God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Dubious Value of Multiple Bible Translations

The question of the value of consulting multiple translations comes up from time to time (recently here, for example). But beyond flagging passages where a reader might want to investigate a bit more, I’m not entirely sure what the value is. As the chart to the right depicts (click on it to enlarge it), multiple translations can easily cluster around a meaning which is wrong.

One easy way for this to happen is when translators base their work on older wrong translations. They might do this directly by consulting the older translations, or indirectly by looking up words in a lexicon that in turn is based on an older translation.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | using Bible translations | , , | 7 Comments

Follow-Up on God’s Word

Polycarp has begun a more detailed look at the God’s Word translation, starting with Romans 5:1-11. Take a look.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Bible versions | , , | Comments Off on Follow-Up on God’s Word

It Doesn’t Matter the Condition of the Grammar

I think back to a radio spot for lechayim, an “auto donation program” (that is, a program for donating your car, not for donating yourself). The announcer in the ad tells listeners that if they donate their car to lechayim they will get a tax deduction, and furthermore, “it doesn’t matter the condition of the car!”

It’s pretty clear that the text was written by someone who speaks Yiddish.

Somehow the ad was written, edited, produced, and aired without anyone noticing that it makes no sense except to a small subset of English speakers.

This sounds like many Bible translations I’ve encountered.

I think the ad can teach us about three ways that some Bible translations go astray:

1. People doing the translations speak another language — Yiddish in the case of the ad, Hebrew/Greek in the case of Bible translation — and this knowledge shifts their internal grammar of their native language. They start to think that “it doesn’t matter the condition…” (in the case of the ad), or, say, “I spoke unto him saying…” (in the case of Bible translation) is English.

2. People evaluating the translations become so familiar with the flawed English that they, too, start to think it’s grammatical.

3. Context is often powerful enough to override — or, at least, significantly mask — ungrammaticality.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | general linguistics, translation theory | , , , | 1 Comment