God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Top Translation Traps: Missing the Point

[Between six appearances in four cities and then having to buy a new car, I haven’t been in front of a computer in nearly two weeks. So I’m playing catch-up, starting with a much-delayed installment of “translation traps.”]

Following up on some thoughts about myopic translations, here’s one way in particular that a translation can focus too closely on the words and not closely enough on the text.

This is a typical translation of a (Modern) Hebrew text into English:

Rain was falling, it was cold and wet. We sat at home, we looked out toward the street.
I sat with Tali. It was very cold. I said, “What a shame. We can’t do anything.”
[I’m] not allowed to go out and play ball. It’s just cold and wet and [I’m] not allowed. [I’m] not allowed.”
We kept sitting. Just, just, just, just [sitting]. It was the most boring [thing] in the world.
And then something moved. Bump. Wow, what a bump. We were so shocked.
We looked, and then he made his way in. We looked, and we saw, a mischievous cat.

For reference, here’s the original Hebrew, with word-for-word translations:

geshem
rain
yarad
fell
haya
it-was
kar
cold
v’ratov.
and-wet.
yashavnu
we-sat
babayit,
in-the-house
hibatnu
we-looked
lar’chov
to-the-street

yashavti
I-sat
im
with
tali.
Tali.
haya
it-was
nora
awfully
kar.
cold.
amarti:
I-said
chaval,
too-bad
i
not
efshar
possible
shum
any
davar
thing

asur
it-is-forbidden
li
to-me
latzeit
to-go-out
l’sachek
to-play
b’chadur.
in-a-ball.
rak
just
kar
it-is-cold
v’ratov
and-wet
v’asur
and-it-is-forbidden
v’asur
and-it-is-forbidden

himshachnu
we-kept
lashevet.
to-sit.
stam,
just
stam,
just
stam,
just
stam.
just
zeh
it
haya
was
hachi
the-most
m’sha’amem
boring
ba’olam.
in-the-world

v’az
and-then
mashehu
something
zaz.
moved.
trach.
bump
ach,
wow
eizeh
what
trach.
bump
nivhalnu
we-were-shocked
kol
all
kach.
so

hibatnu,
we-looked
v’az
and-then
hu
he
nichnas
entered
lo
to-him
mimul.
from-acrosss
hibatnu
we-looked
ra’inu,
we-saw
chatul
cat
ta’alul.
mischievous

But the English translation above, even though at first glance it may seem pretty good, is wrong in almost every regard. Can you figure out what happened?

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April 22, 2010 Posted by | Bible versions, translation theory, Translation Traps | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments