Friday, October 26, 2012

Knox on Translation

"The translator, let me suggest in passing, must never be frightened of the word 'paraphrase'; it is a bogey of the half-educated.  As I have already tried to point out, it is almost impossible to translate a sentence without paraphrasing; it is a paraphrase when you translate 'Comment vous portez-vous?' by 'How are you?'  But often enough it will be a single word that calls for paraphrase.  When St. Paul describes people as "wise according to the flesh', the translator is under an obligation to paraphrase.  In English speech, you might be called fat according to the flesh, or thin according to the flesh, but not wise or foolish.  The flesh here means natural, human standards of judging, and the translator has got to say so.  'Wise according to the flesh' is Hebrew in English dress; it is not English."  -- Ronald Knox (Englishing the Bible 8-9)

Ronald Knox, patron saint of dynamic-equivalence translations, pray for us!


Jason Engel said...

LOL I like your last sentence :) Given the opportunity, I prefer to have three translations before me (and would rather just know Hebrew and Greek): Very literal (formal equivalence), middle of the road, and very current colloquial (far end of dynamic equivalence). That usually (not always) helps me tease out the most likely meaning of a difficult verse.

However, I must admit that I prefer dynamic equivalence translations, not because I think they are better, but because the stereotypical personalities and religious beliefs of people who prefer formal equivalence have a tendency to rub me the wrong way.

Biblical Catholic said...

There is paraphrasing and then there is paraphrasing...I mean there are times when a strictly literal translation is simply not grammatical English, so a certain degree of rewording is inevitable and necessary. But even when you have to rework or reword a sentence you do have to at least try to keep the same words as much as you can.

This kind of issue arises very quickly in even the most elementary words and phrases in other languages.

For example...

The common phrase in Spanish 'Como se llamos?' is usually translated loosely as 'what is your name?....but that's now what it really says, Spanish for 'what is your name?' would be something like 'Cual es tu nombre?' (omitting the accents and upside down question mark and so forth because I don't want to be bothered with changing the keyboard layout to write the Spanish exactly)but what it really means, literally is 'how do you call yourself?', now in English we don't say 'how do you call yourself?' So how do you properly translate 'Come se llamos?' 'What is your name?' seems natural enough, but the sentence doesn't contain the word 'name' at all.

It's a difficult question, the actual exact wording is hard to translate into English without sounding unnatural or
ungrammatical. 'By what name are you known?' is probably about as class as a literal translation can do without creative a completely unnatural sentence, but even then we have to add the word 'name' to the sentence which isn't in the original Spanish.

So, even this basic Spanish 101 phrase that you learn in the first week of a high school Spanish class has this problem.

However, let's be clear, there's a radical difference between translating 'como se llamos?' as 'what is your name?' which will paraphrasing a bit still conveys the authentic meaning of the phrase, and translating it as 'who are you?' which is not even close to the original and would result in your failing any elementary Spanish class.

And this problem is magnified 1,000 fold when you are dealing with a sacred book, the word of this case you have to seriously consider the possibility that the exact wording is important. Maybe the fact that the original says 'come se llamos?' instead of 'cual es tu nombre?' is significant in some way.....maybe it even makes a doctrinal difference....

There is no easy answer, but I think that if you take seriously the idea that the Bible is the word of God, and if you believe in plenary inspiration, then you're going to want to try to preserve as much as of the original wording as possible.

CJA Mayo said...

Jason Engel, why dost thou refer to me?

Biblical Catholic said...

What do you mean by 'he stereotypical personalities and religious beliefs of people who prefer formal equivalence'? The people who have generally tended to prefer literal translations are Catholics, Orthodox and Calvinists, the people who tend to favor dynamic translations are the Baptists, the nondenoms and the evangelicals.

CJA Mayo said...

I think Lutherans also have historically preferred loose translations, at least based on Luther's extraordinarily loose/amplified one (i.e. by faith "alone").

Also draw a distinction between "free will" Baptists, and Reformed Baptists,

Calvinists have been the impetus for most recent formal equivalent translations, except for the NKJV (which was started by the Baptist Arthur Farstad and Zane Hodges; I don't know if Hodges was Baptist or Reformed, or Reformed Baptist); the NASB, the ESV, maybe one or two others.

Non-denoms have been the impetus behind the veritable Noachian deluge of dynamic-to-retelling-paraphrases, from the NIV, NLT, MSG, CEV, NCV, CEB, etc. etc.

Back before Knox (who anticipated Eugene Nida, the true patron saint of loose translation), as his theories never gained real acceptance in Catholic circles, or at least so it appears, every translation before Nida, whose tentacles stretch in to every corner of translational linguistics, was formally equivalent to a greater (Young's, Concordant) or lesser (KJV, RSV) degree.

St Jerome and the Seventy of the Septuagint, patron saints of literal translation, pray for us!

Timothy said...

The Jerusalem Bibles are certainly dynamic equivalence, so to us the CCB.

Biblical Catholic said...

One trend I have noticed is that translations which start out very loose and very dynamic tend to become more and more literal as they are revised....

The New Jerusalem Bible is, I think, far more literal than the original Jerusalem Bible and I think the upcoming third edition is going to be more so....

The former king of 'dynamic translation' (even to the point of being accused of not being a translation at all but merely a paraphrase) is the Living Translation, which was very loose in its first printing in 1996, and became more literal in its subsequent revision in 2004.

The New English Bible was extremely dynamic when first published in 1970, but when revised into the Revised English Bible it became far more many way the REB is closer to the RSV or NRSV than to the original NEB.

I haven't read the new 2011 NIV, but I have read that it is far more literal than the 1984 edition which preceded it.

