Dave Black on Paraphrasing in Translation

From Dave Black Online:

10:44 AM I really enjoyed reading Thomas Hudgin’s Thinking Past the Glosses. Good Bible translation is scarce, and good Bible translators are even scarcer. Our understanding of Scripture is often hampered by mis- or under-translation. Not a good thing. A good translator is a thinker, first and foremost. He or she is a haggler over shades of meaning. To use Thomas’s example, why not use “I’m dumbfounded” in Gal 1:6 instead “I am amazed”? The other day I wrote a few German sentences on my blog. It included this sentence: “Man learnt nie aus!” Literally one could translate this as “One learns never out!” Idiomatically, however, the sentence means something like “You never stop learning!” Translators must go beyond the mere dictionary meaning of a term. A word’s role in its sentence must be considered. Did you get the denotation right? How about the connotative meaning? Worse still, did you commit the root fallacy? (A Friseur in Germany will cut your hair, not frizz it.) Let me suggest that translators should never be afraid of the word “paraphrase.” “¿Cuántos años tiene Usted?” does not mean
“How many years do you have?” Yes, it is a paraphrase to translate the expression “How old are you?” but a necessary one.

Accurate translation requires more that a word-for-word rendering.

Understand you? (Verstehst Du?)

I quote the entire note, as Dave’s blog doesn’t allow one to link to a specific post.

What Dave says here (and what he links to by Thomas Hudgins) is extremely important. Many readers and even pastors assume that something that is “closer to the Greek text” is necessarily more accurate. “Closer to the Greek text” is often defined as being as close as possible to a word-for-word equivalence. That assumption is incorrect and often terribly misleading.

One can mistranslate using formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence. I find those terms useful, but mostly to help pull us away from a way of thinking. The question is whether you have presented what the author intended to the reader.

Now it’s impossible to attain 100% equivalence, no matter how you define it. So different approaches to translating a text are valuable. Is the primary goal to convey a set of propositions made by the author? Does one want to convey the literary style? The feeling a reader gets when reading?

If you think the latter is not important consider poetry. If I translate a poem into a set of propositions, have I translated it? I may have conveyed the intellectual content, but if the original intended to convey feelings and speak to the emotions, such a translation would be lacking.

In a more nuanced issue, should a translation of Mark and Hebrews sound different? I think so. If you lose the soring rhetoric of Hebrews or the urgent pace of Mark (amongst other things) I think you’ve done author, message, and reader a disservice.

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