Re: Literal translation/target group

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Wed Oct 15 1997 - 12:55:29 EDT

At 11:17 AM 10/15/97 +0200, you wrote:

>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.)

Well, this is what you said: "A transliteration of hO LOGOS would hardly be
chosen by an idiomatic translation, but is excellent for a literal one." I
apologize for misunderstanding you. To be exact, the translation does not
choose, the translators do, and I infer that what you mean is that a
transliteration works very well in a literal translation.

>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.

Fair enough. Again, the target audience is the decisive factor. If there are
enough members of that audience to support publication of a translation that
would have a narrow, vertical market--and I'll stipulate that a target of
one makes translation worth the effort if it is at all practicable--then
almost any methodolgy can be justified. As to the "presupposition pool," I
shouldn't say much because I've not followed the thread closely. It does
interest me, though, because it sounds like you are presupposing the
possibility to get into the writer's mind, and I am becoming more and more
convinced that this is impossible; i.e. that we can only try to understand
what the writer has written.
>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.

It brings me a great deal of pain to see the NASB compared with the NWT on
any level, I'm afraid. The translators of the NWT do not hesitate to alter
the text at will to suit their theology (if one can call it that). But as to
the examples you discuss, it's fine to leave such cryptic terms as GEENNA as
proper names if your audience understands the situation.

>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.

I suppose "dead" is a relative term in this context (reminds me of the
levels of "dead" discussed in "Congo," an otherwise forgettable movie). I
doubt that many people are aware now of the Schocken Bible or will be in the
foreseeable future, while the NWT is known far better for the theology it
conveys than for its "literalness" as an objective translation.

Don Wilkins

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