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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Biblish a sacred language?

In today's post ElShaddai Edwards asks if Biblish is a sacred language? He continues the discussion over whether Hebraisms and Hellenisms should be translated literally in English Bible versions. ElShaddai concludes:
If you view the Bible as the revealed, inspired moral will of God, then where are you drawing the line on what is sacred and what is not? Isn’t it this mindset that then leads to the view that the Bible should be translated in “sacred language”, set apart from the normal linguistic rules of a receiver’s language? Yet isn’t this separation of the sacred and the profane what the reformers argued against?

Our traditional English translations have been preserved in Biblish, the “sacred English” that keeps the Bible separate from the profane context of our culture. The KJV translators deliberately chose language that spoke of and in antiquity, not the language of their culture. Is Biblish the ultimate result or manifestation of the demand that Christians be “in our culture, but not of our culture”?

Yet translating the text within the intracultural context of the receiver language doesn’t seem “a dereliction of duty” to me; indeed, it seems an even more sacred presentation of God’s Word that allows the Holy Spirit even more intimacy within those who hear and understand the call and claims of the Cross.
What do you think? Should a translation of the Bible sound different from good quality standard literary English? Should it use unnatural syntax and word combinations, and obsolete words in an effort to give the translation a "sacred" sound?


At Wed Feb 13, 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Garrett Ho said...

"good quality standard literary English"

Well, I don't know what others believe, but your opinion is pretty clear.

At Wed Feb 13, 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Frank said...

Good question, Wayne!

I don't think translators need to aim for a "sacred sound". We have enough of those translations, for those who choose to use them.

Sometimes I just want to know what a text means - and for that I pick up my NLT, or NIV. But, I have to confess that when I have the time, I really do enjoy a more difficult translation.

For the last two days, I've been keeping a journal, of sorts; a listing of uncommon words that I run across in my normal Bible readings from the ASV/ESV/NASB. I look them up later and chew on them. Here are a few: lest, lo, recompense, wantonness, wrought, beseech, manifold, manifested, upbraided, gainsayers, loathsome and threescore.

Even if I think I know what those words mean, I look them up anyway.

A bunch of them are not in my NLT. I wouldn't say that they make my other Bibles better - if anything their meanings have to be decoded, which sometimes stands in the way, at first. But it has been fun to look up their definitions and ponder them in their context. Now, if I only knew Greek and Hebrew – pondering the sacred text might be even more fun!

Thanks for your post.

At Wed Feb 13, 07:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been outed, Wayne!

Frank, I like your list. When I was a kid I read KJV/NASB and part of the reason I liked it was the old fashioned vocabulary. Like reading Tolkien.

At Thu Feb 14, 01:21:00 AM, Blogger martin shields said...

Should a translation of the Bible sound different from good quality standard literary English?

Yes, if the original was written in good quality standard literary Greek (whatever that might be, taking the NT as an example). But if the Greek was somewhat rougher, I'd like the English to reflect that. If it was filled with archaisms, I'd like the English to reflect that by using English archaisms! It might be difficult to attain, but it would mean that Luke might be translated differently to Mark.

OTOH, if we take "good quality standard literary Greek" and produce an English translation filled with archaisms then I think that has consequences for how people read and understand the text.

At Thu Feb 14, 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Kat said...

I, personally, would prefer a Bible which is translated literally, so I know what the actual words really are, and then have that paired with good notes explaining the metaphors and illustrations and what they meant to the original readers.

I don't believe this is "literary snobbishness" (so to speak) on my part (grinning), but more a desire to be able to say "here's what the Bible says, and this is how we'd perceive this metaphor today." I guess I get leery of the "Telephone Game" effect...

So... Good quality standard English which adheres as closely as possible to the original language's words, paired with careful, reliable notes to assist in understanding the meaning. That's what I like... ;-)

Oh, and BTW, I've got you on my RSS reader, and have been enjoying your thoughts here. I appreciate your blog very much!

At Thu Feb 14, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kat, if you want to "know what the actual words really are", you have no alternative to reading the original language texts, perhaps with an interlinear. You should not be fooled by marketing hype into thinking that any literal translation on the mainstream market is giving you the actual words, or even one-to-one equivalents of the actual words. I note for example that according to Karen Jobes each of the main formal correspondence translations into English contains at least 20% more words than were in the original - and they don't tell you which ones have been added.

At Wed Feb 20, 10:20:00 AM, Blogger solarblogger said...

"Biblish" seems to conflate two ideas. That of allowing the original language to still be visible by not smoothing over awkward expressions or choosing to say things the way an English speaker would say them, and that of deliberately using obsolete words. I think it is possible to do the former without doing the latter.

I am all for Biblish, but some Biblishes are better than others.

"Good quality standard literary English" is not something I would even want to bind an English-speaking author to. How will such an author say 'We was robbed!'?

At Wed Apr 16, 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

A good quality standard English will do. But I don't think we need to focus on the "sacred sound". It doesn't matter, what's important is.. readers must understand the content of the entire translation. It's more on understandability.


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