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Monday, March 10, 2008

familiarity vs. naturalness

I know that my comments about the use of natural English in Bible translations are frustrating to some people and probably even obscure at times. I don't make these comments to be frustrating or obscure. I know from personal experience and from observing others how very important it is to use natural language in Bible translations. I know that such natural language allows Bible users to understand the Bible more accurately. Yes, I wrote that word "accurately" deliberately. There is not a disconnect between translation accuracy and naturalness. There is an important relationship which must not be overstated nor understated.

I have sensed that my preaching and field testing about naturalness in Bible translation over the years has sometimes come across as confusing to others. In this post I'd like to address one reason why I think this happens: it is easy to confuse language with which we are familiar with language that is natural to us. I myself have grown up with the Bible, in fact, I grew up with the King James Version. Its wordings are familiar to me from so much exposure to me. But familiarity and naturalness are two different issues when it comes to use of Bible translations.

Language wordings are natural if they are what people normally and commonly say or write. It is how we speak to our children, our neighbors, our coworkers (unless we are using special jargon of a discipline, such as medical or legal language), the checkout person at the grocery store. Now, such natural language will also sound familiar to us, obviously, since it is what we normally and frequently hear. (Such frequent exposure, by the way, is how our children learn our languages. We do not *normally* teach our children to speak by giving them language lessons, although a few people like myself have been known to give a few language lessons to the young ones!)

But it is also possible for us to be familiar with language wordings which are not natural. That is, they are not wordings which we normally speak or write. One source of many familiar but unnatural English wordings are some English Bible versions. Let's look at some examples.

Many of us are familiar with the wording
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
I grew up hearing that wording read from the KJV. I memorized it. My wife and I currently attend a church which recites this exactly this wording from the Lord's Prayer at the end of each of our church services. But this wording is not natural English. It was natural at one time in the history of the English language, but it is not natural for current speakers of English. English speakers have not normally used the word "not" in the order in which it appears in the the Lord's Prayer of the KJV since even before 1611 A.D., when the KJV was printed. English speakers were using the syntactic rules of "do" insertion and NEG-inversion (movement of "not") since before 1611 A.D. resulting in what has been natural English for centuries:
And do not lead us lead us ...
The KJV translators deliberately chose to use the obsolescing word order for "not" to create a more "literary", perhaps more majestic, sound to the English of their translation. By ca. 1850 A.D. the older word order had ceased to exist in normal language usage. It would still be used, and sometimes still is today, for special literary effect, typically to give a wording a kind of romantic or old-fashioned sound.

It is not inaccurate to use the older word order with the word "not". Most English speakers today can still figure out what something means that uses the older word order. Children would not understand it very well, but if they heard it a few times in church they would eventually catch on to what the older word order meant. But almost all speakers today have a sense, at some level of their being, that there is something unusual about the older word order.

For a long time English speakers have naturally used the apostrophe "s" syntax to express the meaning of possession and relationship. So people naturally say and write wordings such as:
Wayne's computer
Elena's daughter
Mike's dog
Barb's book
God's children
the Devil's tricks
English speakers today do not naturally say or write:
the computer of Wayne
the daughter of Elena
the dog of Mike
the book of Barb
the children of God
the tricks of the Devil
Now, many of us, myself included, feel a certain tension about my claims here, especially when we hear or read "the children of God" or "the tricks of the Devil." These sound "right" to us. But they do not sound right because they are natural, commonly used by us or others today. They sound right, instead, because we are familiar with them.

There are many other wordings used in a number of English Bibles which are familiar to us and so they sound "right." But if we record how we actually speak or examine how we actually write, we will find that we seldom, if ever, use an English "of" prepositional phrase to indicate normal (unmarked, natural) possession or relationship. We do find in current English, both spoken and literary, that "of" phrases are used for express some instances of possession or relationship. But as Rich Rhodes pointed out in a recent comment, those instances are "marked." That is, they are unusual in some way. Typically, they are used to draw our attention to them in a special way, such as when we refer to "son of Sam".

