Fun with grammatical analysis; Or a plea for Meaning-based translation

Consider the following two sentences:

  1. Dana eu bahu leia.
  2. Dana eu bahu na laia.

This is a language is from Amele in Papua New Guinea.

What do theses sentences mean? Here they are again with word by word glosses.

  1. Dana eu bahu leia.
    man that bush went [past]
  2. Dana eu bahu na leia.
    man that bush to went [past]

Do these sentences mean the same thing? Not a chance. They look similar, but say very different things.

An idiomatic translation of these two sentences in the same order would be:

  1. That man went to live in the forest.
  2. That man went to the toilet.

All of that because of the word /na/ to denote location.

In my couple posts a while back, I said that it often seems as if “literal” means awkward. But in this case, “literal” means misleading. Even the smallest elements can change the propositional content of a sentence.

So why is literal better for translating the Bible into English?