discourse grammar and Bible translation

Steve Runge has just started a blog called NT Discourse. It is dedicated to the study of the discourse structure (grammar) of the Greek New Testament. Not many translators of English Bible versions have ever heard of discourse grammar, partly because it is a relatively new field in linguistic study and even newer for Biblical studies. But all Bible translations can be improved by careful attention paid to the discourse structures of the biblical source languages and those of the target language. There are many language patterns at higher “levels” of language than the sentence which native speakers of a language intuitively learn. These natural discourse patterns need to be reflected in Bible translations.

Some language features which are studied in discourse analysis of a language would include:

  • How are new characters introduced into a narrative?
  • How does the language enable hearers to know the same entity is being referred to after it has been introduced? (Greek discourse repeats a person’s name much more often than does English discourse which uses more pronouns to keep referring to the same person.)
  • How does the language maintain a theme over some section of discourse?
  • How does a language transition from one topic section to another?
  • What formal characteristics differentiate genres in the language?
  • What contextual clues accompany rhetorical effects such as sarcasm, irony, ecstasy, the peak of a plot, etc.?
  • Is the hero of a narrative formally marked in some way in the language? (In one language Judas was understood to be the hero of the section where he betrayed Jesus because of certain cultural expectations. It was necessary to do some adjustments to the translation to make sure the translation was accurate, that Judas was not the hero.)
  • How are beginnings and/or ends of direct quotes indicated in the language?

I have added the NT Discourse blog to our blogroll.

HT: Mike Aubrey

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