Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation

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.

21 thoughts on “Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation

  1. (it looks rather odd that he gave a hat tip to himself!)

    I even thought it was odd when it did it. Aren’t we supposed to be a peculiar people, however?! 🙂

    Anyway, it’s gone now.

  2. “Free translation”, you are welcome to translate my blog into Chinese, and post the translation if it is accurate. Please try to do the translation well, and include a link to the English original. I’m sorry that I cannot help you with this.

  3. The claim of some translations to be word-for-word may or may not be a good claim. But the verbosity index would not by itself convince me one way or the other. The KJV, for instance, puts many words in italics. This is to mark out the words not found in the original. If those words happened to make up the 20 percent, then the KJV, or any Bible doing similarly, has managed to convey the meanings of the original while still offering the reader a way to know which words were original and which words were explanatory.

    The italics offer something that could not be offered in a speech translation. Jobes’s translation example makes some good points for what would be desired under certain constraints, but these constraints are different from those translating for a printed Bible.

  4. Rick, I accept that putting words in italics is one possible way of indicating words supplied for the sense, which works reasonably well within formal equivalence translation principles, although not with dynamic equivalence. KJV and some modern translations, not I think ESV, do this. In fact NIV and TNIV bracket a few words for similar reasons. But in none of these translations is the proportion of italicised or bracketed words anything like the 20% or so required to make the count of non-italicised words match the count of original language words.

  5. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture

  6. Dear Friend in Christ,
    Greaetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!
    I have been going through the studies at your web site, and I am deeply inspired with all of the teachings and studies thereon like Bible studies and other teaching materials on our Web site. This is such a wonderful studies you have arranged for all the nations, in the long run of your service for the nations of the all the world.
    I am from Islamic Republic of Pakistan where it is difficult to have Radio and TV channel for preaching purposes. They would not allow us to do that here; the Satan has real strong hold over everything. I often say that we are living in the land of the enemy.
    Friend, I humbly request you to expand your outreach your program in Urdu and Punjabi language. Urdu is the language spoken and understood by more than one sixth of the total population of the world. Urdu is spoken in Pakistan , India, Nepal, Afghanistan and also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and others.
    I would ask you to pray and share it among the brethren. I would offer my services for being translator, recorder and distribution/sales. I pray that your consideration will have His mark over your decision.

    May God bless you abundantly! May His perfect will be done!

    Grace and Peace be with you, all brethrens.

    Yours brother in Christ,

  7. I’ve discovered an unusual anomaly within the Bible – the writings are self-interpreting. Here’s an example of the kind of translation work I do:

    (Genesis) Adam/man (Hebrew-synonyms) = ‘ruddy’, rosy, the flush of red blood

    – does not suggest a ‘human’ being but rather a ‘ruddy’ creature (as coming from the ‘red’ earth, dust-primordial soup)

    ‘man became a ‘living soul’ ‘ (Genesis):
    soul (Hebrew & Greek) = animal principle/breathing creature

    Adam/man was not initially a ‘human’ being as many Bible proponents suppose but rather a ‘ruddy creature of earth’, an animal (which had to have been a chimpanzee because of recent human genome DNA mapping).

    However, religious tendencies are observed strictly in the ‘human’ species. If human beings are ‘soul (animal/chimp)’ then why aren’t such tendencies evident in other animals? Could it be because we have something the other primates don’t have?

    animal/chimp = soul
    human being = soul + immortal spirit

    It makes more sense, to me, that there was only ‘one’ primate from which human ancestry came – otherwise chimps today would be in various stages of evolving.

