Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bible Translation Selection Criteria

Trevor Jenkins wrote the following as a post to the Bible Translation list. Trevor has a long term interest in Bible translation, especially for the Deaf with whom he works. With his agreement I am posting this here to reach a wider audience - Peter Kirk.

We have 10 to 12 Deaf* people attending our current Alpha course. The group has a wide range of educational attainment; two guests have post-graduate education, two or three have completed the English equivalent of American high school. The others possess only basic education. All of the group acknowledge them to be Christians.

One Alpha session focuses on the Bible. For this session we brought along a variety of different English translations so guests could check which English one(s) they preferred: Easy-Reading, which with a different cover is marketed as "The Holy Bible for Deaf People", CEV, GNB/TEV, God's Word, TM, the Graphic Bible, and NLT. All deliberately chosen because their targeted reading level is nearly equivalent to that of the average (hearing) adult. All literalistic translations were excluded because of their implicit targetting of above average hearing adults. Of course the group's preferred version is in BSL but the project to produce that translation has only recently begun.

The existing Bible choices for the group are interesting. The two with post-grad education use either the GNB or NCV (in the Youth Bible format). The GNB because of the language and the Youth Bible because of the supplementary information included on the page. One of the "high schoolers" also uses the GNB. The one hearing guest commented that despite a professional background as a general practioner their NIV was sometimes difficult to read. None of the others owns a printed English Bible. They can't access the language of their churches pew Bible (the NIV as it happens). They weren't aware of other translations being available.

Everyone in the group liked The Graphic Bible for its visual presentation but for some the text was too small (and more recent reprints have made it smaller still). The format matches the story-telling aspect of BSL. Although we didn't have a copy on the night some of the group have evaluated the newly published Manga Bible. But sadly that isn't as comprehensive in its narrative retelling of the biblical record and the text is even smaller. Plus The Manga Bible editions tack on a highly literal English translation that many of this group see as nothing better than gibberish. :-|

The most interesting part of the experiment was that the two GNB/TEV users both preferred GW. They really like the conventional one column format of the pages. Also the consistent and clear typography. The English was good too they said; each compared their favourite passages in both translations. They were split over the NLT and CEV. Neither liked the bi-columnar presentation that these versions are printed in. Although the CEV's original British edition use of single columns for poetic books was greatly appreciated. (They didn't notice the tri-columnar format of much of the Torah.) The two liked GW so much that they asked where they could purchased copies for themselves. I'll be seeking out copies for them during a visit to New York in a couple of weeks time.

Presentation seems to be forgotten in Bible publishing. Cramming the text onto the page with multiple footnotes, cross-references and alternate readings appears to be more important than the simple act of reading the text. But it isn't only the D/deaf who have problems with the layout of pages in Bibles. As someone with dyslexia I too find columnar text difficult to access; hence my own preference for GW. My daughter who has M.E. needs to go lie down for several hours if she even glances at a page of the NIV Study Bible; I am NOT exaggerating she truthfully does have to do so. Layout is the first impression. Get it wrong and no matter how "accurate" your translation it will not be read.

* Big-D deaf being those in the sociolinguistic group of sign language speakers rather than little-d deaf who follow a medical-only interpretation of the situation.


At Thu Jun 19, 07:24:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. It is very important.

At Thu Jun 19, 09:47:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

both preferred GW. They really like the conventional one column format of the pages. Also the consistent and clear typography. The English was good too they said;...But it isn't only the D/deaf who have problems with the layout of pages in Bibles. As someone with dyslexia I too find columnar text difficult to access; hence my own preference for GW.

Peter, I'll speak for one of my own daughters and for me. We agree with you about God's Word as having good English, including an excellent readable format. It's one of my favorite translations. My daughter "speaks" ASL; do those in your Alpa course? What do you think about and their ASL translation?

At Thu Jun 19, 09:57:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

My daughter who has M.E. needs to go lie down for several hours if she even glances at a page of the NIV Study Bible; I am NOT exaggerating she truthfully does have to do so.

This reminds me of the classic skit by Monty Python -- the World's funniest joke -- one person saw two words of the joke and had to be sent to the hospital.

(Note to Americans: "M.E." is what we know as "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.")

I suppose that this post raises a valid question, but I would have thought that a group where a majority of the participants lack a high school education and all have a learning disability would be better served by one of those "stories from the Bible" books sometimes given to children.

