Yesterday’s post discussed inclusive translation for public readings, but raised the question of what translation is all about. What are we doing, or trying to do, when we translate?
I will begin with James 1:20 again. Here is the original Greek order of words:
Whenever we translate a sentence like this (from Greek) into English, there are three elements that always come into play and cannot be avoided. It is mistaken to think any of these three can be avoided. They are:
Source Language (the words of James 1:20) and its Message
Receptor Language (the English into which we want to translate it)
Audience (this varies)
Translation, it can be said, involves the effort to move from Source Language to Receptor Language either identically or equivalently.
Those translations that strive for “identity” in translation, even we do want to say that there is no such thing as pure identity, tend to focus on formal identity, including word order when possible. Thus,
“For the anger of man the righteousness of God cannot produce.”
Even here we have moved “for” to the first word to make sense. This sentence above, of course, sounds weird, so it normally would be “For the anger of man cannot produce the righteousness of God.” Generally, we simply cannot translate in a formally identical way — the word order has to be converted to the way things are done in English.
Formal identity translations strive less for equivalency than for identity: they do whatever can be done in English to keep the words identitical and the word order as close as possible. The advantage of this sort of translation is that it permits us to “feel” the author’s unique style and it prompts our ability to know the original more closely.
Other translations strive for dynamic equivalency. Thus:
“Because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (TNIV)
The focus here is to evoke the same response in our audiences that were evoked in the original audiences, and to do this the text has to be transformed into language that evokes that same response.
Now, the question is for you: What do you want in a translation? Do you want one that evokes from you the same response (choose dynamic equivalency translations like TNIV or the NLT or The Message) or one that leads you to a closer formal identity (choose the NRSV, the RSV, the NASB, the ESV)?