Vernaculars and Lingua Francas, Part One: Foundations

I have an interest in lingua francas (or linguas franca, or linguae francae, or whatever). The phrase means, literally, “language of the Franks.” The explanation is that from an Arabic perspective, all Europeans were “Franks.” In the first half of the Second Millenium, there was a specific language form called Lingua Franca, a Romance-based pidgin spoken in the Mediterranean area. The term has come to be generalized to refer to any language used for communication among a group of people who do not have a mother tongue in common.

Recently on this very blog the matter was discussed of whether one can properly translate from a vernacular into a lingua franca or vice versa. Specifically, the issue seemed to be whether one can translate from a vernacular like ancient Hebrew into a lingua franca like English without compromising the accuracy and integrity of the foreign text. The implication seemed to be that translation of this sort was not really possible. I’ll tip you off to where I am going with this by saying that I don’t see any reason why this sort of thing ought to be problematic. Of course, you have to recognize that whatever languages you are dealing with—vernaculars or linguafrancas or whatever—there is always going to be some compromise in translation. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the Italian aphorism, “the translator is a traitor” or “translation is treason.” So it depends on what your purpose is. If the purpose in translating is to examine and appreciate every nuance of the source text, that is basically just impossible in translation. You would have to study the source text itself, and even then, if we are dealing with something as remote to us today as the Hebrew scriptures, we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever fully recover all the information in, and surrounding, the text. But if our purpose is to treat the source text as a meaningful message to be shared—something that people need to hear, to bring a text to them that would be inaccessible to them because of linguistic and cultural differences—then translation certainly is possible, whether we are talking about vernaculars or lingua francas. What would be the status of the church today if the scriptures were not translated, because people thought it was not appropriate to do so? The history of Christianity is a history of translation. Some other time we could draw out some quotes from famous people like Jerome, Wycliffe, Erasmus, Luther, and Tyndale about the value of translating the Bible, or more contemporary figures like J.B. Phillips, Andrew Walls or Lamin Sanneh.

I will first explain my qualifications to discuss topics like lingua francas and translation into them. I’m a PhD linguist (1983) with a specialty in creole languages. When we’re discussing lingua francas, we are dealing in the area of contact languages and language contact (two slightly different things). The one language that I speak fluently other than English is St. Lucian French Creole. I speak some French and Spanish, too, and Gullah, but I speak French Creole better than I speak French. I regularly participate in conferences on pidgin and creole languages and have published some of these papers, on the topics of the grammar or the sociolinguistics of creole languages, and other papers I have presented are available in sort of a semi-published form. One of the topics I have dealt with is the translation of the Bible or other literature into creole languages, and I have presented papers like that to groups of creolists, groups of Bible translation scholars, and once as an invited lecture at the National Museum of Language. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will add that I am pretty well familiar with the basic literature on language contact, and personally know pretty much all the major players in that area, and they know me as colleague.

So let’s start by defining our terms. A vernacular language is a language that people grow up speaking as a mother tongue and as the language they are most comfortable with. It’s not a tricky thing to explain. Whether or not something is a vernacular language doesn’t depend on its internal make-up, but rather what use it is put to. English—or rather a specific dialect of Engilsh—is my vernacular. What is a lingua franca? Whenever I hear the term “lingua franca,” I automatically mentally paraphrase it as “trade language.” That is, it is a language that is not the mother tongue of a set of interlocutors, but which they use as a medium of communication. Again, the term “lingua franca” does not describe what a language is like, internally, but rather the use to which it is put.

Here is an important point: A particular language can be both a vernacular and a lingua franca. In fact, that is quite often the case. For me, English is my vernacular, but for other people, English might be a language that they use to communicate with, but it is not their mother tongue. Here’s an example. Once when I was in East Germany (you can tell this was a while back), giving a paper at an International Congress of Linguists, I went on a bus tour to Dresden at the end of the conference and sat next to a woman from Japan. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, but I figured out that she was a French professor back in Japan, and I speak some French. So we carried on a sort of conversation in French. For many people, French is their vernacular, but in this case, when I was talking with a Japanese woman in Germany, French was our lingua franca.

I pulled a standard reference book off my shelf entitled Pidgins and Creoles (1989, Cambridge University Press), written by my friend John Holm, and found this definition on p. 607: “Lingua Franca is the earliest known European-based pidgin: the term lingua franca (uncapitalized, often with the English plural form lingua francas) has come to mean any vehicular language used as a means of communication between two or more groups with no other language in common.” Terms like vernacular and lingua franca do not describe types of languages, but rather uses to which languages are put. English is a vernacular to many, many people, especially in North America, the U.K., and Australia, but it is also becoming increasingly a lingua franca for scholarly work, business, politics, etc.

There are two main types of lingua francas: some are languages that are used as vernaculars in other contexts, like the English and French examples I gave, and then there are pidgins, which by definition are nobody’s mother tongue. A pidgin is a language form that is not fully developed as a normal language and has no native speakers but is used as a medium of communication between groups that do not have a language in common. Note that there are some languages that have “pidgin” in the name but which are no longer pidgins, but rather have become creoles, in that over time they have become mother tongues and the language of a community. Examples are Hawaiian Pidgin or New Guinea Pidgin English. A creole language is a vernacular language that has its origin as a pidgin.

When I say there are two main kinds of lingua francas—languages that also serve as vernaculars in other contexts, on the one hand, and pidgins, on the other—I should acknowledge that there are a few exceptions that I don’t think are relevant here. An exception would be artificially created languages like Esperanto, which are not pidgins, and are not, as far as I know, anyone’s mother tongue. A creole language, however, despite its origin as a pidgin, is by definition a vernacular. As I said, creoles are my professional specialty, including translation into creoles.

I’m afraid I’m being too pedantic here, but one point is that vernacular and lingua francas are not two different types of languages, but rather two different uses to which language types are put. Any language can be a vernacular as long as it has native speakers, but it could at the same time be a lingua franca in other contexts, for other sets of people. A pidgin is a particular kind of lingua franca that does not have native speakers. Pidgins, as a specific type of lingua franca, are typologically distinctive. I could teach a graduate level course on this stuff, or give a lecture, or, in this case, try to boil it down to a short, comprehesible blog post.

There is nothing about a lingua franca that would disqualify it from being a language that you could legitimately translate into or out of. However, I will leave that discussion for part two, to follow.

119 Comments

  1. Posted June 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    You write that “Esperanto, which (is) not, as far as I know, anyone’s mother tongue.” I see Esperanto as a creole or close to one.

    Esperanto does in deed have native speakers. I suppose that I have met a dozen of them over the years. There is even one who lives here in Wales. I met the son of a Japanese mother and a German father in Heidelberg a few years ago. Esperanto served as a lingua franca for the parents, and their child acquired it effortlessly.

  2. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Frank,
    What a helpful distinction you’ve made, not just between the meanings of the various terms but also between “types of languages” and “uses to which language types are put.”

    When thinking about translation, then, I wonder how you might translate this rich (“being too pedantic here”) English post into any language? If in French, then would you find dynamic equivalent substitutes to “lingua franca,” “vernacular,” “pidgin,” and/ or “creole”? How about if in Japanese? Obviously, you’ve given us English speakers a bit of our history for “language of the Franks,” Frank. But what about “vernacular”? Any need to render the Latinish emphases on “domestics” or “nativity” that this word conveys? Or “creole”? There’s such a rich French and Spanish American colonial history to this word too. And then “pidgin.” It’s a Chinese-ish pronunciation of the English word “business,” no? A portmanteau for a use of language, a type of language for use? Would your translation of this post of yours into French or into Japanese get into or carry across the wordplay inherent in these English loan words? (Why did you dwell on “lingua franca” only when writing for us English readers?) Just curious about your answers, but I think it may say something about bringing across Hebrew words from the Bible into English. How much communication load, and which loads, are you interested in your Japanese readers and your French readers getting?

  3. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    It’s great to see you take this subject on. Insofar as your post is a response to mine, here are a few loose ends left over from three of the threads my first post engendered. Early on in the discussion I stated:

    [1} Translating from a vernacular into a lingua franca poses specific challenges.

    [2} … these challenges have not been identified as such in internal discussion among Bible translators.

    MY questions: do you agree with one or both of these statements?

    Follow-up question: are you conversant in the sociolinguistic literature that leverages the distinction between lingua franca and vernacular? Assuming that you are, and that you find the scholarship in question convincing, what directions might the conversation be taken among Bible translators?

    BTW, Hilary Champman’s point is well-taken. The history of the Hebrew language is full of twists and turns which do not throw the distinction between a lingua franca and vernacular into doubt, but enrich it with the need to be aware of polyvalence.

  4. Posted June 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Hilary Chapman, I was afraid that if I looked into it more carefully, there would by now be mother tongue speakers of Esperanto. Of course, that doesn’t change my point. I hesitated to even mention Esperanto. But if there are now native Esperanto speakers, that just means that Esperanto would fall into the category of languages that are a vernacular to some people (probably a very small minority), and a lingua franca to others. I will decline to discuss here whether or not Esperanto could be considered a creole language. It doesn’t fit my definition because of its different sort of origin, but if some people would classify it as a creole, that’s fine.

  5. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    J.K., you are a wonderful person–full of wonder about all kinds of things. You have an exceptionally fertile mind, and it is good to ask questions. However, I can’t follow all the rabbit trails that you try to tempt me with. I believe your point is that any time we might seek clarity in any area, all kinds of other questions emerge.

    I will respond to one thing, and what I say may surprise some people. Despite my distinction between language structure and language use–vernacular vs. lingua franca being part of the latter–I am not a big supporter of the idea of making a sharp distinction. That is to say, I don’t believe in Pragmatics. You might understand me better than some people, as a fellow student of Pike. The things that would be discussed in a course or a textbook on Pragmatics are all good and relevant, but our problem (you and me, presumably) is making sharp distinctions: syntax vs. semantics vs. pragmatics, form vs. meaning, vernacular vs. lingua franca, and so forth. You are probably aware that Ken Pike did not accept Saussure’s langue-parole distinction.

    Having said all that, my main point was that the terms “vernacular” vs. “lingua franca” do not describe types of languages, but rather uses to which linguistic codes are put.

  6. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    John Hobbins, to answer your question, no, I don’t accept that translating from a vernacular to a lingua franca poses specific challenges. There are all kinds of challenges in translation, but I don’t think the matter of vernacular vs. lingua franca is especially critical in sorting out the issues. But you have given me an idea for a future post, to answer the general question of what lexical, grammatical or cultural considerations factor in to how translation is made into the diverse languages of the world, generally speaking. I don’t believe translation is impossible into any language, but how you translate will depend on the linguistic resources of the language you are translating into and the requirements of a target audience.

    John, you are at a disadvantage here in that so far I have only given my Part One. I need to continue writing shortly, to explain what, if any, implications for translation there are, based on this distinction between vernacular and lingua franca.

    Oh, about the sociolinguistic literature on vernacular vs. lingua franca, no, I’m not sure what you are talking about. It is quite possible that there is a lot going on in the area of sociolinguistics that I am not aware of. But I have the feeling that the dialogue you refer to has been more in the area of literary studies than in (socio-)linguistics. I did read the piece by journalist Tim Parks, and the article by Sheldon Pollock. I found Parks’ ideas intriguing, and I will discuss them in my next post. I liked some of what I could understand in Pollock’s article, but he was writing about cosmopolitanism vs. vernacular.

  7. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    David,
    You did see that I was trying to play with your (family) name as there’s this coincidence with your statement: “The phrase means, literally, ‘language of the Franks’.” I’m not at all wanting to tempt you to follow divergent rabbit trails. You actually hit on my problem (yours too) exactly:

    Pragmatics are all good and relevant, but our problem (you and me, presumably) is making sharp distinctions: syntax vs. semantics vs. pragmatics, form vs. meaning, vernacular vs. lingua franca, and so forth. You are probably aware that Ken Pike did not accept Saussure’s langue-parole distinction.

    Let’s let users of language, whether linguists with doctorates or lay people, decide what’s best for them as entry points into what accuracy and clarity and translation mean. I was picking on your wordplay, not to tempt you or push you in some direction you never intended in the first place, but to get at the richnesses of what you’re saying here. “Language of the Franks” isn’t just some stale literal meaning of “lingua franca.” Rather, it’s a critical name for the first users of that phrase. We later users have also appropriated and expanded or reduced its meanings (by “reduce” I mean we’ve narrowed its semantic range so that it somehow means for us something technical that it didn’t initially mean). John Hobbins used it technically one way. And you’re trying to say, “Hey, now wait a minute, lingua franca the way I use it also or more refers to a sort of use of a language.” Now, if you or I or John or some native speaker of Japanese or some native speaker of French could translate “lingua franca” into Japanese or into French, then what would we choose? We’d choose the Japanese or French phrasing that would best convey our use of the now-English lingua franca. Which literal and which figural use would be important? Our own. (This is why I was interested that you explicated the now-literal but once-figural meaning of “language of the Franks.” This is also why I was curious about the etymologies, the social beginnings, of the other phrases you’ve used here as well.) It’s all about the importance of the distinctions, and who gets to make them, and what certain distinctions do to someone other than ourself, isn’t it?

  8. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    J.K., your style of writing is a lot different from mine, but I don’t think your way of thinking is all that foreign to mine. I, too, was taking advantage of word play on my name, and I wasn’t bothered by anything you wrote. I just can’t respond to it all. I’ll take your questions as open questions, and just respond to what I think I can.

    When I saw you quote a couple of my sentences, I asked myself, “Did I really say, ‘Pragmatics are…’?” But when I looked back at what I had written, the first part of that sentence, which you didn’t include, made it grammatical.

  9. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    JKG, you wrote, “Let’s let users of language, whether linguists with doctorates or lay people, decide what’s best for them as entry points into what accuracy and clarity and translation mean.” I think there is quite a lot to that idea. In fact, this is a chance to put in a plug for an upcoming conference in your area, where maybe I can meet you. The Bible Translation 2011 conference will be held in Dallas October 14-18. See http://www.gial.edu/btconferences/. I will be presenting a paper entitled, “A Totally Positive, Non-Prescriptive Model of Translation.” Note that one has to register for the conference and pay a fee in order to attend.

  10. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    David,
    Sorry to have messed with your subject-verb agreement by quoting you in a chopped excerpt. Thanks for the invitation to hear your presentation. I’d love to meet you in person! Hope to register for and to attend (at least your presentation day at) the conference.

  11. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    David,

    I notice that you did not mention Pagnini. He is important in this context, since the translation by Jerome, was a translation into a language that was in use at that time by the Empire. Pagnini’s Latin translation was also used by all the scholars of Europe, and was often found as the interlinear version for the printed Hebrew. But its goal was to retain features of the Hebrew language in translation, as much as possible. It was this translation which was one of the very influential source texts for the KJV.

    I hope this is not off topic, but I think it relates to the nature of the Coverdale – King James tradition of translating the Hebrew Bible.

  12. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    PS I welcome your discussion of “use” of the language. I had introduced the notion of the “function” of the language in the previous thread, and it was acknowledged as relevant. I look forward to your next posts.

  13. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    So then, Suzanne, Pagnini can serve as an example of a translation into a lingua franca, Latin, that by his time was no longer a vernacular. Contrast Jerome’s translation into Latin as a vernacular (but was already in wide use as a lingua franca). So I suppose if there is a real difference in how the Bible can be translated into a lingua franca (which is not also a vernacular) and into a vernacular (also serving as a lingua franca), this would be evident in differences between Pagnini’s version and the Vulgate. Are there any such differences?

