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Saturday, October 18, 2008

paragraph translation

As my wife and I were nearing the end of the Cheyenne Bible translation project, we benefitted greatly from the insights of a translation consultant. One of her primary means of checking the Cheyenne translation was for a Cheyenne person to hear an entire paragraph of the translation and then summarize it (BBB blogger Mike Sangrey calls this a precis, I believe). This checking procedure was very helpful and showed us whether or not the Cheyenne translation had the same cohesion (compositional "glue") and coherence (making sense) as the source text. If a Cheyenne person could not summarize a paragraph, we could suspect something wrong with the translation. It didn't hang together properly. Perhaps we didn't use proper word combinations (collocations). Perhaps we hadn't structured the Cheyenne to be true Cheyenne, instead of being too close to the structure of the source text.

I suggest that this kind of procedure can be used for checking any Bible translation, including those in English. It is also a valuable Bible study method.

I am rushing as I post this, since my wife and I are about to leave for the airport, so I can't write more on this topic right now. But I would invite others of you to comment on making summaries of a paragraph (or other natural discourse unit, such as an episode or pericope) as a means of checking a translation, as well as a Bible study method.

Perhaps someone could even comment suggesting a translated Bible paragraph which could be checked to see if it has cohesion and coherence like the source text does.


At Mon Oct 20, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Hope you had a good trip, Wayne.

I like to check cohesion and coherence in translations around the artificial chapter break of John 2 and John 3.

(Seems that the writer in Greek organizes the different episodes of lessons and dialogues by location. 1:1-18 seems to be the general location "the world"; 1:19-42 changes to "in Jerusalem" but centers around "Bethany"-1:28; 1:43 brings things into Galilee, and in 2:1 more specifically into Cana & Capernaum - 1:11&12. Then, things are back "in Jerusalem" at 2:13).

At 2:23, it's the newly coherent / cohesive episode "at the Passover" (but still in Jerusalem--and John starts this all off again with ὡς δὲ ἦν ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις). What I like to check for is how translators carry the ideas of περὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου and ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ further on to the Pharisee Nicodemus, ἦν δὲ ἄνθρωπος, to start 3:1 and following. John seems intent on discussing Pharisees and knowledge and belief, first generally "at the Passover" in public and then specifically "at night" in private with just Jesus and Nicodemus. Seems John and Nicodemus are trying to get at whether Jesus is ἀπὸ θεοῦ (from God) since it appears that ᾖ ὁ θεὸς μετ' αὐτοῦ (God is with him). So there's a contrast between the humans and God, and this human ostensibly from God.

Ann Nyland's translation marks the coherence particularly well in her English: with "people," "humanity," and (for Nicodemus) "a certain person." In 3:13 and 3:14, Nyland has "the Human Being" to establish the up and down, godly and humanly contrasts. Most other good translations with respect to the coherence between John 2 & 3 don't allow such robust English--rather it's typically the flattened "man," "man," and "man." And in 3:13-14, it's something like the wooden literal "Son of Man."

There are other signals of lexical / thematic coherence here between the πιστεύω (belief) of the people (2:23), of Jesus (2:24) and of Nicodemus as expected by John and Jesus (3:12, 3:15, 3:16, 3:18). John's already told of the πιστεύω of the disciples to conclude the previous episode (2:22). For these, Nyland doesn't do as well: she has "gave allegiance" (2:23), "entrust" (2:24), and "believe(s)" (3:12, 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 2:23). Usually Nyland has a strong sense of the Greekiness of the Greek, and πιστεύω is a huge, coherent concept for both the philosophers and for John.

Wonder how that all works in Cheyenne?

At Wed Oct 22, 07:19:00 AM, Blogger Don said...

On Nyland's TSNT, I find it has some very good insights I can find nowhere else (so far) and then some misfires. It is clear she is a Greek scholar, so I use her insights into the "Greekiness" of the text (as j.k. gayle wrote) but also realizing she may be missing the "Hebrewiness" of some text.

Another way of saying it is that I use her translation as the Greek-thinking anchor for the meaning of some text, in the spectrum of possible meanings. I know this is not always the case, but is a first approximation for what she offers.

At Wed Oct 22, 09:04:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

For what it might be worth to anyone...Ann Nyland's "Greekiness" is probably because that is one of the first languages she learned as a young child. She was rather immersed in Classical Greek very early on.

Also, Wayne, exactly!

I've often thought that paragraph level precis should be developed by an exegesis team, provided to the translation team to guide their word choices, and then tested against by the quality assurance team among a cross section of "normal" people.

This process, IMO, would produce Better Bibles.

At Wed Oct 22, 09:49:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

For "Hebrewiness," Willis Barnstone does a fine job in his acclaimed translation of the gospels and John's apocalypse. Barnstone is a Greek scholar too, who has also translated Chinese and Hebrew texts into English. Here's how he translates John 2:23 -->

When he was in Yerushalayim during the Pesach suppers, many people believed in his name, seeing the wondrous signs he was doing. But Yeshua would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and because he had no need to have anyone testify about a person and he knew what was in a person. Now there was a Parush named Nakdeimon, a leader of the Jews. He came to Yeshua at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you came as a teacher from God since no one can perform these wondrous signs if God were not with him."

Here's Barnstone's 3:13-14:

And no one has gone up into the sky
except the one who came down from the sky, the earthly son.
And as Mosheh raised up the snake in the desert,
the earthly son must be raised up

At Thu Oct 23, 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Don said...

I like Stern's "Jewish New Testament," by a Messianic Jew.

I have heard that reverse translating the Greek into Hebrew (and then into English) can give some insights.


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