In recent months I haven’t blogged much about Bible translation, either here or at Better Bibles Blog. This doesn’t mean that I have been entirely silent on the subject. In the last few days I have been commenting actively on a recent post on this subject by John Hobbins, where I have been arguing that The Message may be “the closest thing we [English speakers] have to a DE translation for adults”.
Mike Pritchard of Zondervan has sent me a link to a post at the Zondervan blog which recommends a paper by Karen Jobes Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation, a PDF download. Wayne Leman has also recommended this paper, at BBB and at TNIV Truth (it looks rather odd that he gave a hat tip to himself!), and John Hobbins has posted his own comments on the paper. Here I will weigh in with my own evaluation.
I must say I am not very convinced of the usefulness of “verbosity” as a parameter for measuring the faithfulness of a translation, especially as the statistics given are based on arbitrarily dividing up Hebrew words at places corresponding to divisions in English. It seems very strange that “LXX count includes apocrypha” (p.15 note 2) when many of the deuterocanonical books are not in fact translations of anything. But one useful point comes out of this part of the discussion: the emptiness of claims by certain translations to be essentially word-for-word when in fact they have more than 20% more words than the original.
The most important issue in the paper is the one most closely related to its title. I thought this might be an attempt to interact with Ernst-August Gutt’s highly technical attempt, in his book Translation and Relevance (which I studied in depth when I was working full time as a Bible translator) and within the framework of Relevance Theory, to define translation as bilingual quotation. But in fact there is no mention in this paper of Gutt or his work.
Instead Jobes raises important questions about how translation relates to the authority of Scripture. To help to answer these questions, she asks:
Where might we look for other examples of what characterizes translation where accurately and faithfully representing the source is of paramount importance? The practice of bi-lingual quotation has in common with Bible translation a commitment to faithfully representing its source language. (p.4)
By “bi-lingual quotation” here she means simultaneous translation, as practised by international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union. She notes that the parallel with Bible translation is not perfect. But she makes the important point that even in these circumstances, where accuracy and faithfulness are considered paramount, there is no preference for literal word-for-word translation. Rather, she notes how the kinds of changes of form familiar from dynamic equivalence translations of the Bible are made as a matter of course by simultaneous interpreters. So there is by no means a preference for literal translation. In fact, linguists studying samples of translation by simultaneous translation
discovered that the failure to communicate accurately the meaning of the source utterance was found in those places where the simultaneous translator rendered the source utterance too literally, that is, when preservation of the grammatical, syntactical, and semantic forms of the original statements was given too high a priority in producing the translation. (p.10, emphasis as in the original)
She makes an important point about the greater need for changes of form when translating between languages which are not closely related:
Such differences in the structure of source and target language create enormous translation problems if formal equivalence must be preserved. And the further apart on the linguistic family tree that any two languages are, the less congruence might be expected between their grammatical and syntactical structures, and the more meaningless it would be to speak of formal equivalence in Bible translation as best honoring evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Nothing resembling formal equivalence could be achieved for when the structures of the languages involved have such disparity, which shows how Anglo-centric the evangelical debates have been. And yet we know from Revelation 14:6 that God’s word is for “every nation, tribe, language and people.” Surely evangelicals must not mandate a translation philosophy on theological grounds that would exclude, even inadvertently, many of the world’s languages. (pp.9-10)
To this I can only say that I wish could have put the point so clearly.