On translation

Jim Hamilton on translations. I’m sympathetic to his point about intertextuality; learning the biblical languages helps here and a good formal equivalence translation can be a good tool too (I’m more squeamish about the term literal than he is!). Note for example the notion that we should use the “actual words they use” when translating “rather than paraphrasing them.” Here’s the rub – we are not using the actual words – we are using different words, in different languages, with different semantic ranges, connotations and even intertexutality. Look at the history of English Bible readings for an example of intertextuality within the KJV rather than biblical languages.

The point is that some intertextuality is not translatable – yet we still translate even when the semantic domain and connotations and more of words in two languages aren’t equivalent. So, I think I would be a bit more hesitant on this front. I think we are wiser to suggest a range of translations be used, including at least one good formal equivalence one; and I might even be willing to suggest it as our first choice. But maybe not for all readers, and certainly not for all purposes.

I do wonder if the idea of “points being scored” is a capitulation, at least at some level, to the idea of language being a power issue. I’m not willing to say that is always the case, so I think we would be wise not to turn this into a culture war front, or at least in only a minimal way.


I’m especially careful on the language of gender. If English had been formed differently (like some other languages) we wouldn’t have these debates about inclusive translations. And if English changes enough, we’ll stop having them again. I don’t think we’re there yet (and perhaps we won’t make it). But it seems to me that in parts of our English speaking world we’ve made a pretty serious shift. I’m not sure we can go all “language Amish” and still remain relevant. A couple of decades will help us know better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: