post of sorrow on Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday. Isaiah 53 is often read by Christians on this day. Many Christians view Isaiah 53 as describing a suffering messiah. Jewish scholars typically do not share this exegesis. But this difference in exegesis is not the concern of this post.

Instead, in this post I want to discuss a translation issue concerning Isaiah 53:3. It has to do with how to translate the Hebrew phrase אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת to English.

English translations in the Tyndale-KJV tradition usually translate אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת as “a man of sorrows.” So do the NIV, GW (God’s Word), and ISV. The NRSV, HCSB, and NIV2011, however, have “a man of suffering.” So does the Jewish translation, NJPS. Its predecessor, the JPS of 1917, has “a man of pain.” Among Catholic versions, Douay-Rheims and the NJB have “a man of sorrows,” while the NAB has “a man of suffering.”

First, I think that “pain” and “suffering” are probably more accurate translations of מַכְאֹבוֹת than “sorrow,” although the Hebrew word has a semantic range that includes ‘sorrow’ and ‘grief’.

Second, my observation, as someone who keenly observes how people speak and write, is that native English speakers today do not normally say (or write) “a man of sorrows/suffering/pain.”

The question I always ask after there is some consensus about the meaning of a language unit (word, phrase, clause, sentence, etc.) is:

How do native English speakers typically express that meaning?

So, how do native English speakers, when speaking or writing as native speakers of English, typically express the meaning of אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת in English?

37 thoughts on “post of sorrow on Maundy Thursday

  1. Tiffany says:

    The NET has “one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness” instead of “man of sorrows.” It seems like we would say in English, “a sorrowful man.”

  2. GDP says:

    Sorrow – deep or lasting sadness or mental pain felt for sin, the loss of someone dear to us; lamentation; grieving. Pain and suffering go to our own, Christ’s went for us. Sorrow captures His Divinity in His humanity so much better, the Hebrew “range” extending to the refinement He demonstrated.

  3. Michael Peterson says:

    The LXA has

    “he was a man in suffering…”

    I like the LXA’s use of the preposition ‘in’ as less formal sounding than ‘of’, and therefore more natural. However, had I translated the verse, I would probably have probably ended up with something like…

    “… a man in deep misery …”

    Blessings,

  4. Theophrastus says:

    native English speakers today do not normally say (or write) “a man of sorrows/suffering/pain.”

    Wayne, it is important to note that passage you cite (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is Hebrew poetry. In reading poetry in English, we often accept “poetic” (= slightly unnatural) phrases that we might be less willing to accept in prose.

  5. Theophrastus says:

    In support of my claim that “man of sorrow” is not unnatural in English poetry, I point to the lyrics of the well-known American folk song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” first recorded by the blind fiddler Dick Burnett, later recorded by Bob Dylan, and made famous by the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

    Here is the music video from that film (although one can find many different performances on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet.)

  6. Iver Larsen says:

    Wayne,

    You say that the Hebrew word has a broad semantic range that includes sorrow, grief, pain and suffering. This is also what I get from the dictionaries. BDB list two senses: 1. physical pain and 2. mental pain.

    You want to limit the word in this context to “suffer”, but do not give your reasons. Is it because of the title “suffering servant”?

    Since the word is parallel to being despised and rejected, I think it likely that there is a reference to the mental pain of rejection.

    The verse continues with “familiar with suffering” in the NIV. The word translated suffering here was rendered by “grief” in the KJV and “illness” in the NET. According to BDB the word basically means illness, but might be extended to wounds, physical or mental. Illness seems to be the normal sense but in a place like Ecc 6:2 it moves towards anguish, grief, mental pain, so very similar to the first word. In Isa 1:5 it seems to mean injury.

    Both words are repeated in Is 53:4.

    Thinking of Thursday evening, the mental pain of rejection and unjust punishment for sins committed by others was enormous, probably worse than the physical pain of Friday, although there was also severe mental pain in the mocking.

    I would be hesitant to limit the words here to physical pain, and maybe you are not implying that, since “suffering” can also be mental.

    I am not very familiar with Hebrew, but what about:
    He was despised and rejected by people. He felt the anguish and the pain. People looked away when they saw him. He was looked down upon and we dishonoured him.
    But in fact, it was our anguish he took upon himself, it was our pain that weighed him down.

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Iver asked:

    You want to limit the word in this context to “suffer”, but do not give your reasons. Is it because of the title “suffering servant”?

    No, it has to do with more recent scholarship. I look at the English versions that have have “suffering” and see that they are more recent. Some, like NRSV, revised from “sorrows” of its long Tyndale-KJV heritage.

    If this chapter is about what the messiah would have to endure before his glorification (Biblish alert, folks!), and if Jesus was the messiah (which I believe), then I do think that the suffering that Jesus went through was both physical as well as emotional. I think that the word “suffering” covers both better than does “sorrows” which seems to me to focus on emotional grief. But I would not want to christologize a Hebrew Bible word translation if it is not justified by Hebrew lexicography.

  8. Iver Larsen says:

    Wayne,

    Thanks. I agree that “suffering” is better than “sorrows”.

    However, I do not agree that recent scholarship is generally better than older scholarship. This might be the case if a word is very rare and new texts have come to light which contain the word. On the other hand, language changes as we all know, so words used at the time of the KJV do not necessarily cover the same ground as the same words do today.

    I would start off with lexicography but the determining factor for me is context, which I know is somewhat subjective.

  9. Mike Sangrey says:

    I haven’t looked at the lexicon, I’m just going from what I’m reading here. If suffering is more accurate, then misery is a very close cousin. The Hebrew parallelism should be considered, too, and possibly “unwrapped.”

    Also, in keeping with Theophrastus observation of the poetic nature of the text, what about:
    He was a thoroughly rejected man, a deeply miserable man.

    This English exhibits cadence, which, of course, is natural to English poetry. And the alliteration is a plus.

    I’d classify the following as a paraphrase, but I just thought of:
    The man was a rejected sufferer, despised by each man’s view.
    Grief was his kindest companion, esteem never endued.

  10. J. K. Gayle says:

    I think that “pain” and “suffering” are probably more accurate translations of מַכְאֹבוֹת than “sorrow,” although the Hebrew word has a semantic range that includes ‘sorrow’ and ‘grief’.

    Many are the English translations that have what JPS does for Psalm 32:10 –

    “Many are the sorrows of the wicked….”

    http://bible.cc/psalms/32-10.htm

  11. exegete77 says:

    It might be helpful to look at 53:4 as well, since there seems to be repetition and use of same terms, chiastically. (ESV used for illustrations purposes)

    Isa 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows,* and acquainted with grief;*
    and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    Isa 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs*
    and carried our sorrows*;

    Also, how about how Matthew 8:17 applies to this.

    Rich

  12. GDP says:

    Critically devaluing “sorrow” to the more amorphous “pain” or “suffering” does more than twist His attention from us to HIM, but detracts from the denotation clearly focusing on the real cause of his “sorrow”, our pain and suffering, our sin, our loss more than His. And no appeal to arid grammatics of the imprecise can detract from the prudence and wisdom that went into the selection of “sorrow”, a term extolling His humanity without compromizing His divinity, and there to a selfish concentration on His “pain” and “suffering”. A good choice for Easter, the spiritual of the New over the material of the Old.

  13. J. K. Gayle says:

    How do native English speakers typically express that meaning?

    How did native Hebrew singers and prophets typically express their meanings? And, as importantly, how can any of us know definitively that the Psalmist and Isaiah meant to use Hebrew that was “typical”?

    Is איש מכאבות typical? The repetition Iver notices and that Rich (exegete77) makes something of may be for a-typical poetry, for literary effect, for rhetorical salience.

    Can מכאובים לרשע, as a song, be typical?