Who among us can forget one line from President Kennedy's inaugural address of 1961:
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
It's a wonderful sentence. It inspired many young people to enter the Peace Corps to help others around the world. It begins with the unnatural wording, "Ask not". Natural English would be: "Do not ask ..." But would President's Kennedy's speech been as powerful if that sentence had been fully natural, as:
Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
The answer is "No." The line was effective precisely because it used an outdated word order for negative commands. Use of what is unnatural often creates a special rhetorical effect and President Kennedy and his speech writers understood that well.

Overuse of anything, food, sex, blogging (!), whatever, can desensitize us to its intended effect. Overuse of unnatural wordings for rhetorical effect desensitizes us and a desired effect is lost. If English Bibles are filled with unnatural wordings, readers get from those Bibles the wrong sense about the messages they are reading. Instead of being intellectually or emotionally or volitionally challenged by the unnatural, the unusual, the unique turn of phrase, we become too familiar with them if they are overused. And familiarity can not only breed the proverbial contempt, but it can also create within readers a sense that God is distant, he doesn't talk our language, he isn't really interested in incarnation. And that is exactly the wrong message we want to have connoted by Bible translations. God not only incarnated himself to bring salvation to mankind, but he also incarnated messages he wanted communicated to mankind through normal human languages.

For the most part the wordings in the original biblical language texts were natural in those languages. It is proper for our translations to be natural, as well, if we want them to communicate the same way to people today as God wanted the original texts to communicate to their audiences thousands of years ago. If there is a passage in the Bible which was intended to convey some special rhetorical effect, it is at that point that translators can look for English forms which might adequately convey that effect. One option might be some unnatural wording.

Please note that I am not at all suggesting that our Bible translations should be written in bland colloquial English that leaves us feeling flat. I happen to love lively language. Our translations should be as natural as were the original texts. Too many of our translations have too many unnatural wordings and therefore communicate inaccurate and wrong messages to their readers.

What are some examples of unnatural English wordings you have come across in Bibles that you have used? To warm my data-hungry bones, why don't you list some in comments to this post. Let not this challenge go unmet!

26 Comments:

At Mon Mar 10, 07:57:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

But would President's Kennedy's speech been as powerful if that sentence had been fully natural. . . The answer is "No." The line was effective precisely because it used an outdated word order for negative commands. Use of what is unnatural often creates a special rhetorical effect and President Kennedy and his speech writers understood that well.

Wayne,
I understand your frustration with a weird English translation when a Greek or Hebrew writer's language might not have been "marked."

But what of the cases in which Matthew, Mark (or is it Peter?), Luke, and John used unnatural perhaps outdated Greek for a special rhetorical effect that Jesus understood and was making? And what about Peter, James, John the letter writer, John the Apocalypse writer, the letter writer to Hebrews, and Paul? Didn't they also use unnatural perhaps outdated Greek for special rhetorical effects? And Luke quoting Paul at the Areopagus, using ancient Greek rhetoric?

(That's just the New Testament canon. We could talk about the extra-biblical, inter-canon texts.

And then the old Hebrew of the Old Testament. What about the poets (i.e., "psalmists" and "singers"), the sages (i.e., "proverbers"), the prophets, the lawgivers, the story tellers (of Ruth and Esther and Kings). Isn't there something like "unnaturalness" and Hebrew "markedness" in the highly varied Tanakh?)

Doesn't "natural" English (if we all could agree what that is) just flatten the Bible in translation? Why not rewrite all our JKF history books so that he says the more natural "Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"?

 
At Mon Mar 10, 08:45:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk responded:

But what of the cases in which Matthew, Mark (or is it Peter?),

....

Isn't there something like "unnaturalness" and Hebrew "markedness" in the highly varied Tanakh?)


Good points all (!), Kurk. Thanks for mentioning each point. I agree with you about each one. A translator should never repair a source text, IMO. If there is something unnatural about the source text, whether intentionally for some rhetorical effect or some unintentional lapse, I believe that we need to find some way of retaining that unnaturalness in our translation. (Are you surprised? If so, you just haven't been reading this blog long enough. I've been saying this, also, for a number of years.

But the burden of proof is on those who would claim that something in the source text is unnatural, ungrammatical, ambiguous, or whatever before we try to retain that feature in a translation. Communication among humans would break down if there were too much ambiguity, unnaturalness, etc. It is not enough to make claims about oddities in the source text to justify unnatural translations. Proof is required. And such proof can be found by comparing biblical texts with extrabiblical ones, doing intratextual studies, etc.

