Each language is unique. It has its own unique syntactic and lexical patterns. Often something said in one language is not said the same way in another language.
For instance, in Spanish if you want to ask someone their name, you say, “¿Cómo te llamas?” (informally) or “¿Cómo se llama? (formally). These both translate literally to English as “How do you call yourself?” But that isn’t how English speakers ask someone their name. The English translation equivalent of the Spanish question is “What’s your name?” Right? How would you be impacted if someone asked you in English, “How do you call yourself?”
We could come up with countless examples like this which demonstrate that the literal translation of something said in one language is not the natural translation equivalent in another language. People who learn to speak other languages come to understand this rather soon. If they don’t, then they soon find out that those whose language they are trying to speak think that they speak rather strangely. What they say is probably comprehensible, but it’s just not the way that native speakers of the language one is learning say things. And if we want to show respect to them, their language, and culture, we usually try to say things the way that they do.
Yet, this commonsense principle of natural translation equivalence is often disregarded when it comes to the Bible. We allow, and sometimes even prefer, that the Bible authors says things in English translation different from how we English speakers actually say those things.
I find this mismatch difficult to understand. If Jesus were speaking directly to us today, I suspect he would speak natural English. Why, then, should our translations of what he said (which are themselves translations of what he spoke in his mother tongue, Aramaic) in English not be natural English?
It baffles me. And I realize that it doesn’t baffle many readers of this blog. You’ve come to recognize that natural language translation is my soapbox. I am passionate about it, because I believe that it is proper to speak and write the way that native speakers do. Any other way of speaking and writing, in my opinion, and from my observations of cross-cultural and cross-language interactions, humors others at minimum, and offends them at worst.
Professional translators at the U.N. and in business are paid to translate accurately and naturally. Why do so many English Bible translators not do so, as well? Unnatural English Bible translations frustrate me. I am baffled why they don’t frustrate more people.
Yes, I know, I’m preaching the same theme as my preceding post and many other posts on this blog (after all, I started this blog to encourage revision of English Bikble translations to be more like the way we actually speak and write). But this post was prompted by my reading the Facebook status of a friend who quoted from the TNIV (which I think is far better than its critics have claimed):
I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread. (Job 23:12).
We don’t say in English that we have not departed from the commands of someone’s lips. Instead, we say the same thing with wordings like “I have always done whatever he commanded.”
I can understand the TNIV wording. And it does have a kind of formal sound to it. But it’s just not the way we speak or write .
The God’s Word translation is often more natural, but it’s not on this verse either:
I have not left his commands behind.
Hey, here’s one that is worded as we naturally say it:
I always do what God commands. (GNB)
In the comments please quote from any other English Bible versions which express the same meaning the way that English speakers naturally say and write it.