God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Point(s) of Translation

A recent post by Mike Aubrey (quoting and disagreeing with Paul Helm) again raises the issue of “dynamic equivalence,” and, more generally, the goal of translation.

In a comment, Jason Staples suggests:

Good post. I think the basic translation philosophy of attempting to most clearly convey the meaning of a text (which is effectively “dynamic equivalence”) is the whole task of translation. The more translation I’ve done, the more I’ve come to see “literal” as a bit of a problematic concept in itself, since equivalent words don’t always have equivalent meaning across languages and language tends to be figurative anyway.

I agree that conveying the original meaning is one goal (and I agree that word-for-word renderings usually don’t do this), but I don’t think it’s the only goal, because there’s more to a text than what it means.

The point of some texts is purely poetic and they don’t mean anything. (This isn’t to say that they are meaningless.) Some of the poetry of Psalms comes to mind.

A text can raise awareness, or make people think. A text can be funny. A text can be a source of inspiriation. And so forth.

I think a translation that captures the meaning but misses everything else gives people a very shallow understanding of the original text (though a translation that misrepresents the meaning is doing even worse).

Here’s a question: beyond any potential role in conveying the meaning of the original, is there any point to trying to translate each word?

September 16, 2009 Posted by | translation theory | , , , , | 4 Comments