Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture

I must say I am somewhat confused about what Karen Jobes has been writing and saying.

A few days ago I reported on a paper “Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation” which, according to the Zondervan blog, she presented “at the Fall 2007 Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting”. I wrote about this paper that I expected it to interact with Relevance Theory as presented by Ernst-August Gutt, but it did not.

Just now I have received a link to a blog post by “Chaka”, a 26-year-old man who is apparently linked with one of Zondervan’s rivals as a Bible publisher, Tyndale. In this post “Chaka” writes a review of an article by the same Karen Jobes, published in the same quarter of the same year in the journal of the same Evangelical Theological Society (in fact Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50.4 (December 2007) 773-797). But it turns out that this is a different article with a different title, “Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture”. And, although there is some overlap in the subject matter in that both papers address the issue of verbosity in Bible translations, the paper “Chaka” refers to does in fact interact with Relevance Theory as presented by Ernst-August Gutt. (In fact “Chaka” also links to the Zondervan blog post referring to the first paper.)

But there is a further puzzle in that the verbosity statistics in the two papers, or two versions of the same paper, are inconsistent. For example, according to the paper linked to by Zondervan, NIV is 18.56% more verbose than the original Hebrew and Greek, NRSV is 21.72% more verbose, and ESV is 23.67% more verbose. But according to the figures Chaka quotes from the other paper, NIV is 33.18% more verbose than the original, ESV is 38.93% more verbose, and NRSV is an astonishing 64.43% more verbose.

So what is happening here? What is the relationship between these two papers? It is hard for me to tell without seeing the latter. But perhaps there is a need here to exercise the scholarly disciplines of source and redaction criticism.

0 thoughts on “Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture

  1. I left a comment on Chaka’s blog yesterday and he hasn’t responded (yet).

    He blames linguists for being self referential and therefore irrelevant to (English) Bible translation.

    Oy vey!

    I wish he’d read some of our stuff.

    Probably wouldn’t hurt if Jobes read us as well.

  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for reading my post. I’m not sure what’s going on with the statistics in the two versions of Jobes’ paper. The JETS version has smaller word counts for the original languages (426,902 in MT instead of 474,316; 118,300 in GNT instead of 138,167). But the sources given for the word counts are identical, so I don’t know where the difference comes from. The other major discrepancy is with the NRSV word count (895,891 in JETS instead of 745,481). Again, the citations are identical in both papers. (Maybe the JETS word count included Apocrypha?)

    I agree with your earlier post that verbosity doesn’t seem to be a particularly useful measure of a translation’s faithfulness. Moreover, if I were in the formal equivalence camp (which I’m not), I don’t think that Jobes’ statistics would give me pause. I could just claim that the less literal translations were shaving their word count by leaving some words out.

    In both papers, Jobes concludes by rejecting the choice between formal and functional equivalence. What do you make of that? The conclusion I would have made is that her arguments throughout the paper support functional-equivalent (or “indirect”) translations against their detractors.

    By the way, regarding Rich Rhodes’ comment: I apologize for my careless jab at “linguists,” which was a poor attempt at self-deprecation. The line has been struck from my post. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the work of SIL linguists.

  3. Thank you, Chaka. These figures are certainly confusing. The Hebrew word count differences may depend on whether certain affixes e.g. the article are counted as separate words. In the ETS Annual Meeting paper they are explicitly so counted, presumably in order to make the numbers match Greek and English better. Maybe in the JETS paper they were not.

    My understanding is that Jobes is looking for what might be called a mild dynamic equivalence approach, preserving the original language form where that is also a good dynamic equivalent but not being tied to it. To me that is a sensible approach, especially in a language like English with a long translation tradition.

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