I have been studying and doing translation for many years. I’m glad to see the increasing amount of interest in the discipline of translation, in particular, the various aspects of Bible translation. The Internet has helped increase people’s interest in translation. Translation informations appear on a variety of websites and blogs. Today I even became a fan on Facebook of a page devoted to translation informations.
I assume that most of us reading this blog post are native speakers of English. How did you react when you read the plural word “informations”? Did it seem odd to you or perfectly normal?
It does seem perfectly normal to many speakers of English as a second language (ESL). I have often read things written by ESL speakers in which they refer to “informations”. I assume that there is a plural for the translation equivalent of the English word “information” in their language, so it would seem perfectly normal to them to pluralize the word “information” in English, as well.
English, in fact, does not have a plural for the word “information.” That is, to the extent that anyone reading this believes that English speakers generally follow any rules of syntax or the lexicon, fluent English speakers regard the plural “informations” as somehow odd or ungrammatical. English “information” is what linguists call a noncount noun, that is, even though we can imagine information has having more than one part we only refer to information as a whole. Other English words used mostly (there are technical exceptions) as noncount nouns are “sugar,” “water”, and “wisdom.”
How do we discover whether something is a grammatical or acceptable word or syntactic unit in English or any other language? Some might answer, based on their “grammar” school experience that we discover what is grammatical by listening carefully to our grammar school teachers. Or perhaps by looking up what is grammatical in a grammar book or English style book. Others may google to find out if a particular word or form has been written by one or more people.
My training in linguistics tells me that we discover what is grammatical by careful observation.
Astronomists Astronomers follow the same scientific process of careful observation when they discover the location, size, and composition of stars and other bodies in the universe. Biologists observe life processes.
We observe how people of any generation, social status, educational level, or gender speak to discover what rules or principles of language they follow. Now, because linguistics, like sociology and psychology are behavioral sciences, we discover that not everyone speaks the same way, just as not everyone acts or thinks the same way. But careful, scientific observation allows us to discover the rules of language that a majority of people follow.
Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that the words “information” and “informations” shift in their lexical and syntactic characteristics for many English speakers so that sometime in the future “informations” for these speakers comes to mean “pieces of information.”
Here are some questions for discussion:
1. At what point in the process of change, common to all languages, should we regard a word or other language form as sufficiently acceptable to include that form in an English Bible translation?
2. To what extent should “translation English”, that is, English based on the lexicon or syntax of another language, be included in English versions of the Bible?