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Sunday, February 24, 2008

translation equivalence - in the Bible

In previous posts in this series we have introduced the concept of translation equivalence. We have given a number of examples of translation equivalents between languages where literal translation isn't proper, when one follows the rules of both the source and target languages. Many people accept this to be true about languages they have studied ...

except when it comes to Bible translation!

Look at this example:

Some critics of the TNIV dissed it for revising Matthew 1:18 from NIV:
she [Mary] was found to be with child
she was found to be pregnant
in the TNIV. The TNIV properly uses a common English translation equivalent for the underlying Greek, eurethe en gastri eksousa, literally,
she was found in the belly having
or with more natural English word order,
she was found having in the belly
But English speakers today do not usually say that a woman is "with child". The NIV and other translations (KJV, RSV, ESV, NASB) which use that outdated phrase are not using a current translation equivalent. The HCSB and TNIV both use the word which is commonly used, "pregnant".

By the way, those who objected to the TNIV's not using "with child" cannot be objecting on the basis of literal translation since "with child" does not literally translate the Greek idiom "have in the belly". There is no word for "child" in the Greek text. There is just a tradition of saying "with child" in English Bibles in the KJV-Tyndale tradition. But tradition does not determine accuracy, naturalness, nor translation equivalence. Objective attention to the linguistic facts of the biblical languages and equal attention to the linguistic facts of a target language determine accuracy and naturalness. The result will be translation equivalence.

Next let's look at specific categories of translation equivalence when translating the Bible to English.

(to be continued)



At Sun Feb 24, 01:00:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Some critics of the TNIV dissed it for revising Matthew 1:18 from NIV: "she [Mary] was found to be with child" to "she was found to be pregnant" in the TNIV. The TNIV properly uses a common English translation equivalent for the underlying Greek, eurethe en gastri eksousa, literally, "she was found in the belly having" or with more natural English word order, "she was found having in the belly"

Wayne, This Greek phrase, outside of the Bible, has a long history of being translated into English. But it's in the NT where I think TNIV misses the Greek the most. In the Illiad, Homer uses the phrase of a mother carrying (i.e., φέροι, from which we get 'to ferry') her child inside her body. In addition, Dr. Aristotle writes much about pregnancy (“you can tell if the fetus is a girl on the inside if the mother's color is bad on the outside; and it's a boy if her color is good”); like Hippocrates and Soros, Aristotle has opinions on abortion with respect to what’s going on within the mother’s body (“abortion should be procured before the embryo has acquired life and sensation; the presence of life and sensation will be the mark of division between right and wrong here”).

In the NT, ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα (or en gastri eksousa) is in Matthew 1:18; 1:23, 24:19; Mark 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; and Revelation 12:2. the TNIV team translates the phrase using “pregnant” (except in Matthew 23, which is a quotation from the OT, but the same Greek, in which the TNIV team uses “will conceive”;) Granted, there’s something to be said for consistency.
Willis Barnstone (who’s no stranger to Greek or to translation or to the New Testament) translates the phrase in Matthew 1:18 this way:
“she discovered a child in her womb”
Barnstone uses “in her womb” for “en gastri eksousa” as consistently as the TNIV team uses “pregnancy.” Where Barnstone is clearly better than the TNIV team is in Revelation 12:1 and 2. The Barnstone’s English allows John to make clear all the signs around and within the woman. Here’s the comparisons (the Greek, Barnstone, and TNIV):

καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα καὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα καὶ κράζει ὠδίνουσα καὶ βασανιζομένη τεκεῖν

Then there was a great portent in the sky, a woman clothed in the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of seven stars. In her womb she had a child and screamed in labor pains, aching to give birth. (Barnstone)

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (TNIV)

Here, TNIV’s “pregnancy” loses the physical, positional immediacy of the child “in her womb.” Elsewhere I’ve tried to make a similar case that “ambiguities” (as a “translation equivalent”) for Aristotle’s ἀμφιβόλοις is less physically relevant, even to a woman’s body, than is something like a “wrap around,” which is very similar to John’s περιβεβλημένη here. Richard Rhodes comments that my “metaphor of a ‘wrap around thing’ is perfect.”

At Sun Feb 24, 04:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, I don't think Barnstone's rendering:

“she discovered a child in her womb”

should be considered a translation equivalent to the underlying Greek. Mary did not simply discover a child in her womb. Mary had been told ahead of time by an angel that she was going to have a child. Barnstone's wording gives the wrong meaning, i.e. that, lo and behold, Mary was looking around and discovered there was a child in her womb. That's not the meaning of the Greek. The meaning is that Mary was found (i.e. others found out) to be pregnant. "She was pregnant" is the English translation equivalent of the underlying Greek. English speaking women do not say, "I have a child in my womb." They *could* say it, but they do not. Therefore, by definition, Barnstone's rendering is not the English translation equivalent. There may be reasons for using Barnstone's translation is some speciality Bible. But if we are calling something an English translation, it should consist of English translation equivalents to the original biblical languages texts.

