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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Karen Jobes paper

The Zondervan blog has a new post about a 2007 ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) paper written by Karen Jobes, a member of the TNIV translation team. The paper is titled "Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation" and is available as a PDF download. Jobes argues that literal and essentially literal translations often obscure the meaning of the biblical source text.

For a summary of the paper, read the Zondervan blog post and followup posts by John Hobbins. Peter Kirk also interacts with Jobes' paper, as does J.K. Gayle and Jim Getz.


At Thu Feb 14, 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I find this quote interesting:

And yet we know from Revelation 14:6 that God’s word is for “every nation, tribe, language and people.” Surely evangelicals must not mandate a translation philosophy on theological grounds that would exclude, even inadvertently, many of the world’s languages.

While I've recognized the rather English-centric nature of many of the arguments for literal translation, I hadn't thought of the implications of it when one couples that provincial outlook with God's pan-linguistic gospel outreach.

Thank you for pointing us to that paper. Kudos to Karen Jobes.

At Thu Feb 14, 04:57:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Good point, Mike. I think Professor Jobes also put that this way:

"how Anglo-centric the evangelical debates have been" (page 9).

At Fri Feb 15, 10:22:00 AM, Blogger prozacstan said...

I have been reading your blog for a short while and have appreciated the information you provide. You have challenged my thinking and this entry is no different.

Jobes' article was an eye-opener, especially the section on "The Verbosity of English Versions." It really puts some of the ESV arguments in a new light. I never would have guessed that the ESV and (my favorite) NASB are more verbose than the NIV and TNIV.

Thanks for the info.

At Fri Feb 15, 09:10:00 PM, Blogger richie said...

Karen Jobes' article is very well written and makes many good points that are well understood by anyone who has actually done simultaneous translation. Although I am a History and Government teacher, I have done this myself fairly often in the past twenty years from Polish to English and from English to Polish. I can say from much experience in a wide variety of situations that most of Karen's points and illustrations are right on the money. The issue of literalness never even enters the tranlator's mind during this process - unless a statement or phrase simply demands a literal equivalent. The overwhelming majority of the time, however, the translator is simply listening intently to understand the total thought content and then translates that total thought content with as accurate an equivalency of thought as he can into the target language. The communication of meaning is the goal. Over-literalness in the process is indeed a sure sign of not understanding one or the other of the languages well enough - or, in contrast to written translation - of being too tired or not having the time to come up with the right phraseology. And that is something we even have a hard time doing in our own every day speech. Just think of the problems of the professional simultaneous translator!

How far the analogy of simultaneous translation can be taken over into the written translation process, however, is questionable because written translations serve a wider variety of interests and target audiences. Thus, while literalness is often a poor way to translate in simultaneous translation it legitimately holds a solid place in certain types of written translation.

As good as Ms. Jobes' article was it would have been much better had she stuck to her major points including her major point about verbosity - that it is basically a meaningless indicator of how good the translation is - rather than trying to use very, very misleading statistics to try to embarrass the ESV over its own supposed verbosity. Verbosity, if it is to have any useful meaning at all cannot simply deal with the number of words used but how and why that number of words are used as she herself well illustrated.

Even a cursory examination of the verses Ms. Jobes uses in her illustration from II Kings 23:21-24
show that:

1. The total difference in the number of words of NIV/TNIV = 125 vs. ESV = 131 is 6, all of which are encompassed in only the last verse (v. 24).

2. Studying the differences of that verse 24 in the two versions in question simply illustrates vividly the well-known differences in the translational philosophies of each of these versions and clearly shows the advantages of using both types of versions for serious study. The ESV's rendering of v. 24 is more deliberate, full, emphatic and precise. The NIV/TNIV's rendering is more simple, direct and idiomatic for most modern day English readers. Both of these translations have their strong points in this verse, as in their versions overall. However, as someone who uses the ESV, NIV, and TNIV almost equally as my own preferred versions, if push came to shove in this case I'd have to go with the ESV in v. 24.

3. Finally, the dubiousness of drawing meaningful inferences from the statistics shown in her table can quickly be seen when in one verse there is a difference of 6 words while there is an equivalency in the other two verses - as though this held some significance as to verbosity on the basis of three verses. However, what is not ridiculous is to note right off the bat what is plainly evident in these "lying" statistics. Much of the difference in the total number of words in these versions - as illustrated in v. 24 - is almost certainly due to the NIV/TNIV translation policy to often not translate "connectives" for stylistic reasons, while the ESV's translation policy, in contrast, is specifically to translate connectives because it believes they are important in understanding the original thought content and that they help the reader to grasp the flow of thought in the text. If we then count up all of the "ands" "fors", etc. that are left out of the NIV/TNIV versions we are likely to find that the entire difference in "verbosity" may not only be made up for, but also surpassed so that in fact, as many people intuitively feel, the NIV/TNIV is often "more wordy" than the ESV and other versions in the Tyndale/KJV tradition. Briefly, comparing and counting the words in other sections of scripture will show that this is often the case. In short, the ESV certainly has its weaknesses as a translation - as does the NIV/TNIV - but verbosity is certainly not normally one of them.

There are many different ways to express the truths of God's word in English. There is not a best translation. Different translations of the Bible serve different purposes and different audiences. Let them grow, prosper and flourish together. Then, as Karen well ends her article by saying, God's word will truly accomplish that which he purposes and succeed in the thing for which he sent it.

At Sun Feb 17, 07:57:00 AM, Blogger mike said...

Wayne, I thought you might be interested to see these two comments I received this morning.


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