Literal translation/target group

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Oct 15 1997 - 05:17:09 EDT

At 09:31 AM 10/14/97 Don Wilkins wrote (in the thread "Translation for O
LOGOS (John 1)?)

<I agree in large part with Rolf (especially with what he has to say about
<the target audience), but what he says in the excerpt above may need
<clarification. As a professional translator I can certainly attest to the
<difficulties in handling John's prologue, and yes, we have speculated on
<using a transliteration of hO LOGOS in the NASB--maybe for about 2 minutes
<in any one brain-storming session. But to return to Rolf's comments, LOGOS
<would not be a translation at all, so it is technically incorrect to say
<that it would be an excellent one. As to rendering each source word by the
<same Eng. equivalent word in a literal translation, there might have been
<one stage in the history of modern Bible translation when such a goal was
<taken seriously, but no more. A more practical definition would be to render
<each source word in an equivalent English word that is accepted as a literal
<translation and is appropriate to the given context. Finally, "the Word"
<could not be used for every occurrence of hO LOGOS because of the
<capitalization of the former, unless Rolf means to refer only to the Gr.
<term as it is applied to Christ/the preexistent Son. Often we overlook the
<effect of capitalization in specifying a substantive--that, for instance, is
<the most important issue in the argument of the Watchtower for "a god" in
<John 1:1.

Dear Don,

I take the liberty of changing subject because your comments open a new
interesting thread about literal translation. (BTW, I did not say that
LOGOS in an English version would be a translation, but a transliteration.
I agree with you regarding the importance of capital letters.)

We agree regarding the importance of defining the target group, we disagree
regarding the feasibility of using "one English word for each source word"
for a particular target group. Let me state that for public reading in
church I would prefer an idiomatic translation such as the NIV or even one
that is more free. However, I have for some time studied how the theology
and bias of Bible translators affect the readers, and for those wanting to
come as close as possible to the original text without knowing Greek and
Hebrew, and at the same time want to wrestle with the presupposition pool
of the writers of the Bible on their own, a STRICTLY literal translation is
the best choice.

I see many advantages with the NASB, not least its renderings of Greek
verbs, all the words in italics and the many footnotes, all these features
being very useful for its particular target group. You mentioned the
Watchtower, and their New World Translation has another target group,
namely the one I mentioned above. The quality of the NASB and the NWT
cannot be compared because they have different target groups, but the
usefulness of strict literalness for a particular group can be illuminated
by a comparison. I will use the three (six) related terms YUCH/nefesh,
HADES/Sheol and GEENNA/gei hinnom as examples.

NWT renders all occurrences of YUCH/nefesh as "soul" while NASB renders the
word(s) as "soul","life","being" and many others. Both approaches have
advantages relative to their target groups. The NWT approach illustrates,
however, the usefulness of the "one English/one source word" principle, and
I think that even for other target groups the use of "soul" throughout
creates few problems.

Both NASB and NWT transliterates HADES/sheol. This should be commended
because it prevents the theology and bias of the translators from being
forced upon the readers. It also illustrates that particular kinds of words
naturally find a uniform rendition for all kinds of translations.

NWT transliterates GEENNA and translates gei hinnom as "the valley of
Hinnom", while NASB translates GEENNA as "hell" and gei Hinnom as "the
valley of Hinnom".
In this case I will commend the NWT and criticize the NASB. The Greek and
Hebrew words are proper names, and such may be rendered slightly
differently in different languages due to different stocks of phonemes. But
names are not in translation substituted by completely different words.
Additionally (I speak philologically and not theologically), the word
"hell" has a huge load of connotations which not necessarily is found in
GEENNA/gei hinnom. It seems to me that in this case (which is very
different from the LOGOS/Word discussed earlier), not only a uniform
rendition, but a transliteration would be the best choice for all target
groups as in the case with HADES/Sheol.

The strictly literal translation is by no means dead. The Schocken Bible,
vol. 1, translated by Everett Fox, was published in 1995. It conveys the
rhytm and sound structure of the original text, stressing what the text
SAYS, while the strictly literal NWT conveys the sentence structure of the
original text and how each word is used, stressing what the text MEANS.
Both may be criticized for their "wooden literalness" (in a few instances
the text is almost unintelligible), but this is exactly what the target
groups want. I see great advantages in literal translations such as the
NASB and in idiomatic translations, but for those who want to work with the
text on their own, strictly literal translations are the best tools.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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