A Fork In the Road

From: David L. Moore (dvdmoore@ix.netcom.com)
Date: Fri Oct 17 1997 - 01:00:37 EDT

     I remember being present at a covention where the invited preacher
didn't speak the language of the congregation, so his message was being
interpreted. He was telling about a visit to Russia where he had met some
rocket scientist who were believers in Christ. Since the preacher hadn't
met many scientists who were believers, these Russians had impressed him.
In trying to convey the assembly his amazement at their inellectual stature,
he said, "They had foreheads like this," and he motioned with his hand
indicating something large.

        The fellow who was interpreting the message looked at the preacher
amazed. "Four heads?" he asked.

        "Yes, foreheads," said the other.

        "Four heads?" he asked again.

        "Foreheads," came the answer.

        "Well, anyway," the interpreter said in the language of the
congregation, with a shrug of his shoulders, "he says they had four heads."

        Another story I heard - I can't vouch for the truth of this one - is
about two people who spoke very little English who were traveling in the US.
They had a map but got disoriented and stopped to ask directions.

        The man they asked knew the area and the place they were trying to
find. He said, "Just follow this highway until you come to a fork in the
road. The place you're looking for on the left side of the road from that

        They understood what the words were the man had said and used a
bilingual dictionary to translate them into their own tongue, but since
their language used different words for "table fork" and "where the road
makes a Y," they had traveled nearly a hundred miles when one turned to the
other and said, "Do you suppose we should go back to where the road divided
into two ways, take the other way, and see if we come across a fork in the
road up that way?"

        These are a couple of stories that illustrate how semantic domains
are not always coincident across languages and cultures. This is the reason
that translations which always translate any given Greek word with
invariably the same English word must be often misleading. Good translation
is idiomatic. Although translations that are uncompromisingly literal can
be helpful for study (cf. Aquila's traslation of the Jewish Scriptures),
they are specialized tools for people who are willing to invest time in
learning their special language. On the other hand, translations that seek
the lowest common denominator are, IMO, niche translations as well; I find
very few people who want to use them.

        Most of us have our favorites, and maybe there is a golden mean
somewhere that would be a translation loved by everyone.

Regards to all,
David Moore

David L. Moore
Miami, Florida, USA
Southeastern Spanish District of the A/G Dept. of Education
E-mail: dvdmoore@ix.netcom.com
Home Page: http://members.aol.com/dvdmoore


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