  14. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I am not sure of that. Certainly Erasmus also felt that the New Testament needed to be retranslated into Latin. It is true, the facts are that for Erasmus and Pagnini, Latin was a lingua franca.

    However, Pagnini considered Hebrew to be the first language of human beings, and as one who had studied Kabbalah, he had a particular interest in translating the Hebrew roots accurately as well as the alliteration and other features of the Hebrew lg. His translation was widely used by scholars, and was the interlinear for the Hebrew of the Antwerp polyglot and many other Hebrew-Latin bibles. So his translation was well-known to those who studied Hebrew for many centuries. I would suggest that it is only in the 20th century that his translation became less well-known.

    But, the Pagnini translation was never used for liturgy or for addressing the people, as was the Vulgate. I will have to get more info on Erasmus later.

    However, I was wondering how these translations, since they are so influential, would fit into this discussion.

  15. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I can’t find a reference at the moment, but I believe that Erasmus translated the New Testament into classical Latin, while Jerome’s translation was considered to the “church Latin.”

  16. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    David, thank you for moving the conversation forward.

    As I see it, two major disagreements have been identified so far.

    (1) Based on what you’ve read so far, you do not understand Pollock’s scholarship as relevant to the lingua franca / vernacular distinction. In this case, I’m confident you will change your mind. After all, lingua francas like koine Greek and standard English are part and parcel of cosmopolitan trends. Conversely, written vernaculars like ancient Hebrew (ex hypothesi: see Sanders) and modern Hebrew are part of national projects, of nation-building efforts undertaken from the jaws of assimilating processes innate to a hegemonic cultural system.

    (2) I believe in pragmatics and you don’t. You said it very clearly. If the kind of distinctions pragmatic linguistics leverages do not speak to you as a translator, it is not surprising that the kind of distinctions sociolinguists leverage speak to you as a translator.

    The second disagreement is illuminating. It is on a par with the disagreement that came to light in conversation I had on these threads with Rich Rhodes. He ruled out of court the scholarship of translation theorists who work with literature, like Toury, Pym, and Venuti, because the Bible is not literature according to Rich – not the New Testament anyway. He said specifically that Luke-Acts is not literature. I laid out reasons as to why it is literature, but that is not the point of this comment.

    The point is that, rather than trying to figure out how recent research done by others of different schools of thought and disciplines might impact translation studies and future translations of the Bible as heretofore conceived in the Nida slipstream, retrenchment is going on. Or maybe not; there is a chance that your upcoming posts will prove me wrong (and I would be delighted).

  17. Theophrastus
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    Here is my understanding of (a variant of) John’s argument:

    Instead of “lingua franca (English),” I refer to “International English.” I contrast that term with “Literary English,” the versions of English used in sophisticated English literature (e.g., stuff more sophisticated than Hemingway and the scripts of the latest action movies.)

    It is possible to achieve striking translations into Literary English. I do not think anyone would deny that there have been a number of excellent translations of Homer into Literary English. (Consider, for example, Lattimore’s translation of Homer.) But none of the Homer translations I know have been into International English. (Even Stanley Lobardo’s translation, arguably the translation of Homer that uses the simplest English, still uses elevated language that is far more advanced than International English.)

    At least some books in the Bible are clearly high literature — certainly poetic books such as Songs, Job, and Psalms. (I also find that a large fraction of Biblical Hebrew narrative is literature, but I will not make that argument here.)

    If we try to translate these books into International English, we risk losing much of the literary character of these books. These books use sophisticated literary forms in Hebrew, and would seem to demand Literary English to “receive” them. Perhaps something is always lost in translation, but a translation into International English would seem to lose more than a translation into Literary English.

    There are Literary English translations of the Bible — note that Lattimore also translated the Greek New Testament. Similarly, Alter’s translation or the KJV are Literary English. (Rebuttal: the KJV uses a limited vocabulary and thus represents a simplified form of English. Surrebutal: the KJV is obviously a literary translation — for example translators obviously used great freedom with syntax to achieve tremendous effects in meter and euphony that at least partially mimic the effects in the original Hebrew.)

    Is Literary English an elitist, exclusivist language inaccessible to the majority of English speakers? I think not. Azar Nafisi wrote a book entitled Reading Lolita in Tehran about her experiences teaching English literature in revolutionary Iran. Her book is divided in four sections, devoted to literature by Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William James, and Jane Austen. None of these authors (even Nabokov, for whom English was a second language) wrote in International English. Nafisi believes that even non-native English speakers can understand Literary English. Certainly native speakers of English are capable of understanding Nabokov, Fitzgerald, James, and Austen; and in the same way, they can understand Literary English translations of the Bible.

  18. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Theo,

    You are on the right track but you fail to mention the reason why there is disagreement about what a speaker, native or non-, finds intelligible and clear.

    The reason is simple: reliance on field-testing among those who produce translations like NIV 2011, NLT, and CEV.

    As commenters pointed out, field testing might be used for any number of purposes. Still, in the context of Bible translation, field testing has been used primarily in order to select easy-to-understand functional equivalents in “standard English” (this turns out to be similar in many if not in all respects to International Americanizing English, i.e., LFE).

    Literary translators tend on the other hand to be more concerned about being faithful to the fine detail of the source text. If the result is unusual syntax, the coining of new expressions, and new uses for old expressions, so be it.

  19. Theophrastus
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    Is that factually correct? Did the NIV2011 or NLT use field testing?

    I know Wayne argued for field testing but I was not aware that field testing was actually used in these translations.

  20. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Theo,

    I had in mind the field-testing mindset which lies behind, for example, Wayne’s estimations of approximation to standard English. How much actual field-testing lies behind Wayne’s estimations, or those of a NIV stylist who revises on the basis of a felt sense of natural English, is another matter.

    Like you, I would like to know more about what kind of field-testing proponents of field testing actually do. In the meantime, the results are well-known and the lineup is for the most part highly predictable:

    http://bible-translation.110mb.com/standardnt.pdf

  21. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    I don’t know of any English Bible translations that actually used field testing in the production, though there may be one or two. I’m pretty sure my standard of field testing was not followed on the NIV or the NLT. I do have good experience in field testing, though not with respect to any translations into English or any other major language.

    I don’t think it is helpful to talk in terms of a field testing mentality. I would put it a different way. I would say that there are English Bible translations like the NIV or the NLT that take audience considerations into account and try to orient their way of translating according to their perception of the needs and desires of their target demographic. And I think that is perfectly appropriate.

    Where field testing is done, it doesn’t necesarily result in a “lowest common denominator” type of translation. The point is to test to actually find out how the translation is understood. I believe a translation cannot be considered accurate if it is not comprehensible. It might be accurate as the translators see it, but not for the audience. But I would disagree with any approach to field testing whereby the translation would automatically be changed to make it more clear any time anybody can’t understand everything in it. That would be an abuse of the concept, as far as I am concerned.

  22. Michael Marlowe
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    John wrote: “He ruled out of court the scholarship of translation theorists who work with literature, like Toury, Pym, and Venuti, because the Bible is not literature according to Rich – not the New Testament anyway.”

    John, I don’t think it even matters to them how “literary” the Bible is in the original. You might find this statement by Nida interesting:

    “But for most persons in the Western world, presenting the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament in poetic form, as the closest formal equivalence, often results in serious lack of appreciation for the urgency of the prophet’s message, which was put into poetic form in order to enhance its impact and to make the form more readily remembered. Such poetic forms are often interpreted by persons in the Western world as implying a lack of urgency, because poetic forms have become associated with communications which are over-estheticized and hence not relevant to the practical events of men’s daily lives.”

    –Eugene Nida, “Science of Translation,” Language 45/3 (1969), p. 494.

  23. Michael Marlowe
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    John wrote: “Like you, I would like to know more about what kind of field-testing proponents of field testing actually do. In the meantime, the results are well-known and the lineup is for the most part highly predictable: http://bible-translation.110mb.com/standardnt.pdf

    Right. I had to laugh at Wayne’s strictures on what is “not standard English” in that document. Spoken like a true prescriptivist! The trouble with our “descriptive linguists” is that they are really no different from the old grammarians at heart: “wholly attentive to the minutiae of language, industriously employed about words, and phrases; and incapable of perceiving the beauties, the delicacy, finesse, extent, &c of a sentiment.” (Chamber’s Cyclopaedia, quoted in “Grammar,” Oxford Companion to the English Language, p. 449)

  24. Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Theo, it seems to me that you are trying to make a clear two way distinction where in fact there is a broad spectrum, between “literary” and international English. Clearly there are forms of international English used for basic communication between second language speakers with very limited knowledge of English, and which are effective for conveying information and instructions. There are also highly “literary” forms of English created for artistic effect, which are sometimes very beautiful and effective for their purpose – which is not to convey information or instructions. I would not want to use either of these extremes for a general purpose Bible translation. But between these extremes there is a broad spectrum of functional English, used by mother tongue speakers and by competent second language speakers. For examples, start by reading this blog (including contributions by second language speakers like Iver) and many others. Good writers of this kind of English try to make this somewhat literary e.g. by using alliteration, but manage to do so in ways which do not compromise easy understanding by a broad range of readership. Surely it is legitimate and good to translate the Bible into these intermediate forms.

  25. Iver Larsen
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Hi, David,

    Thank you for a good and basic explanation. I didn’t know the difference between pidgin and creole. and I was confused when creoles like PNG and Hawaiian pidgins are called pidgins when they are creoles.

    My perspective is from the viewpoint of a person who uses English as a lingua franca and as a translator of the Bible into my vernacular.

    I do not agree with the two statements by John Hobbins, and I doubt that any active and experienced Bible translator would agree with them. There are some differences whether you translate into a lingua franca or a vernacular, but they are small challenges compared to the much greater challenges of translating from one language and culture to another.

    What is more crucial in my view and experience is the intended audience and their background knowledge both in terms of language and non-linguistic matters of culture, context etc. I expect David will talk more about that in part 2.

    Let me illustrate. If I were to translate David’s post into my vernacular, I would first need to know the audience. If it is a small group of linguists, I would probably borrow the terms “lingua franca”, pidgin and creole, because these are technical terms in English known by this very narrow audience. If I were to translate for a broader audience, I would need to translate rather than transliterate “lingua franca” and it becomes “fællessprog” (common language). But then I would have problems with the reference to the “language of the Franks”. I could skip it as irrelevant to the main point, or I could add a long footnote, or I could explain that “fællessprog” in English is called “lingua franca” and then proceed to translate David’s historical explanation. The terms “pidgin” and “creole” are special terms that are not known by the broader audience. I would have to use foreign words like “pidgin” and “kreol” and then explain the meaning as David did. It is OK to use some foreign technical terms in a context where they are explained by the author. If they are taken for granted by the author, the translator has the difficult task of deciding how to add an explanation to the translation. Or he could decide to lose the meaning by not giving any explanation.

    In my view, the main difference between a speaker who uses a particular language as a vernacular (which we call modersmål – mother tongue in Danish) and as a lingua franca is not so much a matter of poetry or literary features but a question of vocabulary.

    When I read English novels, I often come across vocabulary that is beyond my internalised stock. I have two choices. First, look it up in a dictionary. But often those words are so rare that they do not occur in a common dictionary, and I may need to research it on the Internet. (Google Translate is pretty hopeless for this task.) Second, make a guess from context and move on. I use both options, but the choice between them depends on how important the text is to me. A person teaching English literature would use option 1, but most other people would use option 2. Certain authors have pet words, so if the word occurs more than twice, I look it up. (I remember I recently looked up lugubrious. A lugubrious face in Danish is an undertakerface.)

    If we agree that a lingua franca is a “common language” we can more easily see that translation into “common language” has been discussed at length by Bible translators since Nida.

  26. JKG
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Peter,
    How you put into perspective the range of possibilities for translators is important. When John states that biblical literature resists translation, I hear that as hyerbole to move his argument for translation focused mainly on a single strand of possibility.

    Can’t we all agree that Dante was just wrong in his belief that his Commedia defied translation? And look at the range of translations in English of his Inferno alone.

    And since Theophrastus rightly brings up the rather solely literary way that Homer’s Greek has been translated, it’s worth pointing out the near opposite for most English translations of the Greek of Aristotle. Aristotle might insist that Homer was not clear enough or as Plato’s Socrates argued in the Republic that the people of Greece had been duped by the poet(s) and their sophistry. Clarity in good Greek only was what Aristotle taught. Such would resist translation into any barbarian mother tongue especially literary translation. And so it seems that Aristotle’s translators from Joe Sachs who uses common English to George A Kennedy who uses jargonized rhetorical/philosophical English have obliged Aristotle in trying to be as clear and as non poetic as possible.

    And we all are okay with Lattimore’s Homer sounding much different from Lattimore’s Luke as the writer / translator of Acts. One doesn’t resist translation by Lattimore than the other does.

    Finally, don’t we all agree that the Koran is translatable? That different English translations have been valuable for various uses and audiences? Why not biblical literature also?

  27. JKG
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    “Let me illustrate. If I were to translate David’s post into my vernacular…”

    Iver,
    That is just brilliant. Rather than our just theorizing you get us walking through your critical translation choices.

  28. Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Kurk, I agree with you that all literature, including Dante and the Qur’an, is translatable. But some is difficult to translate, especially where it is full of word plays – or of course where the intended meaning is obscure, as in the Qur’an and some parts of the Bible.

    In my previous comment I mentioned conveying information and instructions. If that is what a text is intended to convey, and the meaning is clear, then it is translatable. If on the other hand it is intended as a work of art for art’s sake, then it is probably untranslatable, or a translation will at best be some kind of imitation or pastiche.

    So I suppose the real issue for Bible translation is whether the Bible, in the original languages, is intended as a work of art, or as information about what God has done and instructions from God to his people. My own position is that it is much closer to the latter, although that is a rather inadequate summary, and large parts are more human responses to God. But I would want to say that biblical literature, although sometimes crafted artistically, is not art for art’s sake, and should not be translated as if it were.

    By the way, Kurk, you are an exception to my suggestion that bloggers use fairly international English. Even in comments your English is rather sophisticated and literary – and sometimes hard to understand!

  29. Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Peter,

    I agree that it depends on whether one’s interest in the Bible is understanding it as instruction, or in appreciating as literature. I would argue that “a lamp unto my feet” is more like instruction. That could be understood in the broad sense as moral formation, or in the narrow sense of how to get to heaven. But it still contrasts with reading the Bible as literature and not instruction.

    As our tech conference goes bilingual I find the notion that one would not use a functional equivalent when translating, to be laughable. On the other hand, if I were translating Rimbaud, that is something else again.

  30. Theophrastus
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    JK: And since Theophrastus rightly brings up the rather solely literary way that Homer’s Greek has been translated, it’s worth pointing out the near opposite for most English translations of the Greek of Aristotle.

    Thank you for the kind words. However, I disagree. To mention a work that I have studied in some detail, Nicomachean Ethics has been translated in radically different ways. Thus, for example, Irwin begins his translation with a lengthy discussion of principles and a serious effort to match Aristotle’s stylistic distinctions, explicitly declaring “This translation is intended for readers who want to understand the EN in detail, and not merely to acquire a general impression of it.” The experience of reading Irwin’s translation is so different from that of reading, say the Ross-Brown or the Crisp translation, that one feels that one is reading a completely different (and stylistically superior) work.

