Re: post.prepared for anglican (reversible translation)

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed May 21 1997 - 23:47:08 EDT

At 7:42 AM +0100 5/21/97, Brian E. Wilson wrote:
>I am absolutely fascinated that no-one else has yet come up with an
>alternative definition of the distinction between a translation and a
>paraphrase. I appreciate that my suggestion that a translation is
>reversible, but a parapharase irreversible, may include too strict a
>view of translation for some scholars. But unless an alternative
>objective test for distinguishing between translating and paraphrasing
>is laid down, should we not draw the conclusion that they are one and
>the same activity, and that when one person says something is a
>translation he is simply affirming that it is the paraphrase he
>subjectively prefers to other paraphrases?

I have not read every post on this topic, so I may say something here which
has already been said. If so, just use that wonderful 'delete' key.

Part of the problem in distinguishing between a paraphrase and a
translation is that comparing the two is somewhat akin to comparing apples
and oranges to determine which is a better fruit. Both are fruits. So there
is some definite overlap between the two, but they are also fundamentally
different and there is no objective criterion by which to say that one is a
better 'fruit' than the other.

There is a fundamental difference between translation and paraphrase, but
it does not lie in the *way* they are done or in the literalness of the
outcome. Any rendition of a text into a language other than the one in
which it was written is a translation in the broadest sense of the term. It
may be a terribly bad translation or a marvelously good one, but it's still
a translation.

A paraphrase is not necessarily a translation at all (though it can be
under certain circumstances). I can hear Jonathan say "I will be out of
town next Tuesday," and later report to my wife, "Jonathan said he would be
out of town on Tuesday." This is a paraphrase (since I rephrased Jonathan's
words while maintaining the essential elements of his meaning), but it is
definitely not a translation, since I used the same language he did.

Using the terms 'translation' and 'paraphrase' in this most basic sense, we
could say that every translation is a paraphrase (since it repeats the
essential message of a text in another language, but without using the
exact words of that text), but NOT every paraphrase is a translation. A
good example of a paraphrase which is not a translation is the original
Living Bible. [The paraphraser read his KJV and put it into more colloquial
idioms, but didn't change from one language to another.]

Perhaps the distinction we have been discussing using the terms
'translation' and 'paraphrase' would be better served by the terms
'literal' and 'non-literal' translation. This would capture what many of
the writers have been saying anyway, but some have been assuming that
translation = literal while paraphrase = non-literal, and these terms are
not equivalent.

Unfortunately, the publishers of translations often confuse the issue
themselves by trying to justify their work to a particular audience. I
recently read the introduction to a very non-literal new translation which
made the claim 'This is a translation, not a paraphrase.' Well, the editors
either didn't know the meanings of the terms or they were being
intentionally deceptive, since by virtually anyone's definition their work
IS a paraphrase. I would hasten to add that it is also a translation--just
a very non-literal one.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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