Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sucking the Body right out of Translation

Just so you know, I'm limiting my composing on this blog to 15 minutes a post.

Now, here's the thesis statement today:

We western men suck the personal right out of translating.  

This isn't what women tend to do.  Nor is it how the Jews translating their own scriptures translate.

Let me try to explain the thesis.  We westerners, mostly us men, mostly us non-Jews, have mostly translated "the Bible."  But rather than translate by the methods that the Hebrews used, at least in legend, to translate what we know as the Septuagint and as the New Testament -- we western men (and some women) have chosen Western methodologies.

"Dynamic equivalence," "formal equivalence," "literary equivalence," and "relevance theory" are the King methodologies in the Western world today.  To be sure, missionary Bible translators are exporting these methods as if they're straight from God himself, as "infallible" as the text of the "Word of God" surely must be.  

When a woman such as Karen H. Jobes comes along to suggest that translation really is better conceived as "simultaneous interpretation," then the Western men (and some women) get all excited to consider the "new" idea.  But then they return to what they've always been doing:  using Aristotelian and Platonic (i.e., Greek women-hating male) theories of language and of language translation.  Some time back I read an article about how the translators for the U.S. military in Iraq jeopardize their own person, their own families even, when they are simultaneous translators.  The enemies of America don't take too kindly to such translators.  There's personal risk.  Jobes knows that too.

When a family such as Kenneth L. Pike, Evelyn Pike, and Eunice Pike come along to suggest that translators are outsiders looking in, then the Bible translation establishments that they work for get all excited to consider the "new" idea.  But then they "progress" to "relevance theory" leaving the Pikes behind.  Ken Pike named outsiderness "etics" and insiderness "emics" -- and this got the attention of scholars in twenty-five different academic disciplines because it was so useful.  I say it's pretty humble too.  

Pike used to say to some of us his students that some languages don't have much of a mathematics and no formal Aristotle logic and nothing of Plato's idealism (as in Chomsky's syntactic theory).  Pike also used to do this language translation on the spot -- something he called "monolingual demonstration."  He'd play the "etic" outsider and let another "friendly person" he'd never met nor talked with in her language play the "emic" insider.  The "monolingual" part was her language, not his.  But this outsider, etic role of Pike's was always personal.  He'd ask us, "Aren't etics a kind of emics"?  In other words, "Even if I play the outsider, aren't I coming from my own personal perspectives?  Can I ever be totally objective?  Don't the data observed and the person observed and the person observing all change in the observation?"

Alright, I'm into my 14th minute so just have to end by saying this:

I'm reading along in Genesis this morning that part about God changing his mind about having ever made human beings in the first place.  The Jews translating the original Hebrew into Greek use these loaded terms:  καὶ ἐνεθυμήθη ὁ θεὸς.  Somewhat literally in English that is:  "and the god enthymemed."  

"Enthymemed?"  Yep, that's English in our western academics we call "Rhetoric."   It's a loaded, personal term for the Greeks, even for Aristotle and Plato -- both of whom theorized "rhetoric" as something changy and slimy and womany and what the "sophistas" did with language.  Aristotle goes on right at the start of his book Around Rhetoric to say that the "enthymeme" is the "body" of "beliefs" or of "proofs," as in mathematical proofs.  Now, that notion of the "body" is a feminist one.  "Beliefs" and "change" really are things that our mothers do, when they conceive us and carry us to full term and then nurture us through life.  Sort of like translating.  (Which reminds me too of reading something the Jew named Mark said the Rabbi Joshua aka "Jesus" would teach:  μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε, quite literally "change your minds and believe." Kinda personal stuff, huh? Which makes me wonder whether Mark changed and believed any? Whether most western men translating the bible by their Western methods do at all. Whether instead they tend to suck the incarnation, the personal, right out of their translations.)


  1. I like the interpretation of God's NXM as sighing. Note re the NT - God never 'repents' because the result is well-pleasing.

  2. I am just left gasping at what you can write in 15 minutes.
    JK this is wonderful - thank you for this new project


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