    In fact, there are serious disputes over the stylistic approach to use in translating far less poetic works than Aristotle. Thus, there is a disagreement between Richard Fitzpatrick and Thomas L. Heath over the translation of Euclid’s Elements.

    —————————

    Peter: Surely it is legitimate and good to translate the Bible into these intermediate forms.

    I disagree. This is merely a conclusory assertion and begs the question. As I discuss above, different approaches to translation result in more or less that is “lost in translation.” As a result, I cannot concede that translation in general is “good” — skillful translations are a “good” thing, but poor translations are neither “good” nor “legitimate.”

    (What is a skillful translation? That is the central question posed by the word “better” in the phrase “Better Bibles.”)

    As a practical matter, it is not clear that the broad variety of translations available has resulted in a public that understands the Bible well — indeed, all reports indicated that “Biblical literacy” in the US seems to be at an abysmally low level. It seems equally plausible to consider the hypothesis that the contemporary “anything goes” approaches to translation (consider, for example, The Message) has bred a general contempt for the idea that individuals have a responsibility to “get the details right” when attempting to understand the Bible.

  31. Posted June 28, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Suzanne, perhaps “instructions” was not the right word to describe much of the Bible. The singular “instruction” would be better, and for many parts “exhortation” would be more accurate. But my point was more to show the extremes of a spectrum, data at one end and abstract art at the other, and raise the question of where the Bible, or any individual part of it, should be on that spectrum.

    Theo, indeed “a conclusory assertion and begs the question”. But you seem to be making a counter-assertion by rejecting mine, and that counter-assertion seems to be that no translation is “good”. I agree that every form of translation loses something. A literalistic rendering into international English loses the art. A highly artistic rendering may lose the clarity of the information and instruction – and I would suggest that it also loses the original art and replaces it with a flattering but inauthentic imitation. Whether we are talking about Aristotle or the Bible, “readers who want to understand [it] in detail, and not merely to acquire a general impression of it” need to learn the original language and study the original text, so even the best translation, stylistically or in any other sense, is inadequate. So if we think of “good” and “bad” as the extremes on another spectrum, then “no one is good except God alone” and no translation is good, in the absolute sense. But one translation can be better than another in being further from the “bad” extreme. And it is in that sense that we can look for better Bibles.

  32. Theophrastus
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Ivers: If I were to translate for a broader audience, I would need to translate rather than transliterate “lingua franca” and it becomes “fællessprog” (common language).

    Ivers, thank you for your brilliant comment. However, in your discussion, I feel you miss an essential point. In English, we generally have two sets of vocabulary to draw upon — the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary and the Franco-Latinate vocabulary. Depending on how we mix the two vocabularies, we can achieve startling different stylistic effects.

    Of course, the term “lingua franca” goes beyond being Franco Latinate — it is pure Latin; not English at all. Although English tolerates loan terms (particularly from Latin) quite well, it creates a definite effect when one uses “lingua franca” instead of a pure English phrase such as “common language.” (For example, for a while there was a magazine discussing academic life called Lingua Franca — the secondary associations of the phrase defined the tone of the magazine more than literal meaning of the Latin phrase.)

    John Hobbins has a particular style in his writing — and use of the term “lingua franca” matches his style. Now it turns out I have studied Latin, but my own writing style is not as well served by the term “lingua franca.” That is why I immediately began my comment by using the term “International English.”

    I am not sure that the term “fællessprog” accurately carries the connotation in Danish that “lingua franca” carries in English.

  33. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    the term “lingua franca” goes beyond being Franco Latinate — it is pure Latin

    Really? It is also pure Italian, and that is the etymology given by the Online Etymology Dictionary. I suspect it is also pure Lingua Franca, in the original sense of the word, and was probably first used by speakers of that language even if not found in writing until the 1670s in Italian.

    Of course that would make it impossible to translate into Italian the special connotation in English given by using the recent loan word rather than the not so obviously borrowed “common language”.

  34. Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Lots of loose ends on this thread. That’s a good thing.

    “Why biblical literature resists translation.” The resistance this title produces among professional Bible translators is indicative of the state of the question. I agree with Iver. As things stand now, very few Bible translators feel comfortable with the kind of questions I raise. Among professional translators of literature, I encounter precisely the opposite reaction.

    To back up Iver’s statement, when Lawrence Venuti gave the Nida lecture at SBL a few years back, to a room full of professional translators, he was greeted with one “but . . . but …” after another.

    So long as professional Bible translators circle the wagons every time someone (a) takes seriously the basic choice of which Toury spoke, and (b) heresy of heresies, choose submission to the demands of the source over submission to the demands of a target language or target audience, the impasse will remain. Meanwhile, it will be non-professional Bible translators like Buber and Rosenzweig, or Anderegg in the case of the new Zuercher Bibel, or Robert Alter and David Curzon among literary translators of the Hebrew Bible into English, who will be doing the most interesting work in the field of Bible translation.

    From a classic article by van den Broeck (1981):

    According to “Toury [1976] the translator is always confronted with a ‘basic choice between two polar alternatives deriving from the two major constituents of the ‘value’ in literary translation [...]: he either subjects himself to the original text, with its textual relations and the norms expressed by it and contained in it, or to the linguistic and literary norms active in the TL and in the target literary polysystem, or a certain section of it.'”

    I remain convinced that the lingua franca / vernacular distinction, once the senses in which it applies to biblical content are better understood, will be leveraged in the interests of creating better Bible translations; I am also convinced that ongoing work on register in ancient Hebrew, such as that by Frank Polak, will someday impact Bible translation in a positive way. These are just examples of a brave new world of which most professional Bible translators so far know little or nothing.

    Michael Marlowe is right to point out that Nida went so far as to disqualify poetry as a suitable register in which to translate the Bible into – the language of modern man. Here’s the deal: Nida is not far wrong if one’s loyalty is to the principle of translating into the “common language.”

    To this day, translation efforts in the Nida tradition struggle and mostly fail in their attempts at functional equivalence in the realm of poetry translation A huge detail, since about a third of the Bible is in poetry.

    Iver, you nailed it when you said that Nida handled all of this long ago – and embraced the “common language” with religious fervor. Over against Nida stand translations of two major kinds, formal translations in the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV-ESV tradition, and literary translations such as those of Alter and Curzon. Functional equivalent translations like NLT and even NIV (a median translation if there ever was one) are caught in the crosscurrents of the ongoing debate, such that NLT1 becomes NLT2. I could go further in my analysis, but will not, so as not to wave red in front of bulls.

  35. Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Theophrastus: Nicomachean Ethics has been translated in radically different ways. Thus, for example, … [t]he experience of reading Irwin’s translation is so different from that of reading, say the Ross-Brown or the Crisp translation, that one feels that one is reading a completely different (and stylistically superior) work. In fact, there are serious disputes over the stylistic approach to use in translating far less poetic works than Aristotle.

    Well, there are serious disputes. For example, there is the dispute whether Aristotle should be translated at all – as per Conley’s railings against Freese’s, Roberts’s, and especially Cooper’s translations in Conley’s “The Greekless Reader and Aristotle’s Rhetoric” and then as per Enos’s response: “The Classical Tradition(s) of Rhetoric: A Demur to the Country Club Set,” in which Enos accuses Conley of being elitist and snobby and argues for translations that are accessible to students of rhetoric and to general readers as well). And then there’s Kennedy’s argument that most translators are Platonists who hardly understand what Aristotle is doing at all.

    Nonetheless, I hardly think that Irwin, for all his difference from Ross-Brown or Crisp, is after a literary translation of Aristotle. As you know, his preface to NE starts with his aims; he begins:

    This translation seeks to make Aristotle’s terse and concentrated Greek fairly intelligible to those who read him in English. Those who want to read through the Ethics to grasp the main outlines of Aristotle’s position need a translation that can be understood without detailed explanations, and I have tried to keep the needs of these readers in mind.

    Joe Sachs’s translation of NE has very very similar aims, if Sachs is much more creative in his dynamic equivalence between Aristotle’s Greek and his own English. For example, Irwin’s “energeia” is “activity” or “actualization” but Sachs has “being-at-work,” which he claims is central to Aristotle’s ethical teachings. The point is that both are pushing for clarity, for dynamic equivalence, for reader ease of understanding.

    Is this so different from Nida? Isn’t the starting point of the translator the presumed cogency of the original text? And following that, doesn’t the translator then insist on the need to make it as fairly intelligible as possible and understood without detailed explanations for English readers?

  36. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, thank you for rehabilitating Irwin, although I find it hard to reconcile what you quoted from his introduction with what Theophrastus quoted.

    I wonder if there is a confusion here over the terms “lingua franca” and “common language”. Iver suggested they mean the same thing. But it seems to me as if “common language” as used by Nida is something different from “lingua franca” as defined in this post. Surely the latter is more like what is often referred to, at least in the Bible translation community, as a “language of wider communication”. I have always understood Nida’s “common language” as more like a non-literary register of a vernacular used in everyday communication within a language community.

  37. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I see I have some catching up to do in terms of interacting with the comments. My time is short right now, so I’ll make this quick and dirty. Theophrastus, I really do appreciate your restatement of what you understood Hobbins to be saying. What you wrote makes a lot more sense to me, and one of my problems was with Hobbins’ use of the term “lingua franca.” You expressed it, rather, in terms of literary English vs. international English. However, Hobbins protests that his own statements resist translation.

    I think it was Iver Larsen who tried using the word “common language” to re-phrase what Hobbins meant with his use of the phrase “lingua franca.” Makes sense to me. Iver also said this, which agrees with what I was trying to say: “There are some differences whether you translate into a lingua franca or a vernacular, but they are small challenges compared to the much greater challenges of translating from one language and culture to another.”

    Michael Marlowe, I like your quote from Nida. It makes a lot of sense to me, and is relevant to this discussion.

    As to whether the Bible could be considered literature, I, personally, don’t have a problem with that idea. I have a broad view of literature, just as I have a broad view of translation.

    Back to Theophrastus, you challenge us to think that a “Better Bible” would be concerned with literary quality as well as information structure. I think that is a fair challenge.

    JKG, thank your for the quote from the quote from Irwin in the preface of his translation of Nicomachean Ethics. I think it is pertinent. I also appreciate your efforts to make sense of the different perspectives on translation and reconcile them.

  38. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I find it hard to reconcile what you quoted from his introduction with what Theophrastus quoted.

    Peter, To be fair to Theophrastus and Irwin, the quote Theophrastus gives comes a bit later, in Irwin’s Introduction, where the translator is trying to explain his various apparatuses to aid his readers in different ways (mainly as a translator of but also as a commentator on the text). In my quotation from the Preface, I stopped short of giving his fuller discussion, where he also discusses all of the notes and such he’s providing, as a commentator also, for readers who want more fully to “study” NE (or EN, to use the Latin translation abbreviation). What Irwin has produced is analogous to a study bible, I’d say. But in the Introduction, Irwin goes on to enumerate how he’s helping his general readers (in his roles as translator and as commentator):

    1. Aristotle’s writing is often compressed and allusive; to convey in English the impression made by Aristotle’s Greek, a translator would have to produce a version that would be hard to understand without a detailed commentary. If, however, translators set out to make Aristotle readily intelligible to the English reader, they will have to expand, interpret, and paraphrase to an extent that intrudes on the commentator’s role. I have [in the role of translator] used bracketed supplements in cases where it seemed reasonable to point out to the reader that no precise equivalent for the bracketed words appear in the Greek text. Readers should by no means suppose that everything not enclosed in brackets uncontroversially corresponds to something in Aristotle’s text. If they consult the Notes [which I've provided in my role as commentator, then] they should be able to discover cases where my rendering [as translator] is free or controversial.

    David,
    Theophrastus, to give him credit, is the one who’s brought in the analogies between translations of the Bible and translations of (other) literary works. It’s an important thing to do, I think, not to isolate Bible translation from other sorts of translation, or linguistics from translation theory, or Homer from Aristotle, or theology from pragmatics, or poetry from prose, and so on and so forth.

    What if we asked a Japanese linguist and English translation expert to render Sir Philip Sidney’s “In Defense of Posey” and the Sidney Psalms of poetry into Japanese? Would Sidney sound the same in the translation of both? The point is to pay attention to the differences but not to pay the differences too much mind, I believe. Why didn’t Sidney use poetry in his defense of poetry? Instead he uses rhetorical prose. And aren’t the Psalms of the Sidneys also as rhetorical, if poetry? And won’t the translator and the Japanese readers be able to get all of that, some of it?

  39. Mike Sangrey
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Regarding Nida’s rejection of poetry…

    Let’s keep the quote in context. You must also deal with the lowered sense of urgency. To argue for poetry contrary to Nida, one must also argue for lowered urgency. Or, one must offer a way to successfully accomplish both urgency and poetry. And there is no doubt in my mind that Nida would like that.

    Also, regarding field testing…

    Field testing, by definition tests the translation against the intended audience. It is a quality control feed back loop built into the translation process. To argue against field testing is to argue for lowered translation success with the specific audience one is translating for. This would apply to any translation, literary or otherwise.

  40. Mike Sangrey
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    John,

    David has presented very clear definitions of vernacular and lingua franca (as well as definitions of the related words pidgin and creole). Perhaps I missed it, but your uses of these two words appear to me to bounce around or conflate quite unrelated concepts.

    Can you give us your definitions of these two words? Can you make it as clear as David’s?

  41. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    David,

    I see by your last comment that you are becoming proficient in blog commenting vernacular. Congratulations!

    Here are *some* of the options that have been pursued over the centuries in Bible translation; I am not trying to be exhaustive.

    (1) Faced with translating a vernacular into a lingua franca, the choice was made to submit to the demands of the source text rather than to the demands of the target language (the Septuagint (for the most part); to an astonishing degree: Aquila; Jerome’s Vulgate). Jerome frames this as allowing the sacred expression in what is a profane medium. It’s as if Jerome wants to transfer over, by mimesis, a complete sacred map. The choice not to use literary Latin is intentional on Jerome’s part. Whatever the intentions, the result was similar before that in the case of the Septuagint (see Barr’s monograph on the Typology of Literalism in Ancient Bible Translations); Aquila is an extreme case.

    (2) Faced with translating a vernacular into a vernacular, Luther took pains to translate metaphor for metaphor. He wanted to translate in language everyone could understand, but he was not willing to dumb down the language of the source text in order to obtain that result. He depended on traditional Jewish exegesis (as did the Reformers in general, all the way through KJV; it was only later, as is still the case today, that Christians gave up reading the Old Testament through the lens of the Miqraot Gedolot), a natural thing to do in a vernacular-to-vernacular transfer with an understanding of history of the long duration. Clarification: Luther’s language was part and parcel of a nation-building project; it was a vernacular vis-a-vis Latin and a lingua franca vis-a-vis concurrent German dialects.

    David Ker, Peter Kirk, and I went over some of this ground before:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2007/12/joseph-addisons.html?cid=93387718#comment-93387718

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2007/12/joseph-addisons.html?cid=93387718#comment-93387718

    (3) Faced with translating the Bible into language thought suitable to the age, Nida argued for translation into the “common language,” i.e., as Peter well states, “a non-literary register of a vernacular used in everyday communication within a language community.”