I once visited Gallaudet University for the Deaf and my impression was that the entire program was strongly focused on the remedial level.

I personally prefer to consider the question of what is the best translation for those who are well-educated -- e.g., likely to read literature. First, I think this group demographically is more likely to read and closely study Scripture. Second, I think that there is more opportunity with this group to communicated nuances of the Biblical text. Third, I think members of this group are more likely to be influential, as the majority of teachers, religious leaders, writers, etc. are drawn from this group. Fourth, translations prepared for this group have a valuable pedagogical purpose, as they "trickle down" and become learning texts for children and adolescents. Just as many parents take their children to see Shakespeare to improve the children's cultural knowledge, exposing children to sophisticated writing serves to develop advanced reading and comprehension skills.

At Thu Jun 19, 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, your good questions can be answered onoly by Trevor who wrote this. I hope he will do so. But I can answer one question, which is that his Deaf friends use British Sign Language, which is quite different from American Sign Language.

Iyov, you have your target audience and Trevor has his. Both are valid. But I don't see why you think that a group which can understand a translation like GW would be better served by children's Bible stories.

At Thu Jun 19, 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Regarding an edited version of Bible stories, I was struck by this line:

They didn't notice the tri-columnar format of much of the Torah.

That suggests to me that this group skipped the three-column part and was "dipping into" the Bible rather than trying to read it systematically. I think for such a group, a slimmed down Bible might be helpful. These are often given to children (although, contrary to your assertion above, I do not believe that they are solely intended for children -- for example, Reader's Digest made a famous version of one of these that was nominally intended for adults.)

I do wish to mention that some parts of the Bible are simply difficult to understand -- regardless of the language "register" used to express them. For example, the Epistles require close reading and knowledge of background Greek and Semitic culture.

At Thu Jun 19, 07:02:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Whenever I read discussions of the ease or difficulty in understanding the Bible I think of Matthew 11:25.

Have you ever wondered what that sentence means?

Me, too.

And I'm grateful to be in good company. John the Baptist struggled, too--right there in the same context (Matthew 11:3).

Seems like the clearer the Bible is, the deeper it gets. Which...ummmm...argues for a clearly written and presented Bible.

At Fri Jun 20, 04:16:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

There are dangers, I think, in reading the Bible (or any text for that matter) to someone else. Can the objective position really not be mine and mine alone? Can I not sit on my high horse and presume to instruct? And not have to wait for some Ethiopian, a neutered one no less, and the Holy Spirit to ask me what the text puzzled over means?

Mike, To me it seems Matthew answers the 11:3 question immediately in the subsequent sentences but ultimately with Jesus's answer to the person who will answer it for herself or himself. It's his imperative in 11:28. (Jesus does qualify who she or he must be, doesn't he?) And, Mike, you do make an excellent point about the struggles and difficulties (as if in labor, so heavy laden, in need of a sabbath).

Yours is the kind of point CS Lewis has to make, as he ("no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist") begins his post-atheist Christian literary critic popularist Reflections on the [Jewish] Psalms. Lewis might as well be a Big-D deaf dyslexic John the Baptist who's somehow a goy, not a Greek either, from dark Ethiopia serving some other man with lighter skin and higher class because his body was mutilated (i.e., he's a eunuch) for that very lifelong purpose.

Lewis writes in this exemplary way, claiming his own lowly subjectivity:

"It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

In this book, then, I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained, when reading the Psalms, with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. I am ‘comparing notes’, not presuming to instruct."

At Fri Jun 20, 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

(MSG) Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people.

At Fri Jun 20, 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Stephen Newell said...

Speaking as a Deaf person who is also a Deaf minister, let me address "iyov" briefly by saying deafness is not a learning disability. For some, deafness may be an educational barrier, especially when the vast majority of teachers are hearing and do not know sign language. But deafness is in no way, shape or form a learning disability. Many Deaf would be insulted by this characterization of their condition.

The reason many Deaf prefer the more "dynamic" translations is because sign language is a language all to itself. It does not correspond to English or whichever language is spoken in the Deaf person's country. The spoken language of one's country is as a foreign language to a Deaf person.

Case in point - I find it extremely difficult to preach from a version such as the ESV or the NASB because there are many words and phrases used which cannot be directly signed without going through yet another level of translation! But then take a version such as the NCV or CEV. Instead of saying words like "justification," which I don't really have a sign for, it may say something like "made right with God." Hey, I got signs for that! ;-)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home