil action figures. They were everywhere. You’d open up the salad crisper, and there would be He-Man and Skeletor, striking each other with carrots. So at the end of a recent column, I printed a note appealing for a Rollerblade Barbie. I got two immediately; one from Renee Simmons of Clinton, Iowa, and one from Randy Langhenry of Gainesville, Ga., who said it belonged to his 6-year-old daughter, Greta. (“It would help me if you could get Barbie back to north Georgia before Greta notices she’s gone,” Randy wrote.)

Rollerblade Barbie is basically a standard Barbie, which is to say, she represents the feminine beauty ideal, if your concept of a beautiful female is one who is six feet, nine inches tall and weighs 52 pounds (37 of which are in the bust area) and has a rigidly perky smile and eyeballs the size of beer coasters and a one-molecule nose and enough hair to clog the Lincoln Tunnel.

But what makes this Barbie special is that she’s wearing two little yellow Rollerblade booties, each of which has a wheel similar to the kind found in cigarette lighters, so that when you roll Barbie along, her booties shoot out sparks. This seems like an alarming thing for Rollerblades to do, but Barbie, staring perkily ahead, does not seem to notice.

To ensure high standards of scientific accuracy, I conducted the experiment in my driveway. Aside from Rollerblade Barbie, my materials consisted of several brands of hair spray and — this was a painful sacrifice a set of my veteran underwear (estimated year of purchase: 1968). I spread the underwear on the driveway, then sprayed it with hair spray, then made Rollerblade Barbie skate across it, sparking her booties. I found that if you use the right brand of hair spray — I got excellent results with Rave — Rollerblade Barbie does indeed cause the underwear to burst dramatically into flame.

(While I was doing this, a neighbor walked up, and I just want to say that if you think it’s easy to explain why you’re squatting in your driveway, in front of a set of burning underwear, surrounded by hair spray bottles, holding a Barbie doll in your hand, then you are mistaken.)

At this point, the only remaining scientific question — I’m sure this has occurred to you — was: Could Rollerblade Barbie set fire to a Kellogg’s strawberry Pop-Tart? The answer turns out to be yes, but you have to be in the act of hair-spraying the Pop-Tart when Barbie Rollerblades over it, so you get a blowtorch effect that could very easily set fire to Barbie’s hair, not to mention your own personal self. Plus you get tart filling in the booties. So we can see why Mattel ceased manufacturing Rollerblade Barbie. I imagine that whichever toy designer dreamed up this exciting concept has been transferred to Mattel’s coveted Bosnia plant. But what should be done about all the Rollerblade Barbies that are already in circulation? I believe that the only solution is for all concerned consumers to demand that our congress-humans pass a federal law requiring that all underwear, snack pastries and other household objects carry a prominent label stating:
But that is not enough. We also need to appropriate millions of dollars for a massive federal effort to undo the damage that has been done so far. I’m talking about scraping this crud off my driveway.

Also, the taxpayers owe Greta a new Barbie.
(Copied from Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, Sunday, July 17, 1994)
When you’ve stopped laughing, we can go over the difficult transition point in the middle of the text.

What? You didn’t notice that there was a big leap in the middle of this piece? How very interesting.

The leap comes between the sentences
I realized that the only way to answer this question was to conduct a scientific experiment.
The problem was that I did not have a Rollerblade Barbie.
(We can ignore the two intervening parenthetical sentences about the Pop-Tart toaster experiment, because it is just that, parenthetical.) The question is: how do you know that it makes sense to talk about having a Rollerblade Barbie?

Does it still seem so natural as not to need an explanation?

Let me put another way: what do you have to know about science to make sense of this transition?

The answer is that you have to have a pretty good idea of how to design experiments. You know what the experiment would be expected to prove—and it’s not that 8-year-olds like to torture their baby brothers. Besides that you know which things mentioned in the original news story to extract as crucial to show that sparks are enough to ignite hairspray-soaked clothing. You don't need the kids; you just need hairspray, clothing, and Roller-blade Barbie. Furthermore, you expect that everyone has hairspray and clothes lying around the house, but Roller-blade Barbie is the scarce commodity, so it makes sense to talk about not having Roller-blade Barbie.

Now may I point out to you that you did all those mental gymnastics subconsciously, wordlessly, and instantly.

The point is that doing all that calculation doesn’t simply follow from the meaning of the word experiment. Words like experiment bring along large and complex agglomerations of associated concepts. Linguists call these associated concepts FRAMES. When we communicate, we use words to refer to frames, often in ways that seem quite tangential, and then we get to refer to parts of the frame, at no mental cost, just as in the Barbie example.

Now when it comes to translation, the really good translators think in frames. They recognize the equivalence, or near equivalence in the frames, or the absence in one language of the frame and then use the normal linguistic tools of the target language to refer to the corresponding frames or the relevant part of the frame.

Let me go back to an example that I used over a year ago.

In the Greco-Roman world the frame that goes with the piece of furniture we would call a chair includes power, wealth, and authority. In Matt. 23:2, the chair is mentioned as a way to convey the notion of Moses authority. It’s not about the furniture.

Matt. 23:2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. (NIV)

To communicate the same idea in English where there is no corresponding frame associated with chairs the passage has to rendered something more like:

Matt. 23:2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees bear the authority of Moses. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. (NIV modified)

If you fail to make the adjustment, it makes no sense to the English ear. The Koine speaker did the mental calculation from chair (καθέδρα) to authority (ἐξοθσία) as quickly, subconsciously, and wordlessly as you did in the Barbie text. To translate this reference to authority with the use of a Greek frame is utterly misleading to English speakers. It doesn’t matter that you can teach them to understand it. The fact that the connection between the wording and the concept is not instant and subconscious shows that the transparently literal translation is wrong.

I’m sorry, Professor Ryken. Not only is it logical to translate at the level of ideas, it’s necessary.