Doesn't "natural" English (if we all could agree what that is)

We have pretty much already agreed on it by the fact that we pretty much use the same syntax and lexical rules in talking to each other, including on this blog. Yes, there are slight differences among our dialects and idiolects. But we don't come across such differences nearly as often as we experience commonality of language usage.

If you are a Texan, I sure can't hear it in what you write on this blog nor on yours. I can seldom tell from Peter Kirk's writings that he is British or that Suzanne is Canadian. With Suzanne it is almost entirely limited to an occasional spelling difference such as Canadian/Briths "colour" instead of American "color." That is just an orthographic difference and Bible translation committees easily handle such spelling differences in editions for British and American audiences, for instance.

just flatten the Bible in translation? Why not rewrite all our JKF history books so that he says the more natural "Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"?

That is the point I was trying to make at the end of my post. Maybe I left something out so that my point didn't come across, as I hoped. To make it clearer (I hope), let me say it this say:

I believe that the target language translation should use natural forms whenever a source text does. If there is something unnatural in the source text, including intentional unnatural for rhetorical effect, we should find some equivalent rhetorical device to communicate the same thing in the target language. Something unnatural in the source text should sound unnatural in the translation. What is natural in the source text should not be unnatural in the translation. That would not be accurate, faithful translation.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 04:24:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wayne,
Thanks for your always-kind responses. Yes, I did read your every word, even to the end. I understood that you used the phrasal clause "in bland colloquial English that leaves us feeling flat." And I didn't take or mistake that as Canadian or Texan either. You've made clear on this blog that "If there is something unnatural about the source text, . . ." I'm sorry to make you feel like you have to keep repeating or clarifying things. (I sure feel like that when I blog about a passionate point too. Alas! BTW, "Alas!" is not Texan, for all yall from other parts. :) )

Aren't our big points of contention these two (and Richard's with you on them)?

1) "But the burden of proof is on those who would claim that something in the source text is unnatural, ungrammatical, ambiguous, or whatever before we try to retain that feature in a translation."

2) "Communication among humans would break down if there were too much ambiguity, unnaturalness, etc."

These are things Aristotle assumed. But scientists like Pascal we're not afraid, against the Greek man, to say things such as "Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie" and "Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas."

What if communication actually breaks down when there is not enough ambiguity allowed?

C. S. Lewis writes of "second meanings" in the Bible (specifically in the Hebrew psalms, which he reads as a post-atheist Christian literary scholar). And Pascal writes more generally of the necessary two meanings of the two testaments of scripture in Jesus Christ. On the double meaning needed to interpret "accurately," Pascal used a sort of parable, reproduced in translated English here:

"If one of two persons, who are telling silly stories, uses language with a double meaning, understood in his own circle, while the other uses it with only one meaning, any one not in the secret, who hears them both talk in this manner, will pass upon them the same judgment. But, if, afterwards, in the rest of their conversation one says angelic things, and the other always dull commonplaces, he will judge that the one spoke in mysteries, and not the other; the one having sufficiently shown that he is incapable of such foolishness and capable of being mysterious; and the other that he is incapable of mystery and capable of foolishness."

Wayne, I think without too much trouble--and still using your good principle of "descriptive" linguistics--we could run through the many words on my blog and even some of the phrases on your post here to find examples. This kind of proof-texting (i.e., pointing to prepositional phrases like "from President Kennedy's inaugural address of 1961" as an example of unambiguous and field tested "naturalness") ignores what Pascal says can and does happen "afterwards."

You've heard me tell the story of Kenneth Pike telling his story of talking with one of his professors, who insisted on (or at least dreamed out loud) of eliminating ambiguity. The young Pike's reply, he told us afterwards, was the question, "But sir, how then would any of us learn language?"

Wayne, I'm not trying to do that "my Dr. Pike" thing here. He was your friend and Rich's too. I do think it's sad that what gets used of Tagmemics these days is not the emic / etic stuff which negotiates acknowledged ambiguity. C. S. Lewis, Pascal, and Pike insisted on the personal dynamic in communication that pragmatics in linguistics (whether Grice's or Gutt's) seems to ignore. I'm not opposed to your being pragmatic in translation; but there are some of us who want to acknowledge (not just invent when it's not there) the ambiguity needed in the languages of a meaningful Bible.

