observing visions

On my flights to and from Alaska, for visiting my parents this last week, I checked a new English translation of Isaiah. It began:

This is a record of the vision that Amoz’s son Isaiah observed concerning Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

My editor’s ears balked at the word “observed”. I suggested to the translation team that in English we do not “observe” visions.

Instead, how do we normally express the same meaning in English? What English verb naturally collocates with “visions”?

17 thoughts on “observing visions

  1. J. K. Gayle says:

    googling “saw visions” gets “about 68,100” hits

    “had visions” gets “about 610,000” hits

    (does anyone know of an internet search engine that organizes results as a concordancer?)

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk asked:

    “(does anyone know of an internet search engine that organizes results as a concordancer?)”

    I don’t but it would be helpful. It could help us determine if the passage is some form of standard English or not. Google is unable to differentiate between standard forms of English and non-standard English(es) from non-native speakers or Biblish.

  3. Shan says:

    Maybe the problem is tied to the noun “vision”. Was this something that he actually saw with his eyes? My understanding is that this was, in simple terms, a message that he received (although the particular method of reception is not stated – see, hear, dream, etc). For an example of this meaning and another excellent collocation, see 2 Chronicles 32:32 – “written in the vision”.

    If you stick with vision, I like “had”, but I wonder if this might be subject to a misunderstanding of from whom the vision originated.

    So how about “This is a record of the message that Amoz’s son Isaiah received…”?

  4. rene says:

    The following is a recorded event in which Amoz’s son Isaiah beheld a vision of Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

  5. Joel H. says:

    I agree with those who go with “had,” but not just because it sounds like good English. I think a translation has to do more than that — it has to match the original.

    In this case, the original Hebrew is a typical noun/verb pair, like “dreamed a dream.” In Hebrew syntax, verbs frequently match their objects in semantic content in this way, so chazah (“visioned”) a chazon (“vision”) is fairly ordinary grammar. In English we go the opposite route, using nearly contentless verbs with these objects, usually “have.” So “had a dream,” “had a vision,” etc.

    And BTW, search engines and dialects of English: At this point there are more non-native speakers of English than there are native. I wonder who really owns the language.


  6. Edward Pothier says:

    To match the Hebrew verb/noun pairing referred to by Joel H. above (assuming with my ignorance of Hebrew that he is correct), we could used “envisioned a vision” in the Isaiah 1:1 verse.

  7. Peter Kirk says:

    Edward, if I envision a vision it means something quite different from seeing one – it implies more that I am imagining it without actually having seen or had it. My point is that we mustn’t forget to give the accurate meaning as well when we match the original grammar.

  8. J. K. Gayle says:

    You make a good point about internet search engines finding mostly uses of English by non-native speakers. So we might look at “google books” and “google scholars” are finding more standard (native-speaker) English uses:

    “observed visions” – 31 hits in googlebooks; 11 hits in google scholar.

    “saw visions” – 1,368 hits in google books; 3,000 hits in google scholar.

    “had visions” – 3,250 hits in google books; 10,700 in google scholar.

  9. Dru says:

    I know this thread is a bit stale, but quite by chance something occurred to me today. I think there is a difference in meaning/usage that depends on tense. I’d be interested to know if anyone agrees or disagrees. The difference has significant theological undertones.

    Present tense, ‘I have a vision’ is the sort of language a CEO uses. You expect inspirational words about marketing. It doesn’t imply a supernatural visitation. I suspect, with all due respect to its most well known use, the same is true of ‘I have a dream’. However, if someone says ‘I see a vision’, or even ‘I am having a vision’, that’s an ontologically much more challenging remark.

    Aorist tense, ‘I had a vision’ and ‘I have seen a vision’ both could be more ontological, with (IMHO) ‘I have seen a vision’ more clearly supernatural but less idiomatic English. ‘I had a vision’ might even, in context, sadly mean ‘I used to have a vision (e.g. for expanding our sales networks), but alas it’s worn off’.

    Perfect tense, ‘I have had a vision’ or ‘I have seen a vision’, both strike me as more likely to be describing a supernatural visitation, with ‘I have seen’ implying it was more directly visual, the Lord seated on a throne, an almond tree or a cauldron on a fire, and ‘I have had’ perhaps less critically visual and possibly more verbal as in Isaiah Ch 1.

    The theological bit, is that I happen to believe that the OT means and expects us to understand that the prophets saw visions that were ontologically real and that came from outside themselves, from God. They are not just describing in oratorical language their own vision for the nation. So, a translation ‘I have a vision’ or ‘I have a dream’ is not an adequate rendering, but ‘I have had a vision’ or ‘I have had a dream’, might be.

    But if a translator did not believe that, and thought the prophets were merely setting down their own inspirational thoughts, he or she might translate Is 1 something on the lines of ‘This was Isaiah’s vision for Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of ….. ‘.

    In my view that would be a misleading, but my view derives from what I believe.

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    Dru, thanks for your interesting comments on usages of “have” and “had” with “vision”. They make sense to me.

    Personally, I think that the word “had” should be used in Is. 1:1. It is natural English, as opposed to “observed”. And, if you are right about the relationship of the tense to revelation through visions, we would get the proper fit theologically, as well.

  11. Peter Kirk says:

    Dru, you certainly have a point (but I wouldn’t say you are having a point). But “I have had a vision for the last five years …” is likely to be about marketing, whereas “I have a vision about once a month” refers to the other kind of vision.

    In fact I think there is something rather subtle going on here of linguistic interest. The two different kinds of vision are different in what linguists call Aktionsart. A marketing kind of vision is something which continues for a long time, i.e. durative, but the supernatural kind of vision is more or less punctiliar. Different tenses are used in different ways with durative and punctiliar verbs. In particular the simple present “I have” is commonly used with durative verbs, but is used with punctiliar verbs only to indicate repetitive action. At least, that is my summary from my imperfect memory of how these things work. But it is interesting to see how these rules interact with the different senses of “vision” in this particular case.

  12. Dru says:

    Peter that’s really interesting. As a non-expert, I’ve never encountered this before, but it makes sense.

    It seems to me that what is happening, is that the meaning conveyed by the tense is being changed by the meaning of the noun, which in this case has two potential meanings, one durative and the other punctiliar. What’s also interesting, is that I think it is the punctiliar one that is the original meaning of the word, and the durative meaning is derivative, used by people who would like you to think their durative meaning takes on some of the qualities of the punctiliar one.

    Translating this into English, the marketing director would like you to think that he or she has an almost supernatural ability to conceive of a new outlet in High Wycombe, as long as you don’t really think that they are the sort of person who claims an angel appeared by their bedside and said ‘I am a heavenly messenger sent to tell you that there is a fantastic opportunity for increased sale in sportswear in High Wycombe at the moment’.

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