    Why do English Bibles have to resist un-usual and a-typical language? Maybe the rare language is something native speakers really really need from time to time, if the Bible is to have any literary force at all.

    (Not everybody can sing like Bob Dylan, or Isaiah).

  14. Wayne Leman says:

    Rich, nice observation of chiasm in the ESV. Since you have probably already checked, but some others have not, the Hebrew affirms the ESV translation of the 2 pairs of words.

    Kurk and Theo, I appreciate your noting that this is a poetic passage. That, however, does not keep us from translating in more natural English while being poetic as we do so. Poetic license is not antinomian when it comes to the patterns followed by native speakers of a language, both in prose as well as poetry.

    Mike has answered the question at the end of my post, while trying two different ways to reflect poetic style. I would invite you both to do the same. It’s fine to use poetic license. That’s the right of any poet. But I don’t think it’s fine for poets to squeeze their own language into a mold imported from another language. I think that the default should be to use the molds of one’s own language, but tweaking it for poetic license.

    There are a number of prose passages in the original biblical texts which illustrate the main point of this post, as well, and there we can’t claim poetic license. Poetic license, as with all aspects of native speaker composition, is unique to each individual language. The stylistic fun that good orators and writers of that language have, within the context of the patterns of their own language, adds to the beauty of each individual language. Translation does not call us to abandon the rules of English if English is our target language.

    I continue to believe in democratic translation. It is native English speakers themselves who should determine what forms are used to express meanings. Exegetes should not make such decisions for them. I wish more people would revolt against those who have been imposing non-English forms on English translation and return power to the people. The job of exegetes is to ensure, as much as they can, that the biblical text meanings are accurately conveyed in translation by the forms used by the hoi polloi. It is native speakers themselves, including their orators and poets, who determine the toolbox of forms that can be used in a translation.

  15. Theophrastus says:

    I continue to believe in democratic translation. It is native English speakers themselves who should determine what forms are used to express meanings.

    So, the closest thing we have to a democratic vote is the ranking of English Bible translation sales. The top three translations this month are NIV, KJV, and NKJV.

    I’m not a democrat when it comes to questions of science or scholarship — for example, a plebiscite would have us declare that creationism (and not evolution) is correct. Indeed, a poll would even have us teach that the reason we have seasons is the elliptical orbit of the earth about the sun.

    But you are a democrat when it comes to Bible translations, so I am sure you will accept that people want Biblish like the NIV, KJV, and NKJV.

  16. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, when it comes to the study of languages, scholars are not reputable unless they scientifically gather language data and observe what language patterns people use.

    Sales of Bibles do not tell us which Bible versions were translated democratically. Bible sales only tell us which Bibles people are buying. They typically buy what their gatekeepers recommend. Few gatekeepers are democrats. Few English Bible translators are democrats, for that matter. It’s ironic: There are thousands of languages around the world whose speakers have no Bible at all, yet English Bibles continue to be produced. Yet almost none of them are produced with adequate field testing, while many of the Bibles being translated for Bibleless language groups are required to be field tested. It’s my privilege to check some of them. Their quality is often above that of most English Bibles, because professional translation techniques and testing are used.

    Field testing results in democratic Bible translations.

    Many people like Biblish because that is all that they have been exposed to in English Bibles. If you are exposed to a dialect long enough, you come to accept it as normal within some context.

    Just think of how much better Bible sales would be for idomatic English Bible versions if more gatekeepers exposed their followers to them.

  17. Theophrastus says:

    However, democracy when it came to Bible translation would certainly be as disastrous as the democratic decision (en masse) to worship the Golden Calf. Have you already forgotten the tragedy of the anti-TNIV campaign? There was a democratic boycott, and bookstores had to withdraw the book from their shelves lest they be subject to the boycott. As I recall, you joined the fray a blog with the somewhat polemic title “TNIV Truth.” Nonetheless, IBS/Zondervan were forced to withdraw it.

