Re: Translating and Inclusive Language

From: Edward Hobbs (
Date: Fri Sep 05 1997 - 16:02:07 EDT

Tony Prete responded to Jonathan Robie's (excellent, IMHO) proposed
translation of Mark 4:23 with his objections, then his own proposed


How about this: "Let anyone who has ears to hear with listen."


Tony ended with a plea for the "literal meaning":

>>Though I've yet to reach even the "little Greek" level (an "in vitro"
Greek, perhaps?), I find myself attracted primarily to the literal
meaning of both the words and the tone they convey--though it's difficult
to be faithful to both when translating into English. (As others have
pointed out, the inclusive language problem is an English issue, not a
Greek issue; though as a professional editor I have no difficulty with
using a plural pronoun with an singular indeterminate subject.) My
approach would be to convey the text literally at first--including the
sarcasm and the command--then reformulate it into good English that
conveys the same complex meaning. A few possibilities:

"Hear, if you have ears for hearing!"

"Can you hear?" (if you couldn't, I wouldn't be talking to you) "Then

"Do you have ears? Use them!"<<

My response (Edward now) is that this isn't literal at all, for the
central issue in the Greek is that it is a 3rd person imperative, something
we don't have in English. Tony has changed this to a standard English 2nd
person imperative. The traditional way of translating Greek 3person-imp's
is to use "Let him/them ... " I don't like this, for it suggests
"Permit him to do thus", whereas the Greek is a command to someone other
than the speaker or the addressee. Circumlocutions are necessary in
English, since we lack this grammatical construction; but turning the
sentence into a second person direct command may not be the best way to do

I consider Jonathan's proposal quite clever; whether I would use it, I'm
not sure, but my sole reason for not doing so would be my discomfort with
the "Let..." construction, for which I have no alternative!

Edward Hobbs

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