The Problem with All Translations

A website linked to me recently:

The site linked to my post about the CBA sales statistics, so out of curiosity, I went to peruse their pages. As anyone who reads my blog knows, translation is a subject that is incredibly important to me and I easily get riled up about it. For that reason, I apologize ahead of time if I get a little overly passionate in what follows. I don’t intend anything below personally. I merely want translation to be recognized to be as a significantly more complicated process than is often believed. And those of us who write (or read) about translation regularly know that we get pretty fired up at each other pretty consistently when we blog (cf. John Hobbins and the writers of the Better Bibles Blog in particular).

The page, “Understanding Bible Translations” caught my eye rather quickly, though I was, to a degree, disappointed with the content. And my problem really comes down to only sentence on the entire page. There’s good stuff there; its just too simple of a description.

The problematic statement for me are the last sentence at the end of the paragraphs about “Literal” translations and “Dynamic Equivalence” translations (both of which are misnomers in of themselves, but they’re so common, that’s not worth fighting about – I use the words Formal and Functional below).

A common complaint of dynamic equivalence translations is that they rely significantly on the interpretation of the translator and may exclude or confuse original words and meanings.”

The thing is that the complaint about Functional Equivalence translation is just as true about formal translations as it is about Functional ones. Formal translations are just as interpretive. All translations both exclude and confuse the original words and meanings. The exclusion is the result of translation. The confusion is the result of being human. And it should be noted that both types of translation are 1) translations and 2) done by humans.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with All Translations

Add yours

  1. Hey Mike, I am by no means a Greek expert. But I do speak and write both in English and Spanish (although I am very rusty from lack of use). Translating from English to Spanish is not easy. Many of the thoughts get lost in the translation. I have had to preach (which I don’t preach in Spanish because I lack the vocabulary/practice of Bible Spanish words) so I use a translator. Various times when he translated me I had to correct him because although he did translate me word for word, he did not at all communicate the idea the thought. And it was the idea that was more important than the word for word.

    So the next time I had to preach at a Spanish speaking church my wife who is far better than I in reading and speaking Spanish sat with me for several hours helping me translate my notes into Spanish because I did not want to through that again.

    I do have a deep appreication for those of you that commit themselves to the languages, as I understand in part the major challenges involved.

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