  8. Greetings in Jesus name,

    “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing from the Word of God”(Romans, 10:17)
    It is really privileged for me to write to your ministry and I pray may Lord bless you abundantly. I am Aftab Nasir from Pakistan . Five years before I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and I trust in Him as my rock and try to walk in Him, as the Word of God says don’t be lazy in struggle.
    As I was visiting your site I found that you are doing the work of translation into native languages. I am able to translate the good stuff of you into my native language Punjabi and national language Urdu. There are two purposes to request you the first one are to know the Word of God more deeply and second one to be supportive my family and to run. our Ministry. We will also teach your stuff in our working areas with our people .
    My suggestion for you is to create your material in my language of Urdu and Punjabi also. It will bring lots of blessings of the Word of God for the Pakistani and Indian Urdu and Punjabi speaking people. For that purpose I as a translator will bring your material into Urdu languages and into Punjabi language as well. Although it will take your low expenses as well, as fund for the Word of God to reach out to the deserving people. As a translator I will take the expenses that will be spending just for the Word. I will be looking for your kind words on this my humble request as soon as possible.
    “There is nothing more precious than to read and listen the Word of God into your own language.”
    I hope you will consider me regarding this request.
    In Jesus,

  9. Dear ministry ,
    May GOD bless your ministry and GOD be with your ministry members . my name is wasim nasir . i am in pakistan . and i am christian . i visited your ministry website . and i really appricated it . i am proud of your ministry your ministry is very nice and i hope blessed also .: i am sad those christian who are living in good christian countries they dont know about our condition and how we are struggling here.we are in very bad condition now days,they dont have ways of progress here like Americans.but its very hard to continue any christian activites here.because Muslim dont want help us here.we are in very bad condition now days, we have trust on God. pakistani Muslim people do not want give us good work, we are very sad about it .we are doing some work for GOD here . when GOD provide us .
    we want to do many work here for lord jesus . but we can,t . becuse we dont have any work here for that all expencives. therefor we are very sad about it .we need some helping hands for lord jesus work here . we are living for lord jesus work . and we want to do that fill here and then our reason will be good. and that will be usefull for us and lord jesus will be very happy with us here. and he will bless us here. therefor i visit your ministry . i need some work . i thinking .if you have ministry Books then we can translate them English to Urdu . if you like help me in GOD,s work so plz accept our application . we trust we will solve your work very good . we want to do work for your ministry . if your ministry want help our so plz give us translation work . i hope with that work you can help us and that will be your great help . well if you want to give me your work . plz contect with us and send me back email with your greating . take care of your ministry . may GOD bless you.

  10. Dear Friend in Christ,
    Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!
    I have been going through the studies at your web site, and I am deeply inspired with all of the teachings and studies thereon like Bible studies and other teaching materials on our Web site. This is such a wonderful studies you have arranged for all the nations, in the long run of your service for the nations of the all the world. Why not for my people who speak Sindhi and Punjabi?
    I am from Islamic Republic of Pakistan where it is difficult to have Radio and TV channel for preaching purposes.
    PUNJABI:Pakistan and India. Minor populations in UK, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Suriname, Guyana.
    Region Punjab
    Total speakers:88,000,000 (Ethnologue 2005 estimate)[1]
    57,129,000 (Encarta)[2]
    Western Punjabi: 61–62 million, Eastern Punjabi 28 million (2000 WCD)
    SINDHI being spoken: Pakistan, India. Also Hong Kong, Oman, Philippines, Singapore, UAE, UK, USA, Afghanistan
    Total speakers:21 Million
    We are group of 10 people who work together as translator of these two languages to fulfill the requirments of our christian community over here in pakistan and this is the only source of our survival that is, the Word of God.I request you to make us part of your translation team and let us allow to use your material into our local languages like Sindhi and Punjabi with little expencess of translation that is very low as compare to the international rates.
    I would ask you to pray and share it among the brethren. I would offer my services for being translator, recorder and distribution/sales of the above mentioned languages and I have done Master degrees in these languages as well.. I pray that your consideration will have His mark over your decision.
    May God bless you abundantly! May His perfect will be done!
    Grace and Peace be with you, all brethrens.
    Yours brother in Christ,
    Mr Khokhar