    NASB is the last prominent example of (1). KJV is the last great example of (2). RSV made some progress in unfreezing KJV through revision; ESV froze things all over again; at least it returned to the hebraica veritas. GNB and CEV are the most prominent examples of (3). NLT1 was a courageous example of the same technique. NLT2 and NIV are popular compromise translations. They are full of Biblish on every page, but they mix that up with familiar (what I refer to as lingua franca) expressions that overwhelm the Biblish in the sense that most people who read NLT2 and NIV are convinced that the Bible and their middle-class American lives are on the same page.

    I promised myself from the start of this conversation that I would at least touch on translation at the intersection of cultural anthropology and critical theory. I mean no harm by it. For a faster, less threatening entryway into the same subject matter, one might reflect on one well-known phrase: the medium is the message. Yes: media in the sense of things like lingua franca and vernacular.

  42. Michael Marlowe
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    “To argue for poetry contrary to Nida, one must also argue for lowered urgency.”

    I disagree with that statement, Mike, because I don’t believe that Nida’s premise (poetic form = “low urgency” for “most Western” people) is true either. To me that’s counter-intuitive. I assume that someone who takes Nida’s approach would want to “field test” this premise.

  43. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Mike,

    Here are the definitions I began with:

    A lingua franca is an inter-language used as a medium of communication by people whose mother tongues are different. … A vernacular is the mother tongue of defined population groups; a mother tongue is often associated with a father land. A lingua franca is the linguistic coin of an empire, a commercial slash cultural network. A vernacular tends to be the linguistic coin of an (incurvatus in se) ethnos.

    Like Pollock on whom I am depending, I conflate as you might say cosmopolitanism and lingua franca; that is, I think of the latter as a vehicle of the former. I also have explained more than once, with examples, that a given language can be a lingua franca vis-a-vis one set of languages and a vernacular over against one or more lingua francas.

    Like Sanders on whom I am depending, I think of classical/biblical Hebrew as a vernacular over against one if not two lingua francas of the time: the standard Babylonian of neo-Assyrian vintage and the developing lingua franca Aramaic of the same time frame, which evolved into the Reichsaramaisch of the Persian Empire.

    Playing off of the essay by Tim Parks (which has been getting an awful lot of play, not just by me), I take as another starting point the fact that English is the lingua franca of our day; it is also possible to speak of LFE as opposed to other varieties of English.

    From there it’s get messy, and yes, I contributed to the mess as much as others on these threads. I admit that my thinking of NLT and NIV English as Americanizing LFE (with plenty of Biblish thrown in) is an intuitive judgment only. I note however that no one has directly countered that suggestion. Nor has there been a serious rebuttal of the notion that GNB and CEV are written in a kind of lowest common denominator English. But it would be wrong to suggest that LFE and LCD -lects are one and the same. I did not mean to say that they were and I’m sorry if I came across that way.

    Unlike Iver and David Frank, I find the following formulation defective:

    “There are some differences whether you translate into a lingua franca or a vernacular, but they are small challenges compared to the much greater challenges of translating from one language and culture to another.”

    Translating from a vernacular into a lingua franca, on the contrary, is a particularly challenging *example* of the issues that arise when one translates from “one … culture to another.”

    On these threads, Kurk, as usual (aside from the question of g****r), seems the most gifted at seeing all sides of the question. Kurk can be clear as mud sometimes, but he was clear as crystal in his first contribution to this discussion:

    “These are the two points of issue, two points of disagreement, right from the title. It’s not really that John thinks that the Bible resists translation. Rather it’s that he believes the bible to be literature and that that really does resist certain notions of translation (namely the BBB ideal and what John calls pomo). Translation, real translation, as John would have it consists of “translations committed above all to reproducing the wording and register of the original, translating metaphors with metaphors, and sounding strange wherever the thought and language of the source text is strange relative to our cultural matrix.” I’m thinking that there are already two clear disagreements to note and that our seeing these differences clearly shouldn’t hurt anybody.”

    Well, I don’t know about the “not hurting” part. Of course it hurts. But I remain in dialogue, not only because I am a stubborn ox, but because I recognize that everyone on these threads is just as committed to seeing better Bibles in the future as I am, however much we disagree about what Bible translations we prefer now, and what the Bible translation of our dreams would look like.

    Mike, if you don’t like the way I use the terms lingua franca and vernacular, that’s fine with me. Note that Kurk chose to set the distinction aside in his first contribution to this discussion. Yet he captures a great deal of what I am trying to say just the same.

    As David Ker thinks we should do with the parts of the Bible that bother us, skip’em (not that I think David Ker follows his own advice; he just likes to wake up the neighborhood).

  44. Posted June 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    John Hobbins, you wrote, “Lots of loose ends on this thread. That’s a good thing.” Well, I am too swamped with too many other things to spend a lot of time dialoguing this way, so you all may have to try to tie up these loose ends without me. What I need to do is finish and post my “part two.”

    You accuse professional Bible translators of being too inbred and not aware enough of what goes on in the rest of the world of translation. I don’t think that is true at all of the United Bible Societies. Keep in mind that the Nida Institute invited Lawrence Venuti to give his SBL lecture. The UBS and the Nida Institute are quite motivated to learn from the field of Translation Studies, and through my association with them (though not as one of their personnel), I have learned from and personally interacted with prominent TS figures like Dirk Delabastita, Yves Gambier, Christina Schaeffner, John Milton, Edwin Gentzler, Andrew Chesterman, José Lambert, Stefano Arduini, Jeremy Munday. I admit I have yet to meet Gideon Toury or Lawrence Venuti. But your namedropping doesn’t impress me.

    As Wayne Leman had said, when you mention Toury and Pym, we would like to know more than just the name, but exactly what they said that you think argues in favor of your translation preferences and against ours. You have now cooperated by providing a quote from Toury, but it doesn’t really support your preferences. It just presents the options in translation, which are nothing new, going back to Schleiermacher and reintroduced by Venuti. Those options are quite familiar to Bible translators. What we can’t see is support for the idea that Bible translations, or literary translations, MUST make literary faithfulness to the original the highest goal in translation as opposed to, for example, information content or domestication. There are always choices to be made in translation, as we are all well aware.

    I think I would agree with you that biblical literature resists translation, IF your standards of translation require that EVERYTHING about the source text must be passed along to the translated text and the receptor audience, including denotations, connotations, idioms, literary features, and so forth. But that is a ridiculously an unreasonable expectation of a translation. That would be impossible. Translation requires choices, and you seem to be unwilling to allow choices, so you throw up your hands and say translation is impossible. As Kurk pointed out, your stated position seems to be one of hyperbole. But Bible translation is possible, despite the choices that have to be made, and has allowed the spread of Christianity and is part of the story of our religion. A perfect translation is impossible, but a very good translation is possible, and highly desirable.

  45. Posted June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to follow up my own comment with one more. I had said that I didn’t understand why John Hobbins kept dropping names like Toury and Pym, because I don’t think those esteemed Translation Studies scholars are saying anything that disagrees with our understanding of translation. However, if your point, John, is that you think we just don’t understand enough about the complexity of the subject matter we are dealing with, I don’t think that is true. I am in awe of different language structures, of different ways of seeing the world in different cultures, of different translations, and of good translation. I don’t think it is simple at all. I am a lifelong learner, and I haven’t stopped learning yet. I have more to learn from Translation Studies scholars, and I am always happy to get references. Sure, perfect translation is impossible. The more we understand what we are dealing with in translation, the better. We will never have perfect knowledge and we will never have a perfect translation. If there were a perfect translation, it would have all the qualities that you say are necessary, or at least desirable, and all the qualities that we emphasize. But despite the fact that there is no perfect translation because of human inadequacy, we can still translate, we can still benefit from translations, and God can still speak to us through the translated Word.

  46. Dru Brooke-Taylor
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    At last in the penultimate post, John has hinted at something which I aired in the previous discussion. The AV/KJV was translated at a time when English only existed as a vernacular. 300 years previously England was diglot, verging on triglot. By 1600, it was, as it is today, largely monoglot. For us, English as a lingua franca is something that is spoken either by foreigners or elsewhere.

    As far as I am concerned, I speak English as my vernacular. I have no other. I speak it in a particular dialect form. That form is not identical to how it was spoken in 1600. Nor is it identical to that spoken by other vernacular English speakers who post on this site.

    Although I can see the need for versions like BBE, I personally want a version of the Bible which conveys as much as possible of the source text with all its subtleties and nuances into my language. If there has to be a choice, it is the source text one owes the duties to, not the target one. If that means translators are faced with deciding between either a quality translation or one that has to be simplified to suit people who don’t speak my language as well as I do, I will invariably opt against dumbing the translation down.

    I don’t want a Janet and John Bible. That is like saying that nobody should be allowed to drink wine because some people become alcoholics.

    The translators of the KJV translated the OT from a vernacular into a vernacular. We have been discussing the problems of translating from a vernacular into a lingua franca. With the Apocrypha and the New Testament, the C17 translators were doing the opposite, translating from a lingua franca into a vernacular. Not only that, but the four most important books record teaching that almost certainly had originally been delivered in another language altogether.

    So I am posing the question yet again. Might it be that some of the resistance of the KJV only brigade is founded not in the arguments they use to support their position, but because of an unarticulated feeling that the ‘old, old story’ version of passages like the Sermon on the Mount is to them vernacular in a way that more modern translations are not? Either they have not had the chance so to become, or they are translated into a sort of English that means they will never make it.

    To conclude, as a user not a professional translator, I would say that one should go for modern translations that have the calibre of English to be capable over time of becoming vernacular in that sense, rather than the ones that are not up to it.

  47. Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    John, you wrote

    NLT2 and NIV … are full of Biblish on every page, but they mix that up with familiar (what I refer to as lingua franca) expressions that overwhelm the Biblish in the sense that most people who read NLT2 and NIV are convinced that the Bible and their middle-class American lives are on the same page.

    and also

    I admit that my thinking of NLT and NIV English as Americanizing LFE (with plenty of Biblish thrown in) is an intuitive judgment only. I note however that no one has directly countered that suggestion.

    I am not going to try to rebut this except to point out that the Americanising is minor enough that it can be successfully removed by the very small changes in Anglicised editions. But I have issues with your use here of the term “lingua franca” and the derived acronym “LFE”.

    While of course English is a lingua franca in the world as a whole, to most who live “middle-class American lives” (or British ones for that matter) it is simply a vernacular, used within communities of mother tongue speakers with only a few immigrant second language speakers. The picture may be rather different in cosmopolitan cities, in USA and UK, but more Bible readers live in suburbia or small towns. So I think what you really mean here is not so much “lingua franca” as “common language”, as I defined it in the words you quoted.

    You mention a distinction between this “NLT and NIV English” and the language of GNB and CEV. The latter is of course somewhat simplified, and purged of Biblish. It could be a different variant of “common language”. But I note also that GNB at least was originally deliberately targeted at second language speakers. So perhaps these are the real translations into lingua franca English.

    Let me finish with a story from my experience. I was at an international Christian conference in a small US town. While there were several foreign guests, mostly not mother tongue English speakers, the conference and associated fellowship was all in “common language” or vernacular English, with some Biblish and other Christian jargon thrown in. Then it came as quite a shock to get to the major international airport for the flight home. Here the announcements were given in a great variety of English dialects and accents. Indeed some were barely comprehensible – I’m sure they require higher standards of English in airport announcers in countries which are not supposed to be English speaking! Here English was clearly being used not as a vernacular but as a lingua franca in the true sense, a language of wider communication – or perhaps of wider miscommunication, but I hope not too many people missed their flights!

  48. Mike Sangrey
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Mike, if you don’t like the way I use the terms lingua franca and vernacular, that’s fine with me.

    “Liking” isn’t even on my radar. I’m trying to use facts and rationale to get to clarity. It had seemed to me that you were using the two terms in quite a different way than David. I see you are, though I’m still having trouble with your definitions. It’s like you’re using the term lingua franca to refer to an International English–what is probably an actual extant language. Your reasoning makes more sense to me if I start there, though the logic breaks down in other ways then. In any case, I’m having trouble seeing your point from a definition where lingua franca is a use of a language.

    Also, if I have any quibble, it’s with your use of lowest common denominator. That assumes a cline not in evidence as it were. One could easily talk about lowest common denominator of Hobbinspeak. And I mean that in the sense of a constrained set of language constituents.

    I’ve got to run.

  49. Theophrastus
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Some brief notes:

    (1) Re “Lingua franca”: as it happens, this is a phrase that makes sense in Latin (“Frankish tongue”). However, given that the term arose long after Latin ceased to be commonly used, Peter is certainly correct that I should have considered it as Italian rather Latin.

    (2) Re Irwin: I have an embarrassing confession to make. Life is short, and sometimes I have taken shortcuts. My library does not purely contain Oxford Classical Texts volumes; I have also resorted to Loeb library editions (even if that marks me as a lowbrow). Worse, when I get stuck, I have sometimes weakened and allowed my eye to wander over to the right-hand pages. For someone who is trying to interact with the Greek but who encounters difficulties, Irwin’s translation presents a far more formal translation that carries over Aristotle’s style and contains ample notes. It is the NASB of Nicomachean Ethics.

    (As embarrassing as it is to admit owning a Loeb Library volume, I must say that I am not the only one: some of my colleagues have actually have shamelessly put up on their bookshelves, and local meretricious book-mongers hustle these volumes crying in their sing-song fashion: “Hot! Every word of Aristotle exposed!” These diglot-peddlers lack shame — they often fail to take prudent measures such as hiding the books behind the counter and wrapping them securely in plain paper that hides their tawdry contents. I have more than once encountered an unseemly brood of degenerate classicists gawking over these volumes at a public bookstalls, defiantly ogling their brazen pages even when children and women were present.)

  50. Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Theo. Those of us who have to use Italian as a lingua franca to communicate with our in-laws (John, I imagine, and competently, and myself, incompetently) will be glad that the language of the name has been clarified. I love the last part of your last comment!

  51. Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    David,

    Rest assured, I’m not trying to impress you. If I mention Toury and Pym, it’s because I am convinced that some of the things they have said need to have a greater impact on Bible translation than they have had so far.

    Horror of horrors, I even think that Bible translators will benefit from understanding how the lingua franca / vernacular distinction has impacted the history of Bible translation and from an awareness of the specific challenges posed by translating from a vernacular like ancient Hebrew into a great lingua franca like English.

    I am not claiming that Bible translators in general or UBS translators in particular are saying that those with views like those of Venuti do not interest them, only that they struggle with those views. And what’s wrong with that? Struggle is a good thing, especially in a community that has long been dominated by the great genius of Nida. After all, someone like Venuti is declaredly anti-Nida.

    I am not claiming that translations MUST be this or that. The reason I guest-posted on BBB a few days ago is that I objected to something Wayne said that came across (to me) as implying that translations, if informed by credible theory, MUST be of the kind BBB tends to promote.

    He was hoping that I would then give examples of how Toury and Pym suggest that we should translate the Bible, but I don’t know of any such examples, and even if I did, I doubt that’s the best way to port into their theories.

    I am loathe to go on to Pym and Toury because I don’t think people on these threads have given Pollock and Sanders even a slim chance of impacting their understanding of the work of translation.