Am I being out of line asking you these questions here? Let me say I respect you (and Rich) very much! Kind of funny that I have to say that because I'm really following your lead in many respects. I don't want to be tiresome to either of you. I love your passion for the Bible and for language and for translation!!!

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:08:00 AM, Blogger tc said...

Wayne, the biggest issue I see to the acceptance of a version like the TNIV (which is now my primary text) is this biblish idea.

When our people are able to get beyond the biblish syndrome, then we'll be ok.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk asked:

Aren't our big points of contention these two (and Richard's with you on them)?

Kurk, I don't know what any points of contention are, let alone big ones. I don't understand the points you are trying to make. I'm a rather elementary person when it comes to translation issues. I happily teach the first level courses that deal with the basics.

Can you come down to my world (Wayne's World, to be allusive) and help me understand with some very basic Bible wording examples what it is that you are wanting to say, so that I can understand it? I would like to.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

tc wrote:

When our people are able to get beyond the biblish syndrome, then we'll be ok

Well stated, pastor tc. I have been frustrated that I haven't been able to help more people understand that the Bible was not originally written in biblish.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 10:34:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I'm a rather elementary person when it comes to translation issues.

Me too, Wayne. I thought I heard in Wayne's World :) that "the burden of proof is on those who would claim that something in the source text is unnatural, ungrammatical, ambiguous." Are you saying now you'd like me to try to show a text to be translated from the Bible that is unnatural or ungrammatical or ambiguous?

Didn't you say "Communication among humans would break down if there were too much ambiguity, unnaturalness, etc."? Would you really like for me to attempt to provide a rather ambiguous or unnatural proof-text that actually bridges communication?

Thanks for being patient with me here.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk replied:

I thought I heard in Wayne's World :) that "the burden of proof is on those who would claim that something in the source text is unnatural, ungrammatical, ambiguous."

Yes, I did.

Are you saying now you'd like me to try to show a text to be translated from the Bible that is unnatural or ungrammatical or ambiguous?

Only if you want to, if that's an area of concern for you. I don't know what your concerns are, so I don't know how to respond to your comments. Let me know in an elementary way, please, what your concerns are, using biblical examples with specific issues. Mention specifically what the issues are. I'll try to understand and respond.

Didn't you say "Communication among humans would break down if there were too much ambiguity, unnaturalness, etc."?


Yes, I did say that.

Would you really like for me to attempt to provide a rather ambiguous or unnatural proof-text that actually bridges communication?

Only if that is an area of concern for you. Just let me know what your concerns are, using elementary English and elementary examples, and I'll try to understand and reply. I'm a data person and I often do not grasp what more people like you who use more global, abstract language are saying. God has make us elementary, concrete types and he has made you all who are higher level, abstract global thinkers. But it is sometimes difficult for the two groups to understand each other.

I really do want to understand your concerns, Kurk. But we need to find a common language to understand each other.

Thanks for being patient with me here.

You're most welcome. And likewise, thank you.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Not to get too technical, but there is a deep pragmatic question here. It goes to the question of norms.

1) Was the original Biblical text written in normative Greek (or Hebrew) of the time (and place)?

2) Were there places in the text where the wording was non-normative? If so, to what degree? and in what ways?

The scholarship from the Roman era papyri is that the answer to question one is a resounding yes, at least for the Greek. (The corollary is that the LXX actually sounded a little Biblish to Roman era Greek speakers. And Homer and Thucydides sounded like Shakespeare and Bacon.)

This leads to the answer to question two. Many of the quotes of the LXX should sound Biblish. And when Paul is speaking to the Greek intelligensia in their language, he should sound a little bookish (not necessarily Biblish).

Kurk, proof texting won't help.The point is that NT Greek is mostly pretty bland, but that it does use the full range of the language looked at as a whole. Luke sounds educated. John sounds like a second language speaker. Luke, Paul, and the author of Hebrews show more linguistic range than John or Mark.

And that's a confounding thing about this ongoing debate. We tend to argue passage by passage without recognizing that the whole is not uniform. (A mistake made by both the FE folks and the standard DE folks, including the TEV/GNB, NIV/TNIV, and, in its own inimitable way, the Message.)