  11. Dear brothers and sisters
    Greetings in Jesus name:
    I have come to know about your website and have come to know the work you are doing for the spiritual growth of the lambs of Christ. You will be will surprise to know that we do not have bible in our local language that is Saraiki and nothing like Christian material which can help to those who do not know English or Urdu. There are 13.9 million speaker of Saraiki in Pakistan and 1 million in India. I am sorry to say that this language has been ignored by the rest of the world who is doing translation work for the Word of God. It is one of the Unreached language of Pakistan yet. I am well educated person and want to contribute in it I request you to please let me allow to translate your bible material and tracts into saraiki language on little bit paying basis that is only for translation expenses. Seeking help of the people who have kind heart for the lost lambs of Christ in Saraiki speaking people in the subcontinent.
    Yours in Christ

  12. I am serving as a Pastor here in Arifwala city and surrounding village areas from last 5 years. From last 2 years we are running an awesome project called Bible village reader. Under this project we are training young Christian boys and girls as future leaders of Christian community. We are training them how to read URDU Bible Clear and laud to their families and communities. Till now we have 15 young students those are under training. We are printing Bible tracts and distributing them to the lost people and distributing Free Urdu Bibles to the deserving people those have none. You will be surprised to know that here in our areas even believers don’t have bible copies at their homes to study; they have to wait till Sunday to hear the word of God. So our Church tries our best to bless these deserving people with the Bible copies. We are trying to reach out as many souls we can with the word of God. Please always remember us in your prayers. We will appreciate your Love and prayers.I really lke your wonderfull work that you are doing i want to work with you i can do translation englsih to urdu and punjabi so that herein paksitan chrsitian people may read them and grow in their faith. it will be a wonderfull blessing for all of us. i am looking forward for you kind response, GBU
    Your in Christ,
    Pastor Fahim John

  13. request for english translation in to urdu and punjabi work
    greeting to all the members of christion ministries those are serving the Lord Jesus ; i visited your web site today ; read it carefully ; and very much impressed that you are working for the Lord all over the world ; i am also serving the Lord in the holly Bible church in pakistan for the spiritual development of our christion community ; we are not only limited in the church but also proclaming the good news of holly Bible in the street prayer meeting where the people be awar of wisdom and knowldge of the true God ; i come to know through visiting your web site that you are procalming the good news of the holly Bilbe in diffrent languages all over the world ; i offer my services to share with you sprading the word of God for those people they are not able to understand the english language ; they are needed to understand the word of God in urdu ; and punjabi their mother language ; God have blessed me to translate english into urdu and punjabi ; so that they could easily understand the true mening the word of God ; please you know that the people moste of the countries are spoken ; read ; and write in urdu and punjabi language ; the holly spirite of the God evoke me to work togather with you ; through urdu and punjabi translation provide more opprtunites for the spiritual development wherever the people are not able to understand the english language the wages of translation will be serve for the orphanage ; widows ; homeless persones ; education of poor kids ; and helpless persones of chiristian community in pakistan ; i hopefull that you will be consider my request for translation ; being a serving of Lord Jesus ; i will be waiting your good response ;

  14. Anyone is welcome to translate the material in this blog into any language and post this on the Internet, as long as they do it accurately. Please send me a link. I am not able to offer any money for this, or for any other projects brought to my attention in comments on this blog.

    Please do not continue to make comments requesting money in any way. I reserve the right to delete any such comments.

  15. I visited your Church site, it is really privilege for me to write you with the Will of God. I found that you have awesome and precious work of Lord Jesus Christ, May God bless your Church staff and all precious work. I belong the Christian family. I am able to do work of translation into Urdu and Punjabi, if you have any translation work so please consider for the translation work, i would love to give my service to you church as a translator. Your Church material and Word of God must be reached to unreached people who didn’t understand the English, those people can study and blessed through the Word of God. I hope that Lord Jesus will give the vision of Translation work and all funds. I will do pray to Jesus for this precious work. I will wait your reply.
    In Jesus name
    Aftab Nasir

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