God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

“God is an Online Forum”

Because this is a blog about translation, I’m curious when people read it in translation. Recently the logs showed me that someone used Google to translate the blog from English into Turkish. I took a look at what the site looked like in Turkish, and then used Google to translate the Turkish back into English.

The “about” section of my blog starts off, “God Didn’t Say That is an online forum….” By the time Google translated it into Turkish and back, it read, “God is an online forum.” (Oops.)

Though most Bible translation mistakes aren’t so severe as what we see here, I think the underlying problem is the same: some translators stop when they have a grammatical translation (though see my last post — sometimes they stop sooner), even though it might not be the right grammatical translation.


February 1, 2010 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , | Comments Off on “God is an Online Forum”

Top Translation Traps: Forgetting Your Own Grammar

Mark 15:9 demonstrates how translation can make people forget their own grammar.

A curiosity of English generally prevents anything from appearing between a verb an its object. This is why “I saw yesterday Bill” is such an awkward sentence in English. (It’s fine in French, Modern and Biblical Hebrew, Greek, and many other languages.)

Yet for the Greek apoluso umin ton basilea tou Ioudaion the KJV, ESV, NAB, NIV, NJB, and NRSV all have some variant of, “[do you want me to] release for you the King of the Jews,” putting the phrase “for you” (sometimes “to you”) right between the verb and the object.

Simple English grammar demands, “…release the King of the Jews for you.”

I suppose what we see is a result of translators’ (unfortunate) desire to mimic the Greek word order combined with something about Bible translation that makes people temporarily forget what they ordinarily know instinctively.

The lesson this week is simple: When you write an English translation, try to write it in English.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | grammar, Translation Traps | , , , , , | 14 Comments