Translation in Action: Preface

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Translation seems to be a hot topic right now, so I decided to do a series of posts on a translation that I did for class. The passage that I chose for my translation/exegesis paper was John 6:16-21. I'll go through each verse, giving my translation and a couple of others and discuss why I made the calls that I did and the various issues involved in those decisions.

Regarding the task of translation, I do want to point out that no translation is perfect. The fact that languages are different from each other simply makes a perfect translation impossible. Thus, each translation focuses on on certain aspects of translation. Meaning is invariably the most important, but how that is achieved varies as the other aspects come into play. If you want the reader to be aware when the same word is being used as in other passages, then you will try to translate that word using the same English word in each case. This often comes at a cost of readability. Focusing on the symbolic meanings often comes at a cost to the literal meaning and vice versa. Lyricism, rhyme and meter are extraordinarily difficult to carry over into a different language and many other aspects will have to be sacrificed in order to retain those. Each translation chooses to weight some aspects over others, and they are useful tools inasmuch as they succeed in doing so and the reader recognizes what that weighting is.

That being said, though no translation is perfect and most can be improved a fair amount. This is no knock on the translators, it simply reflects simple time constraints--even if they take years to complete their translation, they still don't have all that much time to spend on any given verse. An hour for a single verse would be a luxury. And taking more than a few years for the whole project is a similar indulgence. Consequently, non-controversial verses may only get a few minutes of time devoted to translating them. This is normally fine. But if you are a student of Greek and are only translating a few verses (say, for a paper), you can devote much more time to the translation. And if you take 3 hours per verse and you are a halfway decent Greek student and English student, you have a pretty good chance of coming up with something better than any of the translations out there.

My priorities in translating this passage were: 1)Accuracy of meaning (of course), 2)Readability of the English, 3)Preserving the ambiguities of the Greek, and 4)Retaining the symbolic and thematic meanings. The second one (readability) pushes me towards "dynamic equivalency". What this means for me was that I did not try too hard to keep the word count or word order the same. When I could, I did, and largely was successful in that, but there are times when a single Greek word needs a whole phrase in English and vice versa.

Note: I will add links to all the posts in the series here as I write them.

Translation in Action: John 6:16

Translation in Action: John 6:17

Translation in Action: John 6:18

2 Comments

Wink, I am looking forward to reading your series. I have notified the readers of my blog of your series by linking to it:
http://englishbibles.blogspot.com/2005/07/translation-in-action-preface.html

Awesome. Think I'm going to enjoy this.

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