    Still, for starters, I would bring this to the table, from Pym:

    A text that is clear and readily applicable avoids many communicative risks and can thus find rewards in the short term. . . . On the other hand, a text that is dialectically abstruse and resolutely non-superficial runs a severe risk of not being understood in the short term. . . . [It] finishes very much in media res . . . [but] has the potential to produce rewards over vast stretches of space and time, wherever and whenever loyalty to [learning as a vocation] survives. Pp. 20-21 here:

    http://usuaris.tinet.cat/apym/on-line/translation/2007_toury_laws.pdf

    Most of the time Pym is not interested in tipping his hand in this direction or that but in the above quote he does.

    Of course Pym is talking about reading Toury [sorry; I shouldn't have given that away; it's not like me to do other people's homework for them], but my takeaway – and I blogged on this three years ago, with comments at the time from Kurk, Wayne, David K, and biblical bloggers Mike Aubrey and Karyn Traphagen is as follows.

    The Bible is a resolutely non-superficial text. [I speak as a student of the Tanakh; I'm not going to adjust my generalizations for the moment to encompass the NT.] It is often terse and full of gaps. It is often multi-stranded. The voices of sources and redactors are distinguishable in a variety of cases. Much of the language is literary not merely in the broad sense but in the strict sense. A faithful translation of it will be taxing on a contemporary reader in ways it was not for its original readers. Even the original readers had their hands full in a way a translation that comes in at 6th grade or even a 9th grade reading level will never be for readers today.

  52. Posted June 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Mike,

    If I may be permitted to parse Sangreyspeak, I would guess that what you want to say is that you agree with David Frank that:

    “the term ‘lingua franca’ does not describe what a language is like, internally, but rather the use to which it is put.”

    As far as I am concerned, this is a classic case of yes and no.

    The answer is yes, until you get down and dirty and start comparing what ancient Greek looked like when it is attested in a variety of regional dialects, and what Greek looked like in the form we refer to as koine. There are plenty of differences between the former and the latter that historical linguists are inclined to attribute to the re-purposing involved when Greek became a lingua franca.

    The same thing is true, mutatis mutandis, in the case of – I cite examples I am familiar with first-hand – Siciliano or Napolitano or Friulano vs. standard Italian, and Plattdeutsch or Swiss German vs. Hochdeutsch. English, too, bears the marks or the scars if you will of having become a lingua franca. Theo touched on the matter briefly on a previous thread.

    That said, perhaps you are still in need of exemplification. I keep on hoping that people will come up with their own examples – I’m glad to see some of my historical examples spoke to Dru.

    Anyway, here is an example from my experience.

    I served as a pastor for 5 years in Sicily, for proud little Italian Waldensian and Methodist congregations. Among many other things, I made friends with Sicilian Pentecostals, not necessarily an easy group to get along with. One Sunday, a visiting Pentecostal, in the parish in which my wife Paola served, pulled her right out of pulpit, literally.

    After all, that she was preaching was in flagrant violation of who knows how many NT passages on his understanding – and I am not criticizing; his view of the matter is at least as justifiable from the point of view of Scripture as is mine.

    It was one of those great moments, a true test of hearts and minds. Only after what seemed like forever (perhaps all of 60 seconds), the male elders of my wife’s church set her back up in the pulpit and dealt with the Pentecostal, ahem, gently but firmly. But I digress.

    What I enjoyed about worshipping with Pentecostals was not only the speaking in tongues part, but all the other linguistic dimensions of the event and the specific culture. It pays to remember that there is a high social cost to being a Pentecostal in Italy. It is considered subversive to be a Pentecostal; in many ways it is. For example, in Sicily today it is the same as it was in 16th century Switzerland. The only people who do not swear are Anabaptists. Catholics swear all the time, so do Protestants, in general. In 16th century Switzerland, people might be convicted of being Anabaptists on the basis of the fact that they did not swear. Show me a Sicilian who does not swear: nine times out of ten, she will be either a Pentecostal or a JW.

    In life, Sicilian Pentecostals know three languages, in worship, they stick to two: (1) Sicilian, their vernacular; they know it very well. Sicilian is a dialect of Italian so different from standard Italian that most Italians cannot understand it. (2) Standard Italian; since many are from unschooled backgrounds, their Italian can be quite shaky. I would say that most of them spoke to me in broken Italian. This is not a language of worship. (3) Diodati (1611 Biblish). Diodati is the Italian KJV. Sicilian Pentecostals know the language of the Diodati very well. Not only can they preach from it, they also pray in it, out loud in ad lib fashion.

    The only part of the service I could understand was when scripture was cited and when they prayed out loud – in Diodati Italian, which is not that hard if someone spends quality time with it and knows standard Italian. The preaching was in Sicilian, and virtually impossible for me to follow. The speaking in tongues was beyond me (I don’t have the requisite gift); interpretation, despite Paul, was not the norm; when it was given, I don’t believe it was given in Diodati Italian (purtroppo).

    What’s my point? Well, I’ve already said it in more than one way. I’ll repeat it one way: the medium is the message. I could unpack this at length, in terms of power and class relations and similar lines of analysis that Bible translators do not normally think about, but this comment is already long.

  53. Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Michael —

    I’ve read your site quite often. What exactly would you propose to do to capture literary forms? Typically with a literary translation the procedure is something along the lines of:

    a) Create a formal translation
    b) Have an author from that genre write a book using the formal translation as a base

    Take for example the way Dorothy Sayers translated Dante. But to make to capture the literary aspects of Dante, as well as she did (and Sayers while extremely talented was no Dante) she had to feel free to be very loose with the words of the text. She translated meaning, created her own rhyme and footnoted. And looseness with the text is something you have regularly opposed.

    So I’m not sure what it is you are actually aiming for in terms of preserving literary aspects. Andy Gaus’ translation comes to mind but you don’t even mention it.

  54. Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Peter wrote about Englishes spoken over an airport P.A. system:

    Here English was clearly being used not as a vernacular but as a lingua franca in the true sense, a language of wider communication – or perhaps of wider miscommunication, but I hope not too many people missed their flights!

    A number of years ago a man was waiting for his flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, Calif. He thought he heard his flight announced when he heard the word “Aukland.” So he boarded that flight. He soon realized the flight was taking longer than it usually did to get to Oakland. So he showed his ticket to a flight attendant who informed him he was on a flight to New Zealand. He was allowed to complete the flight and return to the U.S.

    For want of a nail, a shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, a horse was lost…

    For want of a slight difference in vowel quality an intended flight was lost.

    I am missing these conversations. I so seldom can connect to a wi-fi signal at a coffee shop. We’ve been catching some fish. I’ve got sore muscles.

  55. Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Wayne. I heard your story before. In fact the flight attendants may have had that in mind when they made a special announcement that our flight from USA was to Manchester, England, presumably in case anyone wanted to travel only as far as New Hampshire – although of course here there is no spelling difference.

  56. Theophrastus
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Remarkably, the story Wayne relates is apparently not just an urban legend — it was reported in the US media in 1985. It turns out that the first leg of his flight was on Air New Zealand, which is why he did not realize his error until he was well on his way to Auckland. Here is a sample of the news coverage.

    Here is a true story that happened to me: my French is ordinarily good enough for conversation, but I have a definite American accent. I ran into problem when changing money at a bank in Lille. I was changing twenty $50 traveler’s checks, but the clerk was miscalculating as if they were twenty $100 traveler’s checks. The clerk claimed he could not understand my French, and became angry, think I was trying to commit some sort of scam. When he finally realized that I was being honest (and keeping him from being personally liable for the mistake) he suddenly became capable of fully comprehending my French, despite my accent, and we had a relatively complex conversation.

    I’ve also had an experience in Japan where I had a medium length conversation with a person over the phone in Japanese, but when I talked to him face-to-face in Japanese, he turned away and exclaimed “No English – No English!” Apparently, my voice was Japanese enough for him, but not my face.

  57. Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    You guys are very worldly. If ever I go on the tv reality show, The Amazing Race, I want Peter or Theophrastus on my team. Some other amusements:

    – My Texan brother who’s a permanent resident of the UK has to order his food with a British accent from the MacDonald’s fast-food restaurant in London or they never get his order right. It’s been the case both that his southern American English accent is misunderstood and that the one taking his order has just pretended not to understand the American.

    – Some of my USA friends with free time and financial means will just buy the cheapest tickets and travel as much as they can to anywhere the discount ticket service sends them. Once they thought they were going the weekend to Ontario, Canada but when they got to the airport ticket counter for the trip found themselves on their way to California. (True story).

    – One of my friends who’s a native of the Isle of Man tells me he “drove through Dallas while away on holiday.” At first I was miffed he hadn’t rung me up when he was here in Texas, but then he sent me photos of this tiny town in Moray, Scotland where he’d been. And one of my relatives from California pronounces it Dulles. When he told he was flying there, I thought he was headed to Virginia. Go figure.

    – Most Vietnamese people I speak with on the phone think I’m from Saigon. And when they see me, and really don’t know me, they conclude I must be Amerasian. (I grew up in Vietnam, with Texas missionary parents.)

  58. Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, I would be honoured to go on The Amazing Race with you. But as I have never seen the show (there has never been a British version) I would be at something of a disadvantage.

    When I arrived in the southern USA (Louisiana) last year I just had to slow down for my food order to be understood. We Brits speak so much faster than y’all southerners.

    When several years ago a friend of mine, a second language speaker of English, told me has was going to Washington and his flight was to Dulles, I thought he was saying that he had a layover in Dallas, and offered to put him in contact with friends there. That’s a true story, but I don’t think I knew the name of the Washington airport at the time – but in case you haven’t guessed it was the one where I mentioned that such international English was spoken. But the flight to Manchester was from Newark, and the crew on it had such nasal accents that I wondered if they were all suffering from severe colds.

  59. Theophrastus
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    I know many counterexamples to the claim that Southerners speak slower than Northerners. For example, South Carolina-born John Edwards speaks at a more rapid clip than Illinois-born Hilary Clinton.

    Consider also the Ulysses Everett McGill character in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou (to continue the Homeric theme).

  60. Mike Sangrey
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    A past co-worker was Chinese. I was asking her some questions about the differences in tone that made differences in meaning. So, she illustrated. I couldn’t tell the difference. I believed then, and still do, that this was a case where the mind is tuned (quite literally, in this case) to one’s vernacular. In fact, the case was illustrated in two different ways simultaneously.

  61. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Mike, the question of Chinese tones is difficult even for Chinese speakers who attempt to listen to different dialects. I have witnessed native speakers of the standard Beijing-Mandarin dialect 現代標準漢語 (commonly called 國語-Guoyu or 普通話-Putonghua) trying to listen to other speech of other dialects including the Fujian dialect (福建話 — sometimes called Hokkien), the Shanghai dialect (上海話), and the Guangzhou dialect (廣東話 — sometimes called Cantonese) — and then claim that they are unable to “hear” the “extra” tones.

    Isn’t something similar true in American English, though? I thought most native speakers were not capable of distinguishing allophones.

    Wsing the example from the Wikipedia page and IPA phonetics, America English speakers will often claim they cannot hear the difference between the /p/ allophones:

    “pin” (pʰ) vs. “spin” (p).

    Even though one is clearly aspirated and the other is not, I do not believe that most American English speakers are aware that they are different sounds. Similarly, few Americans English speakers can “hear” the difference between all six /t/ sounds (t̚, tʰ, ʔ, ɾ, t, ɺ̢) — although they can clearly distinguish them in speech and listening: e.g., native speakers can instantly distinguish the different “t” sounds that separate

    “night rate” [ˈnʌɪt̚.ɹʷeɪt̚] vs.
    “nitrate” [ˈnaɪ.tʰɹ̥eɪt̚].

  62. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    I just was reading some of the papers that appeared last week at the Association for Computational Linguistics meeting.

    One paper that seems relevant to this discussion is by Moshe Koppel and Noam Ordan: “Translationese and its Dialects”. This paper is concerned with modern translations of contemporary texts (such as newspaper articles) but I believe it may have something to say on the question of Bible translation.

    The authors considered text fragments translated from eight different source languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, Finnish, Modern Greek, Modern Hebrew, Korean) and then translated by humans into English. They call this English translationese, and they contrast it with material originally written in English (which I call native English).

    The incredible result of the authors was that translationese had certain characteristics regardless of the source language it was translated from.

    The authors tested this by using a standard technique (called “Bayesian learning”) to train a computer program (“classifier”) to distinguish, for example, translated Greek from native English.) They then used this program on materials translated from other languages without retraining it. In other words, a classifier trained to distinguish

    Greek->English vs. Native English

    worked almost as well at distinguishing

    Hebrew->English vs. Native English

    and

    Korean->English vs. Native English

    In other words, materials translated into English are not only different from native English, regardless of source language, the translated materials have common features that distinguish them from native English.

    The authors found that the differences between translated text fragments and native English text fragments that the computer program (“classifier”) could distinguish them with an accuracy of 96.7%.

    To me this suggests that there are fundamental qualities of translated material that distinguish it from material originally composed in a language. Thus, even for material far more pedestrian than the Bible, translations read differently than native English — and that happens regardless of source language. This suggests to me that the goal of preparing a translation of the Bible that reads as if it were “native English” may not be achievable.

  63. Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Theo —

    Terrific point. But… I was talking to my wife about this. In Russia the way translation is done is the way I mentioned in my post above.

    Typically with a literary translation the procedure is something along the lines of:

    a) Create a formal translation
    b) Have an author from that genre write a book using the formal translation as a base

    That sort of translational technique wasn’t tested. Typical translation culture is to try and capture meaning. For example http://www.worldpress.org/ is a bunch of good quality translation of foreign articles. But the focus is on trying to capture what foreigners think.
    Generally in the case of translated articles there is a high level of indifferences to capturing English style.

    I’m suspect more and more that the above technique, which is essentially what was done by paraphrase bibles is what is needed to render the bible into natural English. Of course that doesn’t begin to address the problem of culture. A modern day American just wouldn’t think about things the same way, they would never say the things the biblical authors say. But assuming one doesn’t care about capturing nuance that’s not a problem.

    I would be curious to run an automated evaluator on genre specific writing like: math proofs or pseudo code description of an algorithm. I suspect they would also fail.

  64. Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    While we are on the subject of computational detection of language style, see this Huffington Post article: Bible’s Different Authors Revealed By New Language Software (thanks to Joel for the link). I guess that on these tests an ideal Bible translation would show the same authorship differences as the original text. But that would be very hard to do!

  65. Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    In other words, not just biblical literature, but all texts, resist translation.

    The subject matter of the article Theo cites is sometimes referred to as that of “translation universals.” An insightful author in this regard is Miriam Schlesinger. I referenced her in earlier discussions (note the comments):

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/02/defining-faithf.html

    Typical examples of translation universals Schlesinger and others dwell on: normalization, simplification, and explicitation.

