God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

A Note About God’s Word

Polycarp has some comments about the God’s Word translation, where he quotes a text that refers readers to a PDF called “A Guide to GOD’’S WORD Translation: Translating the Bible according to the Principles of Closest Natural Equivalence.” It’s an impressive document. Take a look.

Unfortunately, the translation doesn’t always seem to rise the promise of its principles.

It claims to be a fully new translation, yet it seems to mirror some other versions pretty closely. Just for example, Psalm 98:4 is generally difficult to translate because of its four “singing”-like verbs: hari’u, pitschu, ran’nu, and zameru. The first one starts the verse, and the last three appear one after the other at the end. Rather than simply conjoin all three verbs, the ESV, for example, goes with, “break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” Similarly, God’s Word offers, “Break out into joyful singing, and make music.” The similarities of syntax and word choice (“break forth”/”break out” and “joyous song”/”joyful singing”) seem unlikely in a translation that didn’t rely on other English versions.

And for that matter, the rendition of the line — “Shout happily to the LORD, all the earth.//Break out into joyful singing, and make music” — doesn’t seem to rise to the level of poetry.

Still, most translations do no better, and in light of the obviously well-informed thought that went into designing the translation, I think God’s Word deserves closer attention.

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October 8, 2009 Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice, translation theory | , , , , | 6 Comments

Hebrew Grammar Quirks

Still following up on what Pete Enns said:

Second, I would be prepared at how Hebrew does not “behave itself,” i.e., how grammars necessarily abstract the language almost to the point where a fair amount of what you’ve been learning doesn’t correspond to the actual biblical text.

More than once I have encountered this sort of surprise at the biblical text. So I’m curious, what sorts of quirks of Hebrew grammar have people encountered that seem to run contrary to what they learned about Hebrew?

October 8, 2009 Posted by | general linguistics | , , , | Leave a comment

The Grammar Can’t Be Wrong

In an interview with Karyn Traphagen, Pete Enns says:

Second, I would be prepared at how Hebrew does not “behave itself,” i.e., how grammars necessarily abstract the language almost to the point where a fair amount of what you’ve been learning doesn’t correspond to the actual biblical text.

While a printed grammar of a language can be (and frequently is) wrong, the underlying grammar of the language is always right. That is, there are rules by which all languages operate, and one task of the linguist is to discover those rules. In this regard modern linguistics, beginning last century, has been particularly helpful. (Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct is a great introduction.)

So if people are working from books that don’t match up with the language they’re studying, I think it’s time to stop blaming the language and start blaming the books.

October 8, 2009 Posted by | general linguistics | , | 2 Comments