    Now, I would like you to explain how somehow we would have a democratic vote on Bible translation where we would not have extreme fundamentalists dominating it.

    (You complain about “gatekeepers” — but how are people to inform themselves of the issues in the votes without referring to stated positions? Do you imagine that we might vote for President without any speeches, without any editorials, without any public discussion? I had thought you started this blog to foster discussion, but now you seem to want to suppress opinions from “gatekeepers.”)

    Finally, you have pointed to the CEV as the most natural translation in English today — and that is readily for sale. I can find it on Amazon, and certainly in the bookstores. So if the availability of a natural translation would spur Bible purchases, it would have already happened. Is your idea that after the plebiscite, you would send the police to seize all copies of Bibles that did not win the vote?

  18. Theophrastus says:

    I also must say that bringing in the issue of field tests is a bit of a smoke-screen. As I understand it, most field Bible translation situations, a significant fraction of the Bible translation team (and usually its leadership) do not speak the native language as a first language, and thus are not in a position to judge the quality of the translation into the target language.

    In contrast, most English Bible translation efforts are dominated by native speakers.

  19. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, no smoke screen at all. Translation teams today are composed of native speakers of the language. There may or may not be an outside exegete. But it is the native speakers themselves who determine whether or not the forms used in the translation are native to that language or not. Any outside members of the team must recognize their limitations, since, as you have correctly stated, they do not have native speaker knowledge of the language. That is exactly why field testing is so important. And that is also why professional translation schools instruct their students to do translation only one-way, *into* their native language. Few people develop a competency in a language good enough to be able to translate adequately into that language. Some do become fluent enough to rough draft translations into their non-native acquired language, but each rough draft needs to be field tested and polished by good native speakers.

    English Bible translation teams are dominated by native speakers, yes. But often they do not translate into their native English, but, rather into Biblish. Some of these translation team members recognize the problems this produces.

    I’m sorry for not being clearer: Using native speaker language forms is what I mean by “democratic Bible translation.” It is a stage of the Bible translation process which determines what language forms will be used to express which meanings. I am not applying the concept of democracy to any other part of Bible translation at this point.

    The anti-TNIV movement was not a democratic movement. It was generated by some gatekeepers who have powerful voices in the Christian media. Their numbers increased as sheep followed their shepherds. In this case the shepherds were misinformed. Sometimes leaders are misinformed. If those shepherds had taken the time to field test, they would have discovered that the TNIV translators were more in touch with how the sheep were speaking than they were.

  20. Theophrastus says:

    OK, I’m just trying to imagine how such a vote will go.

    How do you think the vote will turn out on Isaiah 7:14 — “young woman” or “virgin”?

    How do you think the vote will turn out Isaiah 53:5 — “pierced” or “wounded”?

    Will we vote James 2:26 out of the Bible and vote in the Pericope Adulterae.

    Will Mark 16:17-18 be in BIG BOLD LETTERS?

    I suspect that any translation of the Bible that would pass a democratic vote would be strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

    ——-

    I am not at all convinced that people cannot make decisions on their own (and as a democrat, you should believe this all the more strongly). For example: despite the church hierarchy supporting the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, and despite the government making the Geneva Bible illegal, the Geneva Bible continued as the most popular Bible until the 1660s. This suggests that people are capable of making up their own minds, despite what their church leaders tell them, despite what the government tells them.

  21. Wayne Leman says:

    Finally, you have pointed to the CEV as the most natural translation in English today — and that is readily for sale.

    I only stated the first part. The is not readily for sale. Most Bible readers today don’t even know about the CEV. It is not displayed in Christian bookstores (where buyers depend on gatekeepers to determine which translation to purchase). It is available on amazon.com, just as my poetry books are. But my poetry books will never become top sellers. And neither will the CEV unless it is marketed as well as the ESV or the NLT. ABS consultants who worked on the CEV decry the lack of promotion of the CEV by ABS.

    Most people today purchase Bibles based on the recommendations of their gatekeepers. Few gatekeepers recommend the CEV; many don’t even know the CEV exists. It doesn’t sound holy enough; it is not written in Biblish.