    A longer list, from Antoine Berman (La traduzione e la lettera o L’albergo nella lontananza [Quodlibet: Macerato, 2003], follows. The thrust of a splendid volume by Susanna Basso (Sul tradurre: esperienze e divagazioni militanti [Milano: Mondadori, 2010]), from which I take the list, is that a translator of literature (that is what Basso does for a living) must do her best to avoid translationese of the following kinds (on purpose I will translate simultaneously, such that some of my translation equivalents themselves fall prey to “translation universals”):

    1) la razionalizzazione = rationalization
    2) la chiarificzaione = clarification
    3) l’allungamento = dilatation
    4) la nobilitazione o la volgarizzazione = gussying up or casualization
    5) l’impoverimento qualitativo = qualitative impoverishment
    6) i’impoverimento quantitativo = quantitative impoverishment
    7) l’omogeneizzasione = homogeneization
    8) la distruzione dei ritmi = destruction of rhythms
    9) la distruzione dei reticoli significanti sooggiacenti = destruction of underlying signifying networks
    10) la distruzione dei sistematismi testuali = destruction of systemics encoded in the text
    11) la distruzione (o esoticizzazione) dei reticoli linguistici o vernacolari = destruction of linguistic networks or vernacular speech networks
    12) la cancellazione delle sovrapposizioni delle lingue = cancellation of the superimposition of two or more languages

    Honesty is a lonely word, but I think it would be obvious that these translation universal traps intersect in important ways with the lingua franca / vernacular distinction.

    Without wishing to bore anyone with secondary literature, here is the link to a paper by Miriam Schlesinger available online:

    http://www.biu.ac.il/hu/tr/stud-pub/tr-pub/bloch-split.htm

  66. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Peter: that paper also appeared in the same conference, but was less impressive in my opinion. The authors posit considerably weaker claims than the article you quote. Here is a link.

    Unsupervised Decomposition of a Document Into Authorial Components

  67. Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Oops. I see now that the link I provided is to a paper by Ilan Bloch for a seminar directed by Miriam Schlesinger.

    Since I realize that most people will not click through, here is an excerpt for all the Nida fans on this thread:

    In the late fifties, Nida (1959) proposed the semiotic law of loss and stated that translation does involve some degree of loss of information, necessarily. Translators may then purportedly decide to take specific actions in order to offer a solution, however in places no action is taken either because they are unaware of the problem, or because they have no intention to deal with the inevitable; eventually action may also be taken unconsciously.

  68. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    CD: If you can read Russian, look at Nabokov’s translation of Alice in Wonderland. It was a Dover paperback for years, so is readily available for cheap from used book sellers.

    It does not seem to follow the pattern your wife mentioned. But it is a blast.

  69. Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    John, thanks for giving the Italian original, which I find easier to understand than your translation. But you seem to have given up with esoticizzazione – “exoticization”? “foreignising”?

    I hope we can all agree with Nida at least on this law he proposed, that “translation does involve some degree of loss of information, necessarily”. So the issue for translators is how to minimise or mitigate that loss. And the choices to be made depend on the purpose for which the translation is being made.

  70. Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Peter, I didn’t know Nida had said something exactly like that, though I shouldn’t be surprised. I agree, of course, having said something very similar myself on a number of occasions. I was not so naive as to think it was an original idea.

    Richard Rhodes points out that in addition to losing information in translation, translations tend to introduce misleading information at the same time. Ironically, the greatest danger of this seems to be in translations that try to be very faithful to the original by being very literal.

    As for Hobbins’ comment that maybe we should just say that all texts resist translation, his hyperbole is showing, along with a touch of personification and conceptual metaphor. I think we are getting closer to understanding that he just doesn’t believe in translation, that any translation is going to be dissatisfying, and that the only solution is to study the original text in its original language.

    I am not so pessimistic, understanding the great value of translation, and while I agree that a perfect translation is not possible, the goal is to make good translations–as good as possible, balancing the different things that have to be factored in. And then, of course, a case can be made for studying the texts in their original language.

  71. Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I have a “the medium is the message” story along the lines of the one Theophrastus told. I remember reading a book around 1974 by Jack Seward about his experiences as a businessman in Japan who spoke fluent Japanese, which was rare. (I thought the title of the book was Basic Japanese, but I located it online this morning under the title Japanese In Action.) I am working from memory of something I read 27 37 years ago, which he called the “Imperial Rescript Ploy.” Seward was in Japan with a protegé who was a young woman of Japanese descent but who didn’t speak Japanese. Seward was trying to do business with someone who seemed to be unable to believe that Seward could speak Japanese, and the Japanese interlocutor insisted on addressing his replies to the woman, who looked Japanese but couldn’t understand anything he was saying. You’ll have to find this book to read the story to get the amusing conclusion and find out where the name “Imperial Rescript Ploy” comes from.

  72. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    Thanks for pointing out the lapse. I corrected it in the post I just put up summarizing and developing part of this thread:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/06/the-difference-between-faithful-and-unfaithful-translation-of-biblical-literature.html

    You are certainly right that everything depends on one’s goals in translation. As I have said on more than one occasion, I am a proponent of “Puritan” translation (see link for a link to the distinction I borrow). Put otherwise, it is the choice Toury lists first:

    According to Toury [1976] the translator is always confronted with a “basic choice between two polar alternatives deriving from the two major constituents of the ‘value’ in literary translation [...]: he either subjects himself to the original text, with its textual relations and the norms expressed by it and contained in it, or to the linguistic and literary norms active in the TL and in the target literary polysystem, or a certain section of it.”

  73. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    David,

    From my point of view, the author’s point of view, which I admit doesn’t count for much in a pomo world, you are hyperbolizing my hyperbole.

    If you check out the translation work I have done to date, you will see that I love the challenge of translation work. But the goals I set lead me to translate along the lines many (not all) literary translators do.

    For an example, with comments by Rich Rhodes and Wayne Leman, try my version of Psalm 51:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2007/10/a-literary-tran.html

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2007/10/psalm-516-9-an-.html

  74. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I believe it is an overstatement to say that it is not possible for a translation to sound like natural English. That was the topic of a recent post of mine, “Does a Translation Have to Sound Like a Translation?”, citing the translation of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship as an example. Sure, there is a tendency for translations to sound like translations, but it is also a good goal to try to make them not sound like translations, and sometimes that can be accomplished.

    Last night I was watching a French movie with English subtitles. I could hear the French while reading the English. I was struck by the good, natural English of the subtitles and started making notes. Over and over, I noted where the English could have been more literal, if that were the goal, but instead was more natural English. For example, once a man in the story said in French, “Elle me plait,” but in English this was given as “I like her.” If the goal was to be faithful to the form of the French, it could have been “She pleases me” in English. But instead the translators put some thought into what would be the most natural way of expressing the same idea in English.

  75. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    John Hobbins, I would encourage you to continue actually translating from Hebrew into English, rather than just critiquing translations. I’m sure you would be (or are) very good at it. For some of us, actually engaging in Bible translation is our main occupation, and blogging about it is just a sideline. I do believe that actually translating and testing the translations and seeing the translations used contributes to a better understanding of it than one will get by just philosophizing about it. Sure, from one perspective or another, faults can be found with any translation. For now, I’m not going to go back and study your translation of Psalm 51. I’m sure it is very good. Keep it up.

    I have made a note to follow up on the idea of “postmodern translation” in a future blog.

  76. Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Hobbins, your quotes of Toury present a dilemma that we who are engaged in translation are all too aware of, between doing justice to the source text in translation or to the target language and audience. That idea has been expressed in a number of ways over the years. But there is nothing in what you cite to suggest that Toury’s preferences are the same as yours. I suspect you are imagining that.

  77. Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    David,
    I’ve never met anyone else who’s read anything by Jack Seward. His Japanese nephew and I are close friends (were college roommates and were in each others’ weddings, and he very much tutored me in Japanese language as I also studied it formally). Uncle Jacks books are full of amusements, and I vaguely remember the one you’ve somehow recalled.

    Dru,
    Your mention of the KJV as a diglot is fascinating.

    Theophrastus,
    Your sarcasm about the diglot is is silly and funny; but you make a really serious and important point. You speak of Irwin’s translation as being “the NASB of Nicomachean Ethics” on “the right-hand pages” of a diglot, where Aristotle’s style is not only carried over on these pages but is actually also shown outright on the left-hand pages in the Greek itself. Then later you quote a tremendously interesting study to say: “To me this suggests that there are fundamental qualities of translated material that distinguish it from material originally composed in a language.”

    I wonder now whether Nabokov’s own Russian translation of his English novel Lolita sounds translationish in Russian. What do you think? I think a diglot of English on the left-hand pages with his Russian rendering on the right-hand pages would show something important. Once Nabokov wrote: “This re-Englishing of a Russian re-vision of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.”

    Now, above, John gives some technical Italian translation-speak with his own English translation right next to that. And then Peter pays attention as much to, or perhaps even more to, the Italian; he also pays attention to the interlation between the two languages, side by side. “Interlation” is Mikhail Epstein’s English translation-speak, which he explicates in his wonderful (google-able) essay, “Interlation vs. Translation: Stereotextuality.” I think this di-glot sort of approach adds what the fables and parables of Jesus and Aesop add: they get the listener and reader paying attention to things not only in the story but also in the life of the audience(s).

    There’s so much for a translator to pay attention to. You’ve already discussed the tonality of Chinese. When monosyllabic-tone-language speakers whisper a single word on the telephone, much can be lost! Conversely, much can be gained with the subtleties of tone (Vietnamese has 6 tonemes) are flaunted by the translator. In a blogpost today, I’ve tried to “show” so readers can also “sound out” some various re-presentations of a single poem by 胡 春 香 (aka Hồ Xuân Hương, “Sweet Essence,” “Delightful Fragrance”).

    If anyone goes here to read and to listen to this, try to see if you can appreciate the benefits of having the di-glot, perhaps the tri-glot, even if you don’t really “know” (much) Vietnamese (yet).

  78. Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Theo —

    I don’t but wife and daughter, do. I’ll pick it up if we don’t own it (there are a bunch of Russian children’s books but I don’t know what’s in them).

    ____

    John, I’m surprised you mentioned me on your blog given how testy you got in the last post.

    ___

    David —

    I should say I’m a fan of both justice to the text and to the reader. In my mind its not so much what is justice for the reader but rather what is the reader using the translation for. I think the problem with bibles is that they are aimed at far too wide a domain of use. I think the best bibles tend to be much more narrowly focused.

    The Voice translation is focused on how well does it sound when read out-loud to an unfamiliar ear. It is great in that. Verbal comprehension is much lower than written, and The Voice compensates.

    Conversely if the goal is to capture the “essential strangeness” of the text, to use John’s term, I think Andy Gaus is terrific. Stop treating the bible with 2000 years of translation history and just translate it like you would any other ancient Greek book. You read Gaus, the mysticism, philosophy and theology of the underlying Greek comes through cleanly.

    For the words themselves, deep verse study Brown and Comfort.

    I did a post on this a while back, I need to update by include the Source and the Voice and maybe I’ll throw in Fox or Altier.

    http://church-discipline.blogspot.com/2009/04/10-really-good-bibles-you-may-not-know.html

  79. Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    CD-Host, if you are a fan of both justice to the text and to the reader, then we are on the same wavelength. Both, of course, are very important, and the tricky thing is to figure out how to get the two goals to cooperate. And you made another point that is very significant. That is, once you have determined your target audience and their needs, a lot of other translation issues fall into place. In terms of Bible translations into English, the target category of “English speakers” in general is way too broad.

  80. Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    John wrote:

    From my point of view, the author’s point of view, which I admit doesn’t count for much in a pomo world, you are hyperbolizing my hyperbole.

    Good point about the pomo world, John. That’s why I am an originalist, why I believe so much that authorial intention is what we should be translating. We must not transculturate. I especially appreciate your comment here because it accords with my understanding of what post-modernism is and how it can relate to Bible translation. I realize that you don’t believe it, but we hope to demonstrate in future BBB posts how pomo fails for accurate Bible translation which fully respects the original cultural contexts in which the biblical texts were written. Another slant on this same theme is echoed in David Ker’s book titled something like The Bible Wasn’t Written to You. Surely that thesis would be disturbing to pomos.

  81. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I wonder now whether Nabokov’s own Russian translation of his English novel Lolita sounds translationish in Russian. What do you think?

    I did not know that Nabokov had translated Lolita into Russian, and certainly have not seen his book, so I could not say.

    However, Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin and other Russian Poetry into English reads like a translation.

    Edmund Wilson charged as much in his NY Review of Books review, claiming that Nabokov’s translation was not in “idiomatic and recognizable English.” In those pre-blog times, Nabokov and Wilson proceeded to have a huge “flame war” on the pages of the NYRB (look at the the long sequence of follow-up letters by Nabokov, Wilson, and their proxies); and ultimately ended their friendship.

  82. Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    David,

    Rest assured, I will continue to translate from the biblical languages, as well as critique and praise existing translations. I don’t think of it as an either/or. I am interested in seeing if you will continue to downplay the lingua franca / vernacular distinction as if it were a question of use only, and is if the distinction did not intersect with the list of “translation universals” I offered above (those named by Antoine Berman).

    I don’t remember asserting that Toury preferred this or that pole of the basic choice he spells out. Theorists like Toury and Pym are more about laying out the options than coming down in one sense or another – though Pym ultimately, but only very indirectly, comes down in favor of “non-superficial” texts, to which, I contend, all biblical texts belong.

    There are many reasons why the Bible is a non-superficial text: the first one that comes to mind is that, insofar as it is Scripture, every word has two authors, God and (let’s say) Moses. From the point of view of authorship alone (not least of all because bot “God” and “Moses” are, humanly speaking, hermeneutical constructs), the Bible is non-superficial. And if you are also in favor of co-authoring from the reader’s side (Bakhtin), the complexity becomes dizzying.

    How does one translate a non-superficial text? With at least as much attention to fine detail as one would show literature in the strict sense, would be my contention.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are a straddler. I could see you promoting a median translation like HCSB.

  83. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    and certainly have not seen his book — I should have said and certainly have not seen his Russian books (except Alice). I have read Nabokov in English.

    CD-Host: I think they might like to read Nabokov’s Alice. However, you should note that it is written in the pre-Revolutionary Cyrillic alphabet.

  84. Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    CD,

    I wonder whether you have had a chance to look at the following:

    http://www.worldevangelicals.org/pdf/1106Christian_Witness_in_a_Multi-Religious_World.pdf

    The problem I have with your willingness to demonize your opponents is that I see it as in violation of the rules of conduct the cited document outlines for inter-religious discussion. The same rules apply, of course, to inter-confessional discussion.

    But no, that will not stop me from citing you favorably when I can in good conscience.

  85. Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    John, well, yes, actually the distinction between vernacular and lingua franca is one of usage rather than language type. I am not at all saying that there is no significant difference between language as vernacular and language as lingua franca (at least in terms of usage), but just that the kind of signficance that you think those terms has doesn’t make sense. I will shortly post my part two of this discussion, in which I interact with the literature you cited.

    I may have misread you when I thought you were citing Toury as support for your translation preferences. So we both agree that while Toury spells out some of the issues in translation, he isn’t showing a preference for one method or another.

    If Pym is favorable toward “non-superficial texts,” I am too! That is, if the Bible is a non-superficial text, I will go on record as saying that I am in favor of the Bible. However, that still doesn’t tell us how to translate it.

    No, I’m not a straddler, and I’m a bit put off by you trying to characterize me that way. I have a consistent view of translation that you may not be able to appreciate, but it involves understanding the difficulty of trying to keep several things in balance that might tend to conflict with each other. I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect translation, when it comes to something as complicated as the scriptures, but I do think that different translation strategies, in association with different sense of audience and purpose, can each have something to commend them. To tell the truth, I haven’t given a lot of thought to the HCSB.

  86. Iver Larsen
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I have been travelling from one continent to another the last two days, but won’t mention any airport stories.