 
At Tue Mar 11, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I have come in late to an interesting discussion here.

Kurk, I would indeed very much like to see concrete examples of NT sentences or passages, in addition to the LXX quotes Rich mentions, using syntactic forms which are deliberately not in the standard Greek of the time. I am talking here about more than bookish syntax, more about obsolete syntax like the non-inverted negative Wayne quoted from the Lord's Prayer.

I would agree that if there are any such passages it would make sense to translate them into non-standard English. The corollary of that is that where the Greek follows the standard syntax of its time it should be translated into standard modern English.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

We tend to argue passage by passage without recognizing that the whole is not uniform.

Rich, I really appreciate what you've said here, with the various characterizations of the different writers and (LXX) translators. This does get into the (language) idiosyncrasies we all have--the very sort of personality differences you say that you and I have, Wayne (i.e., the MBTI your SJ vs. my NT, I suppose).

Peter, one example is I Tim 6:10, which Mike Aubrey is blogging on (and which John Hobbins has joined in on with discussions also on the two previous verses). (Rich, I'm not wanting to prooftext here; but to pick up on what you've said on the range of Greek sound of Paul.) I believe that Paul's word φιλαργυρία is one he uses with great effect (despite whether Timothy or the churches understand). Paul's likely familiar with a Greek rhetorical (imitation Jewish theology) text like 4 Maccabees, where in 1:26 there's some inventive word play καὶ τὰ μὲν ψυχῆς ἀλαζονεία καὶ φιλαργυρία καὶ φιλοδοξία καὶ φιλονεικία καὶ βασκανία. Now whether Paul's also read Polycarp's letter to the Philippians or whether Polycarp's read Paul's letter to Timothy, there's some very interesting overlap. Here's Polycarp's 2:2, and it sounds like somebody's just trying to correct somebody else's faulty theology:
ὁ δὲ ἐγείρας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐγερεῖ, ἐὰν ποιῶμεν αὐτοῦ καὶ πορευώμεθα ἐν ταῖς ἐντολαῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀγαπῶμεν ἃ ἠγάπησεν, ἀπεχόμενοι πάσης ἀδικίας, πλεονεξίας, φιλαργυρίας, καταλαλιᾶς, ψευδομαρτυρίας· μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας ἢ γρόνθου ἀντὶ γρόνθου ἢ κατάραν ἀντὶ κατάρας.
Could Paul have been aware of Isocrates (the great rhetorical opponent of Plato and Aristotle). It's Isocrates whose use of the word appears very early (the earliest?). In "On The Peace" 8:96, he's railing against the Athenians and Spartans who've disrupted 7 centuries of pan-Greek peace; so he accuses them:
ἀντὶ γὰρ τῶν καθεστώτων παρ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἐπιτηδευμάτων τοὺς μὲν ἰδιώτας ἐνέπλησεν ἀδικίας, ῥᾳθυμίας, ἀνομίας, φιλαργυρίας, τὸ δὲ κοινὸν τῆς πόλεως ὑπεροψίας μὲν τῶν συμμάχων, ἐπιθυμίας δὲ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων, ὀλιγωρίας δὲ τῶν ὅρκων καὶ τῶν συνθηκῶν. τοσοῦτον γὰρ ὑπερεβάλοντο τοὺς ἡμετέρους τοῖς εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἁμαρτήμασιν,
What's striking is the interplay. Not just any one author's own textual word play, but their correctives to one another around a made up (compound) word like φιλαργυρίας. They each want the word to mean something. And it means different things to the four writers. We could debate all day whether any one of them read any of the others. But the range of meaning on this rare word is striking; and the way the word sounds (for whom is it "natural"?), and the rhetorical shock on readers (whether Plato or other Athenians or Spartans; or Jewish readers of LXX or Timothy or a Philippian cult).

 
At Tue Mar 11, 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Kurk. I'm not sure on what basis you claim that φιλαργυρία means different things to the four writers you claim. I would accept that in a case like this one might reasonably translate with a fairly technical term, if there is a reasonably well known one. But I was thinking more of matters of syntax, such as the ones Wayne raised in the post, than of rare or technical vocabulary.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Peter,
On syntax, how about the writer of 4 Maccabees stringing together the noun phrases with καὶ? It's in marked contrast to the others (especially Isocrates and Polycarp); isn't the LXX writer trying to sound Hebrew with all the parallelisms? The 4M writer also seems to be inventing other words with the same prefix--which stretches the meaning lexically vis-a-vis the others' meanings. Polycarp sounds really old Greeky, following Isocrates' pattern of stringing phrases by inflection. And I think Paul may have had in mind the uses of "silver" in the gospels, especially where Jesus (in Greek translation) is warning people about desires for money--with a different sort of lexical emphasis that puts the weight more on the metal desired than on the idea of desire generally (which seems to be the thrust of Isocrates). Don't you think?

Wayne asked at the end of his post for some unnatural (marked) English examples: "Great is our God." "Holy is he." "Awesome is the Lord." (or fronting the adjectival subject complement and postponing the subject. weird.)

 
At Tue Mar 11, 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Peter has hit on something that keeps running through my mind, but I never seem to get onto paper (electrons?).

The issue isn't just about syntax. It's probably not even mostly about syntax. It's about usage.

For example, I worked as an expert witness on a case which had (surprise, surprise) issues on language use in the 1830's versus now (both in English and in Ojibwe). One of the words in question was indefinitely. The treaty specified that the signatory bands had the rights to hunt and fish on the lands "indefinitely" until they were "required for settlement".

It turns out that sentences like:

My niece is staying with us indefinitely.

have a different implication now than they did in the 1800's.

In the 1800's there was no sense of the expected amount of time. It simply meant that there was no time set for her to leave. It could even be next week sometime.

Nowadays, that sentence implies that she will be staying for a long time.

This is what I was trying to get at in my study on επιτιμαω (here, here, here, here, and here). The dictionaries have the classical meanings right ('give honor to', 'impose a fine', 'rebuke', but lack the Koine meaning, 'tell/ask [someone] to stop [doing something]'.

And, as Peter pointed out in a comment on this post, the one mystery case (Jude 1:9) was actually a quote to an older religious document and therefore should be read as having a classical meaning (and having a Biblish sound).

Our lack of understanding of Koine Greek usage is a really big problem, with no shortcut to answers.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 03:49:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, you may be right about the use of the word in 4 Maccabees. But I am not interested in translation of a book which is not really recognised as canonical by anyone, but in translation of the New Testament.

Paul is clearly not inventing the word, even if he is using a somewhat rare one. I note also from what John Hobbins wrote about this verse that what is fronted and so marked in this verse is not φιλαργυρία but ROOT OF ALL EVIL. Using a marked word to translate φιλαργυρία contradicts this emphasis. Actually I suspect that Paul used the compound noun rather than a verbal clause to reduce the prominence of this concept, which is simply a link back to what he has already said about "a means to financial gain" (v.5) and "Those who want to get rich" (v.9). The new information which he wants to highlight in this verse is indeed ROOT OF ALL EVIL.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Kurk,
There are some places where inverted adjective sentences are natural in modern English.

Sportscasters doing play by play frequently say things like:

Open on the right is Kobe. He launches a trey. Nothing but net.

They sound unnatural out of context, but once you know to listen for them, you'll find they occur all the time.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rich, thanks for giving me an example and taking it from what I wrote myself! But actually I intended to exclude quotes from all older documents, not just strictly LXX ones as I specified before.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 05:05:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Rich wrote: They [apparently unnatural phrases] sound unnatural out of context.

I think this is a key point.

Something that would normally be unnatural, when placed in a specific context, becomes natural sounding. Isn't that the result when the normally unnatural phrasing coheres with the surrounding context? The phrase, therefore, shifts from unnatural to natural (though not familiar). And the unfamiliarity rivets the attention.

I think John 1:51 sounded rather unnatural. It begs the question, "What does that really mean?" The answer of which is to read the rest of the writing and ponder the signs (which, I think, is it's main intent--to drive the reader to read on). However, there's a number of cohesive forces going on that guide the reader to the most likely interpretation.

In other words, at the grammatical level, it's somewhat unnatural. But, not so unnatural that it fails to guide the understanding. At the pragmatic level, it's natural, even entertaining (and therefore not dry).

