Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On The Translation Of New Testament Texts (Part 2)

AP: Today we are thinking about the criteria for translation. If all translation is directed by a requirement for formal correspondence between the original text and the translated text, we have to confess that the authors are not in agreement in describing the quality of this correspondence, customarily referred to as "faithfulness" to the original and the target language.

The translator operates between these two poles. How can one establish this correspondence without being unfaithful to one or the other language? Or in other words, paraphrasing the title of the above-mentioned book by J. C. Margot, How do we translate without betrayal?

The history of the translation of the biblical text has not been passive in this effort to work out a criteriology or norm for translation for translators. It is sufficient to recall Luther's reflections in the 16th century, which are to counted among the most advanced of the modern period. In his Letter on the art of translation, he expressed himself thus:
"It has cost me much effort to translate in order to offer pure and clear German. Frequently there has been a case of seeking and asking for two weeks, or for three or four weeks, approaching a single word, without finding an immediate response in spite of this effort. In translating the book of Job, Melanchthon, Aurogallus and I work in such a way that it was hardly possible for us to finish three lines in four days . . . . Today it is in German and finished; anyone can read and examine the text; three or four pages can be read without any difficulty and without perceiving the pitfalls and slips that were there . . . ."
And later he adds:
"It is not Latin literature that has to be scrutinized to know how German should be spoken . . . , but one has to ask the mother at home, the children in the street, the ordinary man in the shop and watch his lips to know how they speak, in order to translate in this form; then they understand and recognize that we are speaking German with them." 
A summary of Luther's reflections on translation can be found in M. Trinklein, "Luther's Insights into the Translator's Task," TBT 21:2 (1970): 80-88. According to Luther, the essential aspects that any translator has to bear in mind are twofold: the translator needs to determine with precision and in a conscientious way the sense of the original text; then he turns his efforts to find the most adequate idiomatic terms to express the message as understood in the receptor language. For Luther,
"the text is king, while the translation is no more than a humble and faithful servant, resolved to serve his master. But this servant is firmly resolved to speak his own language." (cf. H. Bluhn, quoted by M. Trinklein, "Luther's Insights," 85)
The humanist E. Dolet (1509-1546) in his book La manière de bien traduire d'une langue en autre' established five fundamental principles for a good translation. They are as follows:
1. It is necessary that the translator understands perfectly "the meaning and material" of the author he or she is translating.
2. It is necessary that the translator has a perfect knowledge of the language of the author he is translating, and, at the same time, a perfect knowledge of the language into which he is translating.
3. In translating there is no need to follow the text slavishly word by word. Those who make this mistake "frequently corrupt the meaning of the author they are translating and do not express the grace and perfection of either language." 
4. The translator must use terms that are natural to the target language, without introducing into his translation forms borrowed from those of the original language. 
5. The translator must cultivate in the target language the balance of the phrase, the harmony of the construction of the text; that is, it is not sufficient to choose appropriate words but they must be employed in an order which does not repel the ear or the spirit of the reader.
In the 16th century, both Luther and Dolet show themselves with these assertions to be clear precursors of what was later to become known as "dynamic translation."

The trouble is that this theory and practice of translation has hardly progressed in the subsequent centuries, oscillating between an extravagant literalism and excessive liberty with respect to the texts. G. Mounin in Les belles infidèles (Paris: Cahiers du Sud, 1955; 77ff.) has described this phenomenon well: the reign of the "unfaithful beauties" (17th and 18th centuries) in which people tried to avoid anything that offended the tastes of the day, was succeeded by the reaction of the early 20th century with its reversion to the pedestrianism of word-for-word translation.

*The above is taken, with only slight modification, from the first appendix in Antonio Piñero and Jesús Peláez, The Study of the New Testament: A Comprehensive Introduction, trans. David E. Orton and Paul Ellingworth, Tools for Biblical Studies 3 (Leiden: Deo, 2003), 515-517.

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