An Exceedingly Small Contribution to the Translation Theory Wars

Lingamish has posted a translation theory florilegium (of sorts) whose purpose is to throw light on “some of the philosophies that underlie the CEV translation.” The selection from an interview with Barclay Newman, in particular, caught my attention:

“We take in consideration the fact that more people hear the scriptures read than read them for themselves, and we tried to create a text that a person who is unfamiliar with traditional biblical jargon can read aloud without stumbling, can hear without misunderstanding, and can listen to with appreciation and enjoyment because the language is lucid and lyrical.”

Fair enough, I suppose; but to this one might easily reply with a quote from the Rev Mr John Hobbins (which features an embedded quote from the Rev Mr Ker himself):

“I agree with Lingamish’s earlier propositions, which he has now forgotten:

  1. A truly literary translation will suggest the foreignness of the original without being incomprehensible.
  2. A literary translation will not be literary in ways that the original is not.

A corollary of (2) is that a literary translation will be literary where the original is.”

And one might add, a “literary translation” (and note that this term is, in fact, coextensive with what ElShaddai has aptly called Literary Equivalence) will not be complicated where the original is not, and by the same token, will not be simpler than the original. With this in mind, I would like to add my own quote to the discussion, which (naturally) comes from the pen of the infallible Moisés Silva:

“[R]ecent advances in linguistics place much emphasis on the context of speech. The admirable desire to produce translations that do not sound like translations and are thus clearer and more accessible to the modern reader must be accompanied by the reminder that the biblical stories took place in the Middle East rather than the Western world, in ancient times rather than in the twentieth century. To the extent that “readable” translations indirectly encourage modern readers to forget such a setting, to that extent they also fail to capture part of the meaning of the text. Besides, one detects a definite tendency to make modern translations much simpler than the original Greek and Hebrew. If the Corinthians had some difficulty understanding Paul’s Greek, it is no disgrace when a modern English reader has to struggle through a long apostolic sentence.” (God, Language, and Scripture [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], page 138.)

Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: all translators are traitors, and should be tried as such!

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6 responses to “An Exceedingly Small Contribution to the Translation Theory Wars

  1. I insist that from now on your refer to John as “Mr. Rev.” and to me as “the amazing.”

    And I’d boycott you altogether except for “florilegium” which temporarily buys you a reprieve since it wasn’t in my vocabulary.

    And when are you switching to WordPress?

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  2. “I had promised myself I would not utter this formula of betrayal in the course of this book. Now I betray that vow with the perverse and pleasant notion that I am translating the evil maxim into a prescription for imaginative translation.”

    Some of us only dream of breaking our promises, as does “the amazing Mr. [albeit IR-rev.]” Barnstone.

    PS Reading your post, Стефан, I had this flashback of watching CNN reports during the first Gulf War. Then Bob Hope starts singing, “thanks, for the memories” (or was that Viet Nam?). Oh well, thanks.

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  3. Dear Rev Mr Ker,

    Forgive me, but I would never indulge in so crass a transgression of style as addressing someone as the “Mr Rev” (!) something-or-other. And anyway, I thought you derived a perverse kind of pleasure from being addressed as “Rev”!

    Sincerely,
    (The former Rev.) Mr. Esteban Vázquez

    Kurk> The Homerist in me, who has delightfully waxed expository on Οὖτις/Ὀδυσῆι many a time before, thanks you for the (Barnstonian) transgression.

    Anyway, I’ll keep at trying to say it until someone (else) takes note. “Hooray, for us”! :-)

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  4. I shouldn’t whine. Just hard to comment on Blogger blogs. You get double credit for having a black blog. The Rev thing is grating on my nerves lately for reasons I’d rather not discuss… ;-)

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  5. David> Yes, and I have kept my black blog despite Nick Norelli’s loud protestations to the contrary! And we all know just how bothersome he can be. ;-) I do plan to change the color scheme a little bit, but I will undoubtedly require female assistance for this. Since according to a recent survey you think like a woman and all, would you care to help?

    Meanwhile, I really did give WP a try, but I hated it viscerally.

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