So I think that it seems that the pendulum is starting to swing back towards a more literal approach, not as literal the New American Standard, but more literal than what was being done in the 80's and 90's.

Timothy said...

What about translations like the CEB and the popularity with the Message and the Voice translations. There is also 'God's Word' translation that is also dynamic equivalence.

Biblical Catholic said...

And you are quite right that Lutherans tend to favor dynamic equivalent, in fact last weekend I read an article by a Lutheran who complained that the ESV (which has been adopted by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod for use in liturgy and in official publications) is not consistent with Luther's translation philosophy because it is too literal.

Biblical Catholic said...

There is no doubt that dynamic translation are the most popular these days, if you look at the top 10 of the Christian Booksellers Association (with all of its problems with that list which we've discussed here before) and there are only 4 out of the 10 which are literal, namely the NASB, the ESV and the KJV and NKJV....and if not for the still strong attachment to the KJV (I honestly can't believe that it is still #2 or #3 in most months) there would probably be 8 out of 10 dynamic. Another interesting thing about the list is that all of them except for the KJV were made within the last 30 years...

But these dynamic translations are nevertheless, with subsequent revision, becoming more literal. And oddly in some ways the literal translations may be becoming more dynamic. The NRSV doesn't seem to be anywhere near as literal as the RSV, and the 1995 NASB is less literal than the 1971 original.

CJA Mayo said...

Oh no - the loose are becoming moderately literal and the literal are becoming moderately loose - they're all walking towards the middle of one world Bible and one world religion!

(Cf. the incredibly erudite and most scholarly panegyric to the Authorized Version, New Age Bible Versions by the great scholar of inimitable honesty, who never engages in the least bit of anti-Catholic polemic.)

CJA Mayo said...


I believe the Jerusalem Bible, and, to an even greater extent, the New Jerusalem Bible (with the one awful exception of regendering), are "moderating translations" like the NIV, if one wants to make proper distinctions. That is, they are dynamic, but they're at the literal end of dynamic.

(Examples below are given in no particular order.)

There are translations that are called "literal", which are at the literal-to-moderate ends of "literal translation": KJV, DRC, ASV, ERV, NKJV, YLT, Brenton, NETS, RSV, NASB, ESV (mostly), parts of the NAB, etc.

There are "moderate translations", which are at the extreme dynamic end of literal, to the moderately literal end of dynamic, and these are called "moderated translations", such as the NIV, NET (mostly), NRSV (mostly, except for regendering), JB, NJB (mostly), other parts of the NAB, and the HCSB.

There are translations that are called "dynamic", "loose", or "paraphrase" (for even greater accuracy, four groups can be used, with "dynamic" subdivided in to dynamic "translation" proper and paraphrase), which are at the moderate-to-extreme end of "dynamic translation", a counterpart to the first, "literal translation", such as the Moffat, AAT (Goodspeed), Psalms of the old NAB, CEB, MSG, NEB, REB, TEV, CCB, TNIV, CEV, NCV, NLT/Living Bible, etc., etc. (many more down here).

I can't really put the NAB at any one place because it's so uneven, but, if I had to place the NABRE, it would probably be at the literal end of "moderating translations".

If one wanted to arrange them on a spectrum represented by a line, one could probably divide thrice, in to four categories (literal, moderating, dynamic, and paraphrase), with the divisions occurring thus:

The most literal in common use being the KJV, ERV/ASV, and NASB (disregarding Concordant, which is an interlinear without the Greek.)

Sitting upon the line dividing literal-to-moderating is the ESV.

Sitting upon the line dividing moderating-to-dynamic is the REB.

Sitting upon the line dividing dynamic-to-paraphrase is the NLT.

The most paraphrastic being in the MSG-TLB-CEB-NCV area, likely being the Message itself.

One could divide differently, as some of it is subjective, say, by placing the literal-to-moderate line at RSV, and the moderate-to-dynamic line at HCSB, etc.

(I can barely use an HCSB because it reminds me of the subprime bank HSBC.. lol.)

CJA Mayo said...

I forgot to even put Knox in there... way off topic!

Just alter the above with "RKB" (or whatever, I have "RKB" for Ronald Knox Bible) listed under "dynamic", and possibly use RKB as the dividing line between dynamic and paraphrase (as it is at a relatively far end of dynamic, I think a little more than the NLT, if one discounts the slight advantage in literalism it gains by retaining the archaic pronouns).

Biblical Catholic said...

I think the scholarly consensus has generally come around to the view that the old distinction between 'literal' and 'dynamic' is largely is not a question of whether to be literal or not, or whether to be dynamic or not, but the precise degree, not whether to paraphrase, but how own opinion tends to favor the more literal....I favor the more literal for a number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest is that, as subjective as this judgment is, literal translations 'sound better' and have superior literary quality.....they are more dignified and the stately, elegant English of the RSV to something like the Common English Bible and it is simply no contest....the CEB, and dynamic translations in general, just don't give on the sense that what one is reading is sacred or special in any way....I can say 'the word of the Lord' after hearing a reading from the RSV, parts of the NAB or the would be hard to bring myself to say that after hearing a reading from the Good News Bible or from the New Century Version or one of the more extreme dynamic translations...

Which reminds me of a story often told about the Moffat translation....a pastor was visiting a woman who was sick in bed and near dying, and he read her something from the Moffat translation...and she responded 'that was how about reading me something from the scriptures?'

Whether true or not, it is easy to relate to the old woman when reading one of these extreme dynamic translations.

CJA Mayo said...

Biblical Catholic:

I'm probably single-handedly responsible for the high ranking of the KJV each month ;-)