    Let me clarify something I said which was partly misunderstood. I said that if I were to translate “lingua franca” into common Danish for a broader audience I would use the Danish word “fællessprog”. I did give the English back translation “common language”, but could as well or maybe should have said “shared language”. I did not intend to give the impression that “fællessprog” in Danish has all the same connotations that “common language” has in English, nor was I paraphrasing lingua franca as common language. Translation is not a matter of substituting equivalent words, since those rarely exist across language boundaries. Beginning translators tend to think in word substitution, but experienced translators think in terms of words, phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs, all at the same time. They must have a considerable degree of freedom in order to be faithful to the original meanings and intentions. And of course, one has to balance source and target language, but also source and target cultural presuppositions. I am not a fan of Nida, although I respect him highly as a pioneer. One of the main reasons that I am not particularly fond of the Good News Bible is that it did not try to keep more of the poetry of the original. Did they test their translation with people who use English as a second language?

  87. Posted June 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Iver —

    One of the main reasons that I am not particularly fond of the Good News Bible is that it did not try to keep more of the poetry of the original. Did they test their translation with people who use English as a second language?

    Well, ah… The GNB did 30 million in its first decade, and is still one of the most popular bibles in many countries. There is stuff we it can be accused but not being a good for native English speakers I’d say is not among them. And by the early 90s that number was between 100-200m copies. I think originally the GNB was aimed at children, everyone was caught off guard how much adults liked it.

    Reading comprehension of average American is much lower than most people think. Think about the fact that young adult fiction like Harry Potter and the Twilight series does so well because its easy to read; and that’s excluding the 1/3rd or so of Americans that never read for fun at all. Assuming you teach, think about the bottom group of college Freshmen, the ones whom you are shocked got through high school, in an average college, and then remember that’s the median reader.

    Just to press home the point even the illustrator, Annie Vallotton, focused heavily on simplicity: It took me a long long time I must say, I didn’t want to have illustrations with many lines. My desire was to have just the main lines. This is why I did some of the drawings 80-90 times before I achieved the one I wanted. I wanted to simplify them the most I could. I wanted to get to the truth…the most important thing!

    We have these esoteric conversations about subtleties, but if the bible translation is being aimed at a mass audience to read alone, that is unfamiliar with the text, simplicity is key almost above everything else. I don’t know if Michael is still reading this his blog makes a good counter case about why that’s not a good objective, but if it is your objective the GNB, TLB, The Message are hugely successful.

  88. Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    David,

    I look forward to your upcoming post.

    I meant to push back a little by characterizing you as a straddler, but I could just as well characterized you as someone who thinks the ideal translation wants to do equal justice to author and reader.

    That sounds better, doesn’t it (the content is the same from my point of view)?

    Here’s the deal. When you say:

    I have a consistent view of translation that you may not be able to appreciate, but it involves understanding the difficulty of trying to keep several things in balance that might tend to conflict with each other. I do not think there is such a thing as a perfect translation, when it comes to something as complicated as the scriptures, but I do think that different translation strategies, in association with different sense of audience and purpose, can each have something to commend them.

    I think to myself, I could have written that (except that I prefer not to write that way).

    Yet I sense that we have different translating philosophies. Specifically, while I appreciate the value of a paraphrase and of a median translation, for the purposes of serious study and close reading, I prefer a close or literal translation, a “Puritan” translation to return to the opposition I have cited more than once.

    Even if you are not convinced that a lingua franca by its very nature tends more than a vernacular in the direction of linguistic rationalization, clarification, dilatation, and homogeneization; even if you do not see the point in discussing the implications of the lingua franca / vernacular distinction in terms of critical theory or a project of de-colonialization,
    the problem remains:

    rationalization, clarification, dilatation, and homogeneization are *also* “translation universals.” Are they bugs, or are they features, of the translation enterprise?

  89. Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    John H., you said, “for the purpose of close serious study and close reading, I prefer a close or literal translation.” You may be surprised to hear this, but for study purposes, I prefer the RSV. When I am engaged in translating the Bible into other languages like Gullah or French Creole, I keep the RSV close at hand. Many translators are the same way. But for liturgical or devotional purposes, I prefer a translation that is less literal and foreign-sounding. I am not engaged in translating the Bible into English, but for the audiences I do direct my translation efforts towards, an RSV-style translation is not what I aim to accomplish.

  90. Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I did not know that Nabokov had translated Lolita into Russian, and certainly have not seen his book, so I could not say.

    Here’s what Nabokov himself said he wanted:

    “In publishing Lolita in Russian, I am pursuing a very simple aim: I want my best English book — or, let us say more modestly, one of my best English books — to be translated correctly into my native language.”

    As to whether he believed he succeeded, he had already confessed the following, which robbed his Russian language critics of a chance to respond first:

    “I so fervently stress to my American readers the superiority of my Russian style over my English that some Slavists might really think my translation of Lolita is a hundred times better than the original, but the rattle of my rusty Russian strings only nauseates me now.”

    After going into a long self-effacing description of how his Russian translation of his “best English book” is nauseating to him, Nabokov does make comments about “the mutual translatability of two amazing languages”; he writes:

    “Gestures, grimaces, landscapes, the torpor of trees, odors, rains, the melting and iridescent hues of nature, everything tenderly human (strange as it may seem!), but also everything coarse and crude, juicy and bawdy, comes out no worse in Russian than in English, perhaps betters; but the subtle reticence so peculiar to English, the poetry of thought, the instantaneous resonance between the most abstract concepts, the swarming of monosyllabic epithets — all this, and also everything relating to technology, fashion, sports, the natural sciences, and the unnatural passions — in Russian become clumsy, prolix, and often repulsive in terms of style and rhythm. This discrepancy reflects a basic historical difference between the green Russian literary language and English, ripe as a bursting fig: between a youth of genius, but not yet sufficiently well educated and at times rather tasteless, and a venerable genius who combines a motley erudition with absolute freedom of spirit. Freedom of spirit! All the breath of humanity lies in that conjunction of words.”

    Nabokov, in the same context, actually does get at the “history of this translation” of his, i.e., the translation of Lolita from his English into his Russian. And the fuller context in which he writes does bring in elements of the general discussion here at David Frank’s post: the question(s) of “uses” of language and the notion of certain labels for language such as “lingua franca” and “vernacular” and so forth. Moreover, Nabokov muses about his novel in Russia in Russian so long after he’d written it in France in English. Furthermore, he muses about Lolita “in separate editions in the Arabic lands, Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay.” He certifies this much: “Of all these translations, I can answer, as to accuracy and completeness, only for the French one, which I checked myself prior to publication.”

    Now –

    Do you think the above English statements by Nabokov about his Russian translation of his English Lolita are statements that sound strange? Is this English commentary by Nabokov translationish sounding to any of us? Or does it sound like Nabokov, the critic and novelist, usually sounds?

    Well, in fact, it’s an English translation by Earl D. Sampson of Vladimir Nabokov’s Russian language “Postscript to the Russian edition of Lolita!

    You can read it here:

    http://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/maddendw/Lolita%20Preface.pdf

  91. Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Theo —

    Just heard back from DW. She won’t touch old Cyrillic, though she can read it. Mind you this is a professor, with an international reputation so top 1% of readers. Which plays in wonderfully to the point about how important it is to have some easy to read bibles for mass audiences.

  92. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    “Gestures, grimaces, landscapes, the torpor of trees, odors, rains, the melting and iridescent hues of nature, everything tenderly human (strange as it may seem!), but also everything coarse and crude, juicy and bawdy, comes out no worse in Russian than in English, perhaps betters; but the subtle reticence so peculiar to English, the poetry of thought, the instantaneous resonance between the most abstract concepts, the swarming of monosyllabic epithets — all this, and also everything relating to technology, fashion, sports, the natural sciences, and the unnatural passions — in Russian become clumsy, prolix, and often repulsive in terms of style and rhythm. This discrepancy reflects a basic historical difference between the green Russian literary language and English, ripe as a bursting fig: between a youth of genius, but not yet sufficiently well educated and at times rather tasteless, and a venerable genius who combines a motley erudition with absolute freedom of spirit. Freedom of spirit! All the breath of humanity lies in that conjunction of words.”

    This a very brief fragment (166 words if I counted correctly.) However, it hardly seems natural. The first sentence is about 102 words long; the second sentence is exactly half that at 51 words long. Expressions such as “green Russian literary language” seem strange in English. “Venerable genius” is a cliche and seems unlike Nabokov’s English style. The distribution of articles (“the”/”a”) seems completely off. The phrase “clumsy, prolix, and often repulsive in terms of style and rhythm” is awkward (particularly the seemingly superfluous “in terms of.” So I think it reeks of translationese.

    How do you find that this compares with the original Russian postscript?

  93. Theophrastus
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    CD-Host — the book is not in Old Cyrillic. Old Cyrillic was discontinued in 1708 by decree of Peter the Great.

    Rather it is written in the White Russian style, namely it has the characters ѣ, і, ѵ, ъ.

  94. Posted July 1, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Theo —

    My bad not hers, I’m just parroting here, badly evidentially. She knew the book already, when I sent her an email from your first post on the topic.

  95. Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    One of the typical models of Bible translation is where the linguists set up a translation office, train native speaker translators and eventually produce a lexicon and perhaps train native speaker clergy in translation. It is only when this is established that a team of native speakers work on scripture translation. They are translating from English, or maybe French into a vernacular.

    But when was the Hebrew Bible ever translated directly from Hebrew into a vernacular? I don’t know if that had ever happened. Even once. Brucioli famously claimed to have done so but depended on Pagnini. Diodati’s translation seems to have gained more acceptance by tending to follow the Vulgate, but perhaps it was because his psalms were metrical.

    I honestly can’t think of any time in history when the Hebrew scriptures were translated directly into a vernacular language without passing first through a lingua franca.

  96. Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    All I meant is that the Hebrew scriptures are somewhat unlike Lolita who was both written in English by Nabokov, and read in English by Nafisi’s students.(I just realized that Nabokov was living in Montreux the same year that I was living a couple of miles away. I used to walk by his hotel often.)

  97. Posted July 1, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Suzanne, when you ask “when was the Hebrew Bible ever translated directly from Hebrew into a vernacular?”, what do you mean by “vernacular”? If you mean “a language which was only used as a vernacular, never as a lingua franca”, you may be correct as on that definition only languages of rather small people groups are vernaculars. But if you mean “a register of a language used by mother tongue speakers, with no intention of the translation being used by second language speakers”, then I think you can find several examples such as the Ferrar Fenton Bible.

  98. Posted July 1, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    What I meant really was that the translator always had a translation of the Hebrew into either Latin or English on the table while translating. In this case Fenton was working from the Brian Walton polyglot Bible.

  99. Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Theophrastus,

    Does this following sound any less like translationese? It’s on exactly the same topic communicated by exactly the same person (Nabokov) but this time not from his Russian translated by another into English. It’s Nabokov in untranslated English. It’s about the same length as the paragraph I excerpted above (which you copied again, including one of my typos). The first sentence below (at 56 words) is a bit longer, actually, than either of the two clauses that comprise what you note above as the “first sentence … about 102 words long” and than “the second sentence [above] … at 51 words long.”

    Well, it occurred to me one day — while I was glancing at the varicolored spines of Lolita translations into languages I do not read, such as Japanese, Finnish or Arabic — that the list of unavoidable blunders in these fifteen or twenty versions would probably make, if collected, a fatter volume than any of them. I had checked the French translation, which was basically very good yet would have bristled with unavoidable errors had I not corrected them. But what could I do with Portuguese or Hebrew or Danish? Then I imagined something else. I imagined that in some distant future somebody might produce a Russian version of Lolita. I trained my inner telescope upon that particular point in the distant future and I saw that every paragraph, pock-marked as it is with pitfalls, could lend itself to hideous mistranslation. In the hands of a harmful drudge, the Russian version of Lolita would be entirely degraded and botched by vulgar paraphrases or blunders. So I decided to translate it myself. Up to now I have about sixty pages ready.

    It’s Nabokov speaking in an interview, later written up by the interviewer and perhaps amended further some by a copytypist and editor for Playboy magazine in 1964. Granted, we could call it transpositionese (since it’s spoken English to text), but there’s enough in both Sampson’s translation and in the magazine’s printed interview that sound to me (perhaps strangely) like Nabokov.

    I have only found the novel in Russian translation here but without Nabokov’s Russian postscript.

    However, did you see how Sampson translated Nabokov’s wordplay by using his own (not the original’s) alphabetic order? “Arabic lands, Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay.” Sampson, of course, explains in a footnote to his English readers: “Nabokov’s list of translations [in the various countries] runs from the first to the last letter of the Russian alphabet, but since no translation has yet appeared in say, Zaire or Zambia, the list could not [by me the translator] be made to stretch to the end of the English alphabet.”

  100. Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Theophrastus,

    Does this following sound any less like translationese? It’s on exactly the same topic communicated by exactly the same person (Nabokov) but this time not from his Russian translated by another into English. It’s Nabokov in untranslated English. It’s about the same length as the paragraph I excerpted above (which you copied again, including one of my typos). The first sentence below (at 56 words) is a bit longer, actually, than either of the two clauses that comprise what you note above as the “first sentence … about 102 words long” and than “the second sentence [above] … at 51 words long.”

    Well, it occurred to me one day — while I was glancing at the varicolored spines of Lolita translations into languages I do not read, such as Japanese, Finnish or Arabic — that the list of unavoidable blunders in these fifteen or twenty versions would probably make, if collected, a fatter volume than any of them. I had checked the French translation, which was basically very good yet would have bristled with unavoidable errors had I not corrected them. But what could I do with Portuguese or Hebrew or Danish? Then I imagined something else. I imagined that in some distant future somebody might produce a Russian version of Lolita. I trained my inner telescope upon that particular point in the distant future and I saw that every paragraph, pock-marked as it is with pitfalls, could lend itself to hideous mistranslation. In the hands of a harmful drudge, the Russian version of Lolita would be entirely degraded and botched by vulgar paraphrases or blunders. So I decided to translate it myself. Up to now I have about sixty pages ready.

    It’s Nabokov speaking in an interview, later written up by the interviewer and perhaps amended further some by a copytypist and editor for Pl*yb*y* magazine in 1964. Granted, we could call it transpositionese (since it’s spoken English to text), but there’s enough in both Sampson’s translation and in the magazine’s printed interview that sound to me (perhaps strangely) like Nabokov.

    I have only found the novel in Russian translation here but without Nabokov’s Russian postscript.

    However, did you see how Sampson translated Nabokov’s wordplay by using his own (not the original’s) alphabetic order? “Arabic lands, Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay.” Sampson, of course, explains in a footnote to his English readers: “Nabokov’s list of translations [in the various countries] runs from the first to the last letter of the Russian alphabet, but since no translation has yet appeared in say, Zaire or Zambia, the list could not [by me the translator] be made to stretch to the end of the English alphabet.”

    (*sorry for the asterisks; I believe my comment may have been sent to spam automatically because I failed to use them earlier)

  101. Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne, I understand. I thought Fenton claimed to work from the Greek and Hebrew alone. But it sound like you have more complete information.

  102. Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne and Peter,

    What do you make of what Robert Alter says about how strange the original Hebrew is? Can it be that it’s in use as a lingua franca or a vernacular in any sense? Is is really so very unique from other languages (other than the fact that it is a dead language)?

