A Few Thoughts on the Translation Debate

What follows are mainly some thoughts I’ve had about terminology and also the way certain argument for and against different views are formed.

Often times “Dynamic” translations are viewed as dumbed down. This is often on the basis that their reading level is lower than the more “literal” translations. But could it be that often times (though not always) the reason that the reading level is lower is not because of translators dumbing down the text, but rather that the “Dynamic” translations are simply better and less awkward English. A great example of this is very easily seen in TC’s blind comparison. In that case, the unknown dynamic translation (which is really the TNIV) is easier to read and not dumbed down at all in comparison with the unknown literal translation (the NRSV).

The terms “Literal” and “Dynamic” are thrown around in ways that they shouldn’t be. More often than not, literal really just means awkward (and often times over against accurate), What should literal mean? Well how about the maintaining in the translation of metaphor and imagery, word play, word order (when it does not violate the semantics of the clause, sentence or discourse as a whole – Psalm 1.1 in the KJV tradition), and the linguistic register (kind of like literary ability) of the author? It should also accurately transfer into the target language the rhetorical strategies and discourse structure of the author.

I can tell you right off the bat that with the exception of maintaining metaphor, imagery and word order (often to an incomprehensible extreme) the NASB fails on most of these.

And in fact translations like the TNIV tend to get the most of these done much better though I by no means claim that they are perfect. As far as I know, linguistic register is never translated. It should be though. I want to see John’s very simple Greek shown through in simple English and I want to see Hebrews’ rich and complex Greek shine through the English text as well. I haven’t yet. But I want to. One of the problems is that such translation requires an incredible amount of sensitivity in both Greek and English – and perhaps even a linguistic awareness of English beyond simply native speaker intuition.

So there are some thoughts to chew on. I hope my summer away hasn’t caused my English bible translation readers to disappear…

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