 
At Tue Mar 11, 05:54:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Mike,

The point is that play-by-play sportscasting is a pretty marked kind of communication. There have been studies to show that, given the constraints of such communication this is actually natural speech in that context. That's why we don't even notice it's apparent oddness when we hear it.

Just because something is interpretable, doesn't mean it's OK, if style is on the table.

The problem is that so much Biblish is interpretable. But it's so stylistically odd that we misinterpret it.

Also John is very much a second language speaker. This really hit me between the eyes as our church has studied I John over the last couple of months. His Greek is wooden and flat. It lacks subtlety. He often can't find the bon mot. He talks in approximations. In translation, in a perfect world, he'd sound that way in English, too.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:45:00 PM, Blogger tc said...

Rhodes said:

"1) Was the original Biblical text written in normative Greek (or Hebrew) of the time (and place)?"

"2) Were there places in the text where the wording was non-normative? If so, to what degree? and in what ways?"

Rhodes you've raised some crucial issues that the average reader would not get but useful, nevertheless.

How do know what is normative Greek, except with a third party? For example, that Luke is more educated and refined than Mark. What is that third party?

Regarding your second question, I agree that we must look at an entire text, and I think that is the value of linguistic analysis.

Paul I think reflects the both of both world, Semitic and Hellenistic.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:54:00 PM, Blogger tc said...

Rhodes said:

"And, as Peter pointed out in a comment on this post, the one mystery case (Jude 1:9) was actually a quote to an older religious document and therefore should be read as having a classical meaning (and having a Biblish sound)."

I agree to some extent on what you said about Jude 9, but what do you mean that they heard it as "biblish"? Why not simply as a Jewish tradition or something of that nature?

 
At Tue Mar 11, 09:56:00 PM, Blogger tc said...

Peter said:

"But I was thinking more of matters of syntax, such as the ones Wayne raised in the post, than of rare or technical vocabulary."

That's where that third party comes in and to determine where we place the NT documents.

 
At Tue Mar 11, 10:40:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

tc,
The third party is the mountain of Roman era Egyptian papyri. We know what Greek speakers in that area of the Roman empire spoke like. There are letters by the hundreds. They give us just the window we need to see that Biblical Greek was ordinary language. The fact that Luke and Paul were educated men is reflected in the fact that they leaned more towards the kind of Greek that you find among educated Hellenophones of the time. John, on the other hand, has a small vocabulary, speaks in approximations, and has only simple syntax. (Just what many second language speakers do.)

The Jude passage is Biblish because the quote only makes sense if επιτιμαω means 'rebuke, yell at, upbraid', a meaning used in the LXX but not elsewhere in the NT (in spite of what the translations say). If it's used in the LXX but not in Roman era Koine, then that seems to me to be the very definition of Biblish.

 
At Thu Mar 13, 11:04:00 AM, Blogger nimrodxi said...

“Language wordings are natural if they are what people normally and commonly say or write. It is how we speak to our children, our neighbors, our coworkers (unless we are using special jargon of a discipline, such as medical or legal language),”

Disclaimer: No second language ability except for a smidgeon of Tex-Mex.

I understand the arguments about trying to achieve the same level/type of language in translation as exists in the original texts, and accept the legitimacy of pitching translations to particular audiences (pace Paul "all things to all people"), but in light of your comment above, do you not think ;-) that there may very well be "technical" terms in the original that need to be consistently translated as technical terms?

Possibilities: names/titles of deity, some of Paul's terms, certain words or phrases that are used repeatedly.

 
At Thu Mar 13, 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

do you not think ;-) that there may very well be "technical" terms in the original that need to be consistently translated as technical terms?

Yes, it is possible. But how do we find out if there are any technical terms? We definitely don't want to do it in a circular logic way, based on what we think are technical English theological terms and then transport those back into the original texts.

I would like to know how to determine if a term in the biblical text is technical or not.

Any ideas?

 
At Thu Mar 13, 01:29:00 PM, Blogger nimrodxi said...

Well, if a term is defined in the text, that would certainly be a flag.

Another marker I think would be terms upon which arguments seem to hinge.

I would also consider terms that are used in ways or that seem to carry meaning that differed from the usage of the time.

Finally, a term that is used repeatedly, especially when the writer has a broad vocabulary (Paul), would need to be reviewed.

 

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