The basilay of the oorans is like a thasaur

Below, find a guest post from Dannii Wills which I received by email yesterday.

Vocabulary Item translation method

It is great to see the way in which many modern Bible translations are embracing the syntax of the source languages in an attempt to produce the most accurate and precise translations they can.

However I cannot help but feel that none of these translations do the source texts full justice. A good translation must not only mirror syntax, but also vocabulary item insertion. Vocabulary items are combinations of two things: semantic components (some of which may have been grammaticalised) and a phonological string. Few translations attempt to bring the vocabulary items of the source language into the target language, and our translations are much poorer for it. When they do, it is usually with obscure place names, surely an odd place to strive for accuracy.

I have been working on a translation which I think to some extent successfully brings these vocabulary items to English. I have used only the source language’s l-morphemes, though perhaps future work will also bring the f-morphemes to English as well. Constructive criticism would be appreciated, but please remember, the goal is always that our translations be as faithful to the original texts as they can be, in every aspect of language. So an example from Matthew 13:44-46:

The basilay of the oorans is like a thasaur that an anthrop hurisked krupted in an agra. In his charment, he krupted it and poeled pathing he eched to agorats the agra.

Again, the basilay of the oorans is like a empor zayteing for kall margarits. When he hurisked a polutim margarit, he aperchomed and piprasked pathing he eched and agoratsed it!

11 thoughts on “The basilay of the oorans is like a thasaur

  1. Patrick says:

    Sorry, I don’t understand what the idea behind this is. Who is the intended audience? Why is it called succesful? I gave up trying to understand this text after not finding ‘basily’, ‘oorans’, ‘thasaur’, ‘hurisked’ ‘krupted’ & ‘agra’ in my English dictionary (I am not a native English Speaker). It was a waste of time.

  2. David Ker says:

    Patrick, sorry about the confusion.
    I think Dannii meant this to be a satirical post making fun of slavishly literal translations by using transliterations of the Greek words into English. This does happen to an extent even in the most modern translations. For example a word like “camel” is a transliteration of the Greek word. One ancient English translation, the Douay Rheims, made extensive use of transliteration with often incomprehensible results.

  3. Cory Howell says:

    It took me a few minutes to figure out what your point was, but when I did, I thought it was really well done!

    I agree with David Ker, it is reminiscent of the Douay-Rheims Bible, and its frequent use of Latinisms, e.g “superstantial bread.”

    Shows there are different levels to the term “literal.”

  4. Dannii says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Yes as David said, this is an attempt at satire.

    There are so many arguments about word choices: should we retain grace or propitiation or baptism or apostle or should we translate/use natural English words for these? By showing how ridiculous it would be if all of the l-morphemes (Distributed Morphology terminology for the open class words; nouns, verbs and adjectives basically. If we kept the f-morphemes too as I suggested then there would be no difference from Koine Greek at all!) I hoped to show that in many ways the few words we do keep can be just as unhelpful.

    Another principle of DM is called Structure All The Way Down. Basically the syntactic rules that work on words and their order also work on morphemes. Syntax and morphology become merged. With so many translations focusing on copying Greek and Hebrew syntax, an argument could be made that they should copy the morphemic structure too, after all both are governed by certain semantic components which have been grammaticalised.

    I believe the best translations will bring the meanings alone: no phonology (except maybe with some names, though as many of them have meanings this does get complicated) and no attempt to bring the grammaticalisations across either. Some semantic features will be syntactically relevant in Greek but not in English, and some will not be relevant in Greek but are in English.

  5. Michael Nicholls says:

    Wouldn’t a truly ‘faithful’ translation also try to follow, as closely as possible, the appearance of the letters in the original? For example, wouldn’t using ‘α’ for ‘a’ do just fine for English readers? It’s close enough that we can follow it, and it’s much closer to the original, therefore ‘accurate’. Of course, we should probably use Uncials to be more correct, but since we don’t write in ALL CAPS in English, this is a good compromise for accuracy and readability. It gets us much closer to the original writings:

    τhε baςιlαy of τhε oorαnς ις lικε α τhαςαυr τhατ αn αnτhrop hυrιςκεδ κrυpτεδ ιn αn αgrα. ιn hις chαrmεnτ, hε κrυpτεδ ιτ αnδ poεlεδ pατhιng hε εchεδ τo αgorατς τhε αgrα.

    I do believe you may be onto something Dannii (or just on something ;)).

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