    Alter quotes favorably Angel Sáenz-Badillos and Abba ben David, who say the biblical Hebrew isn’t like any vernacular at all because of, what Alter calls, “the relative paucity of vocabulary in biblical literature.”

    Alter cites Sáenz-Badillos as providing evidence that “the biblical lexicon is so restricted that it is hard to believe it could have served all the purposes of quotidian existences in a highly developed society.” Alter asks rhetorically: “Did, for example, the citizens of Judea in the time of Jeremiah speak in a parallel syntax, using the waw consecutive, and employing roughly the same vocabulary that we find in his prophecies, or in Deuteronomy and Genesis?”

    Alter goes on to answer his question:

    [V]ernacular syntax and grammar probably differed in some ways from their literary counterparts…. The plausible conclusion is that the Hebrew of the Bible is a conventionally delimited language, roughly analogous in this respect to the French of the neoclassical theater: it was understood by writers and their audiences, at least in the case of narrative, that only certain words were appropriate for the literary rendering of events.”

    Ben David explains (what Alter calls “one of the great mysteries of the [not biblical] Hebrew language”):

    “the emergence, toward the end of the pre-Christian era, of a new kind of Hebrew, which became the language of the early rabbis. . . [which] uses a good many indigenous Hebrew terms that are absent from the biblical corpus, or reflected only in rare and marginal biblical cognates. . . . For the purposes of legal and homilectic exegesis, they naturally would have used a vernacular Hebrew rather than the [biblical] literary language…. [T]he language of the canonical texts was not identical with the vernacular…. [T]he language of biblical narrative in its own time was stylized, decorous, dignified, and readily identified by its audiences as a language of literature, in certain ways distinct from the language of quotidian reality.”
    –”The Bible in English and the Heresy of Explanation,” pages xxviii – xxxi of The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary [my bold font above]

  103. Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, I think Alter is using “vernacular” in a very different way from Hobbins, to contrast with “literary” rather than “lingua franca”. Thus his “vernacular” is more like our “common language”. I must say I am not convinced that the Hebrew Bible uses a narrower vocabulary than would be expected considering its restricted subject matter. There is for example no word for “cat” because none of the Bible authors were inspired to write about cats, although surely there was a word in “common language” Hebrew. The Hebrew Bible’s vocabulary is in fact quite a lot larger than that of the New Testament in Greek, which is of course smaller and less diverse but not hugely so.

    It would be interesting to do a study of the vocabulary sizes, plotted against the text size, of various ancient and modern works in different languages and genres. It might then become clear whether the Hebrew Bible is truly anomalous in this respect.

  104. Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I remember when we were writing about Psalm 68 that there were 13 hapax legomena in that one psalm. There was really no way to know what most of them meant. Here is a note on how alliteration drives Hebrew vocabulary choice,

    “Consonantal patterns tend to force a poet’s hand, leading to the selection of particular words or word-forms which best fit the alliterative scheme. They dictate the choice between synonyms, tip the scales in favour of rare words and word-forms and can also lead to the avoidance of certain words as non-allterative.”

    W. G. E. Watson, 2005, page 228

  105. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Kurk — it does sound more natural to me, but more importantly it is an apple and oranges comparison. As you know, there is a huge difference between spoken and written English (and that is true of most of languages). David Mamet’s plays show a brilliant understanding of the differences between spoken and written English.

    In fact, I’ve read that Nabokov was not a great lecturer (although I have enjoyed reading his trilogy of Lectures: On Literature, On Russian Literature, On Don Quixote) but there can be little doubt that he was a brilliant stylist.

    His trilogy of novels of academic life: Lolita/Pnin/Pale Fire are a spot-on send up (especially Pale Fire — it perfectly captures self-indulgent academic writing), and contain brilliant word play. If you have not read them, I highly commend them to you. They most certainly do not contain the sort of awkward phrasing that your earlier example included.

  106. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    More to Suzanne’s point — every translation of the Hebrew Bible I am aware of depends (if only through published commentary) on either the Septuagint or Onkelos or both.

  107. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, the phoenix-like rise of Mishnaic Hebrew and Medieval Hebrew (and particularly, Modern Hebrew) is truly remarkable. I’m not aware of an analogous example in any other language.

    But it is obvious from internal analysis of the Hebrew Bible that a large number of genres and writing styles are used. The language of Job is far more elevated than the language of Chronicles (and both are highly stylized, in starkly different ways).

  108. Posted July 1, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Consonantal patterns tend to force a poet’s hand, leading to the selection of particular words or word-forms which best fit the alliterative scheme.

    Of course constraints of this kind are not unique to Hebrew, but common to poetry in any language – although the balance between alliteration, metre and rhyme varies from language to language and style to style. Shakespeare had no trouble writing in blank verse. Why think the ancient Hebrews had any more trouble writing alliteratively in parallel couplets?

  109. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Shakespeare had no trouble writing in blank verse.

    Shakespeare may not be a representative example of an average English writer.

  110. Posted July 1, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    David may not be a representative example of an average Hebrew writer.

  111. Posted July 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    From the viewpoint of this Hebraist, almost every comment above about the language of the Miqra and the history of translation from the Hebrew (and Aramaic) requires careful qualification. Nothing unusual about the situation; I wish I had the time to patiently discuss the topics mentioned, but I don’t.

    I will say that the lingua franca / vernacular distinction I highlighted is compatible with but not the same as the one Robert Alter highlights. In fact, as Kurk will realize if he re-reads the comment threads so far, I was careful to note both aspects of the larger situation.

    The sociolinguistic opposition I have highlighted, in line with the theoretical framework of Pollock and its application to ancient Hebrew by Sanders, involves a written lingua franca (standard Babylonian as used by the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires), a written/spoken lingua franca (Aramaic; throughout the neo-Assyrian empire, a pair of scribes was essential to many administrative tasks: one expert in standard Babylonian; another in Aramaic; Aramaic became went on to become the lingua franca of the Persian empire), and a written vernacular, standard biblical Hebrew, vis-a-vis the two languages just mentioned.

    At the same time (as I’ve noted before), classical Hebrew is a literary lingua franca vis-a-vis the spoken vernaculars of the late First and early Second Temple periods.

    Here are links to two resources that will clear up/enrich some of the questions people have:

    Bill Schniedewind: http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/Articles/article_36.htm

    Seth Sanders: http://trincoll.academia.edu/SethSanders/Papers/182268/What_Was_the_Alphabet_For_The_Rise_of_Written_Vernaculars_and_the_Making_of_Israelite_National_Literature

    For those on this thread who are not interested in that level of engagement, but still want to think about *socio*-linguistics, here is an excerpt from Bill S. from the link above (footnotes left out:

    Social history provides clues for periods when we might expect seminal changes in the Hebrew language. Conversely, significant changes in script and spelling point to seminal transitions in the social history of Syria-Palestine. Changes in social life are most readily measured in script and spelling. Immigration or conquest, for example, brings language contact and even new scripts. (For example, when Aramaic replaces Hebrew script). Social changes also are registered in lexicon and phonology. It is hardly surprising that Akkadian loanwords seem to appear in Classical Hebrew in the late 8th century, that is, in the context of the Assyrian conquests of Galilee, Samaria, and Lachish. Likewise, it is hardly surprising that Aramaic reshaped the Hebrew language when Aramaic was adopted as the lingua franca of the Persian Empire. Nor is it surprising that the use of Hebrew in Palestine finds a renaissance during the nationalism of the Hasmonean dynasty.

    It is difficult to assess the relationship between social changes and syntax or verbal structure. Undoubtedly, the difficulty results from the slower rate of change in these structures of language. Language change in spoken language is measured more easily in phonology and morphology. In contrast, it is often difficult to quantify language change in syntax or verbal structure. For example, there is a seminal shift in the morphological structure of the verbal system from Classical Hebrew to Rabbinic Hebrew.[69] This change did not take place overnight. How can we quantify the change? When did this change take place (in spoken versus literary registers)? The linguistic interpretation of the Hebrew verbal system has been the subject of considerable debate. How does our understanding if these changes differ if we adopt a functionalist (i.e., discourse) approach as opposed to sentence grammar that often ignores genre? Unlike a loanword that might be adopted over the course of just a few years, the changes in syntax or verbal structure undergo relatively slow evolution. They will be difficult to measure. And, they will be hard to isolate chronologically.

    The most easily assessable written measure of changes in social life will be changes in orthography and paleography (i.e., spelling and script). In the words of Christina Era, the basis for orthography selection is fundamentally a question of the location of authority, which is in turn a function of the prevailing discourse. As the location of authority changes, orthographies change. The change from syllabic cuneiform to alphabetic writing, for instance, follows on the heels of changes that marked the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The developments in local scripts, mater lectionis, the adoption of Aramaic script, and then the reappearance of the Hebrew script all correlate with social life in ancient Israel. Developments in orthography reflect the religious, political, and intellectual discourses. It should hardly be surprising that other important developments in Hebrew language correlate with paleographic and orthographic changes.

    Another gauge by which we may evaluate the impact of literacy on language is syntactical complexity. As Christopher Eyre and John Baines have pointed out,
    In principle literate language can develop greater range and complexity of prosodic patterns and types of subordinate clause. For written communication [sic!] these need explicit grammatical or lexical marking and must follow set patterns if they are to form part of a clear sentence structure, since intonation and gesture cannot provide support.

    In Hebrew the developing use of more complex syntax has been analyzed by Frank Polak. Polak shows how the Patriarchal tales, the story of the Rise of the Monarchy, and the Elijah-Elisha narrative tend to use short clauses, limited noun strings, and frequently employ deitic particles. In contrast, texts that are usually ascribed to the Persian period use many subordinated clauses (hypotaxis), long noun strings and explicit syntactic constituents. This type of study provides important and objective tools for analysis for the study of Hebrew that can be socially contextualized.

    End quote. Full disclosure: the working hypotheses I rely on are in line with the work of variety of scholars including Bill Schniedewind, Frank Polak, Seth Sanders, and Bernard Levinson. But it needs to be pointed out that other Hebraists- like Robert Holmstedt who commented on two threads related to this one – take a different tack and don’t have much that is positive to say about attempts to date to think sociolinguistically about ancient Hebrew.

    The author I know best who has dealt with the work of *translation* from a sociolinguistic point of view, or something not far from that, is Anthony Pym – with a focus also on the work of Bible translators. More on that some other day.

  112. Posted July 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I did not mean to imply that alliteration or any other poetic element was particular to Hebrew. I only meant that because so much of the literature is poetry, that part of the canon has a more varied lexicon, just as it would in English. And if the poetry depends on phonetic features, and not just semantic features such as parallelism, then the words chosen are constrained by the phonetic elements in the words, and therefore unusual words will find their way into the text. I suggest this as one reason why there is a larger vocabulary in the Hebrew than in the Greek.

  113. Posted July 1, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    To continue, I agree with Alter that the vocabulary of the Hebrew scriptures is narrow, even though it may have a larger inventory than the New Testament. The Hebrew lexicon can be narrow, as Alter says, limited in certain domains, but still contain a vast number of unusual words that are only used once.

  114. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    David may not be a representative example of an average Hebrew writer.

    But that is my point. He deserves better than a pedestrian English translation.

  115. Posted July 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    David may not be a representative example of an average Hebrew writer.

    it is obvious from internal analysis of the Hebrew Bible that a large number of genres and writing styles are used. // As you know, there is a huge difference between spoken and written English (and that is true of most of languages).

    Psalm 68 … 13 hapax legomena in that one psalm…. alliteration drives Hebrew vocabulary choice

    [a written lingua franca..., a written/spoken lingua franca..., and a written vernacular, standard biblical Hebrew, vis-a-vis the two languages just mentioned. / At the same time (as I’ve noted before), classical Hebrew is a literary lingua franca vis-a-vis the spoken vernaculars of the late First and early Second Temple periods. ]

    It’d been interesting, and important, to see a study of the difference of David’s Hebrew in his Psalms and the biblical Hebrew used to represent his speech or writing elsewhere in the canon of the Bible. If one were to read “chronologically” from I Samuel 17:26 to I King 2:9 every Hebrew word and statement attributed to David, then how varied would the language be? How different would the lexicons and the syntaxes and the phonologies be? Would the Psalms be more literary necessarily? One could read the Hebrew of the quoted speech and of the Psalms of David together in historical order (as per this schedule, for example, http://www.ewordtoday.com/year/kjv/caug01.htm). Then if one could discern patterns of difference, wouldn’t that be a fair way to judge translations into English? Would Alter’s Psalms and his The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel begin to suggest the differences in Hebrew with his English? Would the KJV? Other more recent team translated Bibles?

  116. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Would Alter’s Psalms and his The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel begin to suggest the differences in Hebrew with his English? Would the KJV? Other more recent team translated Bibles?

    An excellent question.

    Alter: It is quite clear that Alter shows a strong stylistic distinction. Similarly, other translations that Alter is compared with (Buber-Rosenzweig, Fox [who only translated Samuel and not Psalm]) show these distinctions.

    Aside: I would like to take this opportunity to point to Fox’s criticism of Alter’s translations. I do not remember seeing this mentioned previously on BBB, but it is insightful, and highlights the differences between Alter and Fox.

    KJV: One of the failings of the KJV is its tendency to elevate all language to approximately the same level. This makes it difficult to detect stylistic changes from the original.

    Other team translations: Of course, this varies by translation. The NJPS varies tremendously in its three sections (Law/Prophets/Writing), but this is because of differences in the translators and different translation philosophies, more than differences in the source text. Other translations have minimal differences, such as the NRSV’s use of more formal language in the Old Testament and its uses of formatting to distinguish narrative and poetry. Still other translations attempt to achieve a consistent tone throughout the Bible, regardless of the underlying source text.

  117. Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer, Theophrastus!

    And for sharing Fox’s review. Just read it. I love how he rightly expects to read aloud in order to “experience” the translation “as echoes of the Hebrew text” and how, in his final sentence, he summarily critiques Alter’s skills in various roles. The final paragraph is wonderful. But his best sentence, to me anyway, is the penultimate one, where he uses, for Alter’s unachieved ideal, a phrase of Greek, only to give what he fully means by it in his very last end note.

  118. Theophrastus
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Completing the loop, you doubtlessly noted that Fox cites for Rosenzweig for his use of ἱερὸς γάμος to Bible translation.

  119. Posted July 2, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Alexandra Glynn was saying the same thing here,

    “The King James is full of attention to the sounds, Alter is not. The two most stressed beats in the first half of the KJV translation are on love and law, and they alliterate. So by three things we see how much the psalmist really loves the law. Very much. The sound pattern of the “l” alliteration, and the placement of those two most important words on the two only important stressed syllables in the line, as well as the words themselves, prove the love of the law. Alter’s words state his love only, on paper, but not in the air, in sound—they stay like unspoken thoughts lurking in the brain. Again, the KJV has the power of the Hebrew. The translation as if first decides what the Hebrew means. Having decided it means the psalmist loves the law, the teaching, and this law or teaching is the psalmist’s meditation or theme all the day, the KJV translation sets the words in English into a sound pattern to declare this love and its constancy and with those glad sounds stealing into the reader, or listener’s mind, makes it their meditation all the day.”

    http://www.translationdirectory.com/articles/article1581.php

    and I wrote on this theme recently.

    http://powerscourt.blogspot.com/2011/06/ancient-hebrew-poetry.html


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