What do we want from our translation?
In this seminar we talk a lot about what dictionaries are supposed to look like. To a large extent that depends on a combination of the purpose of the dictionary and the audience expected to use it.
And also it depends on the preferences and prejudices of the author.
The other professor co-teaching this practicum is a classicist and historical linguist by training. He got involved in work with California native languages after he came to the Berkeley department. But he still retains his historical and classicist leanings, often chaffing at the low level of scholarship in the field of linguistics. (Sad, but true, and Chomsky only made an already bad situation worse.) When the discussion a few weeks ago turned to how you list glosses in a dictionary, he articulated his preference for having the more literal glosses first, ones that make it easy to see the word parts of the original, even in those cases where native speakers only notice those meanings when prodded.
So for the Yurok(1) word kwegeru'r (< kweruhl ‘snout, long nose’) he prefers:
kwegeru'r n ‘any long-nosed entity; esp. pig, hog’where I would suggest:
kwegeru'r n ‘pig, hog; or more generally any long-nosed entity’To a certain extent this is a matter of taste. Both entries carry the same information. But my experience with average dictionary users is that there is a difference, and it’s quite an important one.
Linguists have the patience to work all the way through an entry, however it is structured, to find what they want. But if you don’t put the most relevant information right up at the front of the entry, you’ll lose the ordinary user. The obsolete, but still widely used, Thayer Greek Lexicon provides a good example.
περι-πατέω, -ῶ ; impf. 2 pers. sing. περιπάτεις, 3 pers. περιπάτει, plur. περιπάτουν, fut. περιπατήσω, 1 aor. περι-επάτησα; plupf. 3 pers. sing. περιεπεπατήκει (Acts xiv. 8 Rec.elz), and without the augm. (cf. W. § 12,9 ; [B. 33 (29)]) περιπεπατήκει (ibid. Rec.st Grsb.) ; Sept, for הַַַָָָלַך; to walk; [walk about A. V. 1. Pet. v. 8]; a. prop. (as in Arstph., Xen., Plat, Isocr., Joseph., Ael., al.): absol., Mt. ix. &; xi. 5; xv. 31; Mk. ii. 9 [Tdf. ὕαγε]; v. 42; viii. 24 xvi. 12; Lk. v. 23; vii. 22; xxiv. 17; Jn. i. 36 v. 8 sq. 11 sq.; xi. 9 sq. ; Acts iii. 6, 8 sq. 12; xiv. 8, 10; 1 Pet. v. 8 ; Rev. ix. 20 ; i. q. to make one’s way, make progress, in fig. disc. equiv. to to make a due use of opportunities, Jn. xii. 35. with additions : περιπ. γυμνός, Rev. xvi. 15; ἐπάνω (τινός), Lk. xi. 44 ; διά w. gen. of the thing,I think there’s an important lesson here for the translation debate. Bible readers can be looked at like dictionary users. Some are very sophisticated and will tolerate a lot to find out what the text means. But that’s not the ordinary Bible reader. How much are we to treat ordinary Bible users like specialists? The literal translations (which, by the way, aren’t nearly as literal as we like to think) might have a place as study Bibles for the serious Bible student, just like dictionaries structured for linguists. But what about the ordinary Bible reader?and so on.
Romans 10:17 says
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)So the witness of Scripture is that the primary thing we need from our Bible is to hear God in it.
Notice that it does not say
Faith comes from studying ...Study Bibles are fine but we need a Bible that doesn’t stand in the way of our hearing.
There is a prominent member of our church who recites Scripture from memory. I’m not talking about a verse or two. He can recite entire passages, even whole books, from memory. On occasion he is called upon to do so as the Scripture reading.
The effect is astounding.
Even though he’s not a particularly good actor, his presentation of Scripture reaches places in your spirit that does just what Rom. 10:17 says. You hear it and you believe it. Your faith is built up. The added dimension of putting together a whole passage with natural speech rhythms and intonation overcomes unnatural wordings in the text. And that’s great for such performances, but why can’t we have a Bible that duplicates that experience when we do our daily reading? one that sounds so natural that it touches our spirit directly?
(1) Yurok is spoken by about 70 people along the westernmost stretch of the Klamath River in Northern California. More information about the tribe is available here.