    Biblish sells. People have heard it for so long that they think it is how the Bible should sound. This blog functions to try to throw a different light on the subject. We may be wrong. Maybe English Bibles should be written in Biblish. Maybe there should be a special sacred language. Maybe outsiders to places of worship should not have access to that sacred language until they join the group and learn to speak that language.

    The use of a special sacred language is a widespread religious phenomenon around the world. If numbers count, maybe Biblish is the correct way to translate.

    But if it isn’t, this blog presents an alternative, a way that the masses can understand revealed truth in their own languages. Most of the biblical texts were not written in a special religious dialect. I’d like to think that that fact should help us determine whether or not it’s a good idea to translate into a special religious dialect. But I’ve been wrong many times before and I could be wrong again. Until I see enough evidence that I am wrong, however, I’ll keep promoting Bible translation into native speaker mother-tongue languages.

  22. Mike Sangrey says:

    Theophrastus,

    You’re approaching the ‘democratic’ issue theologically. Wayne is approaching it linguistically.

    The idea of a popular equality is to be applied to language use. That’s why Wayne keeps using the term ‘natural’. He (or I, for that matter) has no intent of molding a translation so as to be popularly accepted theologically. It’s about the language into which it is translated.

  23. Wayne Leman says:

    Mike, thanks for clarifying. Only exegetes should make exegetical decisions. But decisions about how to express the meanings of the forms in the biblical texts should be made based on what forms the target language speakers themselves use, not on forms used by speakers of a special religious dialect, *unless* a translation is being made just for speakers of that special dialect.

    No one hearing (usually it was hearing) the original biblical texts had to attend classes to learn a special religious dialect of their language. Jesus followed this principle. He most likely spoke in the native language of the Jews of his day, which was Aramaic. He chose to speak about common things in the life of his time, lamps, coins, trees, crops, who is first and who is last, etc. And Jewish leadersLong before Jesus’ time recognized that many Jews, especially those of the Diaspora, had become more familiar with Greek than with their ancestral Hebrew, so they commissioned a team was commissioned to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The result, of course, was the Septuagint, which is often quoted in the New Testament.

  24. Theophrastus says:

    In fact, according to the legend, the Septuagint was commissioned not by Jewish leaders but by the non-Jewish Egyptian King Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

    Further, your example of the Septuagint argues against your point because the Septugaint (at least the ancient part, the Pentateuch) is written in highly stilted and unnatural (sometimes ungrammatical) Greek, because it is a highly formal translation.

    It seems to me that at least some Bible translations (I’m thinking of the Good News Translation) follow the linguistic procedures you mention. And while I am not familiar with the details, the editors of the new CEB claim to have field tested it as well. So at least some translations seem to follow your preferred procedure.

    However, much of the debate on this board appears to be over exegetical issues — with advocates of the more formal translation claiming that something is lost in “natural” translations. Unless you have a way of separating exegetical issues from linguistic issues, I don’t know how to make your proposed program effective.

  25. Theophrastus says:

    No one hearing (usually it was hearing) the original biblical texts had to attend classes to learn a special religious dialect of their language. Jesus followed this principle. He most likely spoke in the native language of the Jews of his day, which was Aramaic. He chose to speak about common things in the life of his time, lamps, coins, trees, crops, who is first and who is last, etc.

    I’m not sure that this is true. Jesus would have attended synagogue, where he would have heard the Torah portion read in Hebrew. Perhaps at times Jesus read the Torah out loud in Hebrew. The standard Aramaic translation of the Torah, Targum Onkelos, post-dated Jesus.

    And it is certainly not true of the Prophets. Isaiah does not speak of common things, and he quotes the Bible in Hebrew, in elusive ways. The same can be said of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

  26. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, you’re right and I realized when I wrote what I did that I was not speaking as precisely as I wanted to. I was hoping, however, that the main point could come through OK. I felt pressured by my regular work here in my office not to cover all possibilities.