Remember that this series is about translation equivalence, which is an important concept within translation theory and practice. Professional translators rely heavily upon the principle of translation equivalence. Bible translators find that users of a translation understand its message more accurately and it impacts them spiritually and emotionally more closely to how the original text impacted its readers, than if that translation uses many English wordings which are not translation equivalents to the linguistic forms of the biblical languages texts.

These are the kinds of translations that I personally want to be involved with. I am concerned about bringing the Bible to the hoi polloi. Bible scholars can choose from a variety of other kinds of translations to meet their needs.

At Mon Feb 25, 04:32:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Yes, it should be clear that Barnstone is not "translation equivalent" but is more like, as you put it, a "literal translation." But you didn't comment here on how much better Barnstone is than TNIV, how much more "accurate," in Revelation 12:1-2. So what do you think?

(In Matthew 1:18, there's no question that Barnstone is translating the passive voice εὑρέθη with active voice in English and is making the decision that Mary is one who makes the discovery. Barnstone is trying to reverse the problems which the NASB makes with "she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit." NASB is hardly a "specialty Bible" but leaves it unclear whether it's the Holy Spirit making the discovery. Barnstone's decision gives too much agency to Mary if NASB doesn't leave the passive voice vague and ambiguous enough.

But let's bring TNIV back in and look now at the whole verse. Barnstone ("specialty Bible" whatever that is) is much more accurate generally, and more readable for common readers (is that what you mean by "the hoi polloi"?), than TNIV.

τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν
μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ Μαρίας τῷ Ἰωσήφ
πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου

The birth of Yeshua the Mashiah happened in this way.
Miryam his mother was engaged to Yosef,
yet before they came together she discovered a child in her womb, placed there by the holy spirit. (Barnstone)

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about
(fn, Or The origin of Jesus the Messiah was like this):
His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph,
but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. (TNIV team)

Barnstone is not trying to offer a "translation equivalent" or a "dynamic equivalent" as you say the TNIV team is. But which is more common for most English speakers commonly?

"the birth happened this way" or "how the birth came about" (OR even "the origin was like this")?

"she was engaged to him" or "she was pledged to be married to him"?

"she discovered a child in her womb, placed there by" or "she was found to be pregnant through"?

2 out of the 3, Barnstone is better than TNIV.

At Mon Feb 25, 07:48:00 AM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Perhaps GW has the sense of the whole phrase, changing "found" to "realize":

"Mary realized that she was pregnant..."

Just a thought about common English phrasing.

At Mon Feb 25, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk wrote:

But you didn't comment here on how much better Barnstone is than TNIV, how much more "accurate," in Revelation 12:1-2. So what do you think?

Sorry I missed that, Kurk. The NIV, TNIV, NLT, GW, NCV, and NET all say "she was pregnant." I don't put strength in numbers on this, simply wanting to point out that other translation teams used the natural English translation equivalent of the Greek euphemism. Like you, I think that the most commonly used English translation equivalent (in most contexts) doesn't sound quite right in this context.

This series is about translation equivalence and I believe that Barnstone's "In her womb she had a child" is not a natural English translation equivalent for the original Greek.

Perhaps the REB has a more natural translation equivalent than Barnstone and also meets some of your other (laudable) desires the the physicality and immediacy of the birthing process in the context of Rev. 12:1:

"She was about to bear a child"

At Wed Feb 27, 12:14:00 AM, Blogger Peter said...

"it impacts them spiritually and emotionally more closely to how the original text impacted its readers"

What is the unit, or level, at which this translation equivalence should work? Consider Jesus's rhetorical question "what about those 18 who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them?". I assume the original impact was something like "oh them, I'd be wondering why they'd died", whereas the response now would be "what tower? who?". Would a translation equivalent be something like "what about those people who died in the Asian tsunami?"

Where does this translation equivalence become paraphrase / cultural interpretation?

At Wed Feb 27, 07:57:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter asked:

Where does this translation equivalence become paraphrase / cultural interpretation?

You've asked an important question, Peter, one which many others also wonder about. My answer in a number of blog posts has been that Bible translators should *not* substitute some modern cultural *situation* for the original biblical example. We are translating a text, not updating it. The Cottonpatch "translation" was interesting and served a purpose within the civil rights struggle in the U.S. But it substituted American cities for those in the Bible. It substituted lynching for crucifixion. This kind of cultural substitution is called transculturation.

The kind of translation equivalence that I am discussing in this series is *not* about transculturation. It is only about finding linguistic equivalence, that is, how do we say in English what the speakers of the biblical languages said in their languages?

Some have publicly criticized (even in books) non-formal/literal approaches to translation, suggesting that they are transculturations. But that is not true. No true translation of the Bible changes the original cultural situation into a modern situation. That is the job of interpretation of the biblical text which has already been translated.

This series on translation equivalence is *only* about equivalence of language units, not cultural items.

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