God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On Translations for Children

Karyn Traphagen notes that Dr. Ellen Frankel has some thoughts about making the Bible PG for children. (Dr. Frankel authored the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible.)

Seeing this reminded of something I saw some time ago in a “children’s prayerbook” along the lines of “Like wine, the sabbath is sweet.” The problem is that children think wine is disgusting, so I doubt that comparing the sabbath to wine is really a good way to reach children.

Then I got to wondering more generally if translations need to be tailored to children, and I think the answer is at least partially “yes,” because children speak a different dialect of English. (The translation issues are in addition to any content changes, such as perhaps removing rape.)

At the most basic level, children have a different vocabulary and syntax than adults. Just as the British and American versions of some translations differ according to the two dialects, shouldn’t a children’s version take into account how children use language?

Similarly, some biblical metaphors are completely opaque to children. For example, the common image among the Prophets of a “barren women” is beyond the understanding of young children, but the point may not be.

On the other hand, I see at least four drawbacks to children’s translations:

1. Children may come to think that their children’s version is the Only True Version of the Bible, and then, as adults, refuse to use any other. This would leave them with a permanently pediatric view of the Bible.

2. More generally, children may never learn that the Bible is suitable for adults.

3. Parents — many of whom read the Bible primarily with their children — may find reinforcement for their preconceived notions that the Bible is childish.

4. As a practical matter, translating for children is difficult. A bad translation is probably worse than no translation.

So I wonder: should we create children’s translations of the Bible?

October 20, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , , | 9 Comments