Raymond C. Van Leeuwen on Translation

Last night I read an article/essay/chapter in After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation. Its a great book, but this chapter by Van Leeuwen caught me off guard.

I’m somewhat tempted to blog through the essay. At this point, all I can say is that I cannot believe that someone who participated in translating the NLT could know so little about the methods and theory of translation used and taught by organizations like Wycliffe. Honestly. It amazes me. My wife is taking a class on translation right now and I sat in on it last week, just to visit and that particular class session, in of itself, contradicted an entire section of Van Leeuwen’s argument against meaning based translation.

Beyond that, the chapter is so full of red-herrings, misunderstandings, and inaccuracies that I simply don’t know what to do with it. In reading the essay, I can’t help but get the impression that Van Leeuwen thinks that Wycliffe translators are completely naive in their views of how language works and how meaning is conveyed or that they simply haven’t put any kind of thought into such issues (or perhaps a combination of both). The result is that in a number of cases, Van Leeuwen provides very helpful discussions about meaning and how communication works as if he’s critiquing meaning based translation methods. But he’s not. Several examples he provides are regularly used illustrations in introductory classes provided at SIL schools.

All this to say, I’m not entirely sure what the point of his chapter was. All the translators that I know personally would agree with much of what he said about language in general, but consider such issues reasons for using a functional/meaning based method of traslation, rather than, as Van Leeuwen believes, arguments against such translations methods.