God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Double-Edged Sword of Etymology in I Timothy 3:8

William Mounce at Koinonia (hosted by Zondervan Academic) disagrees with Mark Strauss about dilogos in I Timothy 3:8.

Dr. Strauss takes issue with the ESV’s choice of “double-tongued,” arguing that it “sounds like a mock ‘Indian-speak’ (with forked-tongue) or some strange alien creature,” while Dr. Mounce defends the decision because — in cases like this where we lack sound knowledge about what the word means (it’s a hapax legomenon):

You have to go to etymology. Since we have no prior use of this word, and since Paul shows openness to making up words, especially in the Pastorals, it makes sense he coined the word here. Dilogos is from dis meaning “twice” and logos meaning “something said.” Suggestions for its meaning range from “repetitious, gossips, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing to one person but another to another person.” The basic meaning is clear. When a deacon speaks, his words must be true, rigorously honest.

The problem is that the exact same reasoning that suggests “double-tongued” also suggests the English “bilingual” (from bi-, “two/twice” and lingual, “tongued.”) as a translation for dilogos.

I’m not suggesting that “bilingual” is the right translation. But I think there’s something wrong, or at least incomplete, with a translation approach that suggests two so completely different translations for the same word.

[EDIT: Take a look at this fun and detailed analysis for a more in-depth look at dilogos and related words. J. K. Gayle is in particularly good form.]

Advertisements

October 7, 2009 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. There is a vietnamese man who walks in the same park, he came over as a young child on the boat (many boats) in ’75 after the fall of Saigon, long story, seven attempts to escape, last attempt ship ran out of fuel drifted for weeks, everyone nearly dead when it was spotted by a tanker which towed it to oil platform. Anyway, this man Thon, is a bio genetics guru, PhD, research and all that.

    Thon speaks half a dozen modern languages. He likes to say american is a synonym for monolingual. My retort, the only language you need to know is English, everybody you need to talk to knows english.

    Comment by c. stirling bartholomew | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  2. we do have good english equivalents to the idea here i think. i have commonly used the phrases double-talker and two-faced to describe the same thing Paul is speaking of here. i guess my theory of translation is that when there is something close as double-talker is to dilogos, use it.

    Comment by Ryan | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  3. we do have good english equivalents to the idea here i think. i have commonly used the phrases double-talker and two-faced to describe the same thing Paul is speaking of here. i guess my theory of translation is that when there is something close as double-talker is to dilogos, use it.

    Well, the question is how you know that dilogos means “double-talker” or “two-faced.” Maybe it means something else (just the way “bilingual” means something else) and we’re being led astray by the etymology. Maybe the point is “forked tongue” (that is, someone who uses vicious language), which is different than “double-talker” and different yet again than “two-faced.”

    Comment by Joel H. | October 7, 2009 | Reply

    • Joel,
      i guess my question, if we are talking strict etymology is where ‘tongue’ comes in. it would seem that the better etymological translation here is double-worded. right? I guess I am having trouble thinking of a use of logos to refer to the physical tongue. That, for me, makes the forked-tongue idea difficult. Logos, as I understand it, is related to the words spoken, rather than the speaker, or the instrument of speaking.

      Comment by Ryan | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  4. Joel, you wrote:

    “But I think there’s something wrong, or at least incomplete, with a translation approach that suggests two so completely different translations for the same word.”

    I am not sure the problem here is the “translation approach”, i.e., the failure isn’t at the level of theory of translation. It is just a isolated instance of choosing a word which is likely to trigger the wrong inference in the “prototypical english reader” (whomever that may be?). I agree it sounds kind of strange, I wouldn’t have voted for it but I wasn’t invited to be a member of the editorial committee :-)))

    I haven’t really read much of the ESV. I was under the impression it was going to be a moderate revision of the RSV. The RSV certainly didn’t invent monstrosities like this with hyphens in them. But again, I don’t think this example is a problem with the translation theory.

    Comment by c. stirling bartholomew | October 7, 2009 | Reply

    • I think the theoretical failure is the assumption that the English “double-tongued” must be better than, say, “devious” (just for example), just because the Greek etymology suggests a combination of “two” and “word,” while the English is a combination of two similar parts.

      Schematically, the Greek dilogos consists of G1-G2 (two Greek parts) and the English double-tongued is E1-E2. Even though G1 is like E1 and G2 is like E2, G1-G2 isn’t necessarily the same as E1-E2. We see this from “bilingual,” which also has two parts, each of which is like the Greek.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that logos actually means “tongue” (as Ryan understood me to say), or, even that the translation is wrong. My point was that etymology can be misleading.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  5. Joel,

    **in the following Paul = Author (yes I know … )

    I see this is being discussed on the b-greek list. From what I can find in TLG Paul’s use in I Timothy 3:8 is the first occurrence of this word as a noun or adjective. DIALOGIA is not related since DI and DIA unrelated semantically. Anyway, if we take the RT approach, what the English word or word group should accomplish is to trigger the same inferential associations. E-A Gutt (1991 Translation & Relevance p. 41-44) calls this “sharing the same analytic and contextual implications” which is somewhat too wordy for my tastes.

    I would argue that double tongued fails this test and is a bad translation. I would not from that jump to the conclusion that the translation theory or model being used is deficient. I am not really aware to what extent the ESV people have presented a rigorous description of their approach.

    Comment by c. stirling bartholomew | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  6. correction:

    I said: “DIALOGIA is not related since DI and DIA unrelated semantically.”

    That isn’t really correct. I found the source of this discussion. Monday’s blog post by Mounce. I must say that his approach to lexical semantics is somewhat primitive. By that I mean it is pre-linguistic, something that would have passed without comment in the late 1800s but certainly he doesn’t give any evidence of being conversant with anything between Saussure and Sperber & Wilson. It is no wonder that the folks with some translation theory background find him easy target abuse.

    Comment by c. stirling bartholomew | October 8, 2009 | Reply


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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s