    Yes, Jesus, Paul, and other Jewish boys attended classes where the Torah was read in Hebrew. And Hebrew would not have been their native language.

    The point I was trying to make was that for any target audience of a translation the people who speak that language should not have to learn a special dialect to understand that translation. Translation, by definition, is in the language of people who are to use that translation. How can something be called a translation into standard English if it is not in standard English? If we are translating into Biblish, we should just be upfront about it and say so. Then people can decide if they want to learn Biblish to understand that translation.

    Obviously, when language change occurs enough people no longer understand that a previous dialect of a language or even a previous language. Then, if they are going to understand what was previously written, they have to learn that dialect or language. Or a new translation is required for that new stage of the language.

    And that is exactly why we have translations, of course, so that people can understand what was written in another language.

  27. Mike Sangrey says:

    If we are translating into Biblish, we should just be upfront about it and say so.

    Hmmmmmmm…An SBT — Standard Biblish Translation.

    That’s not a bad idea.

    O! Wait a minute. That won’t work.

    There would be waaaaaaaayyyyyyyy too many copyright violations.

    LOL

  28. Theophrastus says:

    Well, there is certainly an element of truth in what you say — most translations do not translate into colloquial English (I am not sure what “standard English” means). When the 1611 Authorized Version was published, it included language that was already archaic.

    On the other hand, a large portion of documents that I deal with everyday, from the State Vehicle Code to notices on medication are not in colloquial English either.

    Do you know the US Naturalization Oath that all new citizens must take (remember, most of the do not speak English well)? Here it is:

    I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

    That’s not exactly colloquial English either.

    —–

    But in another sense, I think we live in the golden age of English Bible translations. There are dozens of Bible translations — from Wycliffe to Geneva to RSV to NET available today. I know of over a dozen English Jewish translations of the Bible for sale — and I could not possibly hope to count all the Christian and ecumenical translations. The bestselling translation (NIV) was revised less than a year ago, the second-bestselling translation dates back 400 years.

    The CEV can be found at Amazon, at ChristianBooks, and at my local Barnes and Noble. And if it is not better known, then the fault is certainly that of the publishers, who have failed to get the word out through advertising, give-aways, promotion, etc.

    There may be a bias towards Biblish, but there are non-Biblish Bibles on the top 10 list such as the NLT and The Message.

    Where is the CEV web site providing all the features that Crossway provides for its ESV (free verse lookup, free audio bible, free notes, a blog, etc.)? Let’s face it, even translations such as the NRSV and NAB are better supported by their publishers than the CEV. So please don’t blame the gatekeepers — blame the American Bible Society for not supporting its own translation.

  29. Theophrastus says:

    In fact, this is how little support its publisher (ABS) is willing to give CEV:

    * It has let the study edition, The Learning Bible, go out of print in the CEV. However it has since published (and kept in print) the NIV version of the same study edition.

    * It deliberately states that the CEV is meant for children and non-native speakers: “It is one of the best Bibles for children and youth, as well as for new Bible readers who are not familiar with traditional Bible and church words.”

    * Another official publisher description of the CEV states: “Uncompromising simplicity marked the American Bible Society’s translation of the Contemporary English Version Bible that was first published in 1995. The text is easily read by grade schoolers, second language readers, and those who prefer the more contemporized form.”

    * The only major new adult version of the CEV is a semi-Marxist edition called the Poverty and Justice Bible.

    If you really want to the CEV used more widely, I would suggest that you start by suggesting that ABS might try marketing to an audience broader than grade schoolers and fellow travelers.

  30. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, both gatekeepers and ABS are to blame for the CEV not having hire sales today. However, I would put the primary blame on ABS, as you do, for not promoting the CEV very well. I tried to say that in my comments earlier:

    ABS consultants who worked on the CEV decry the lack of promotion of the CEV by ABS.

    Shabat shalom!

  31. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo, as I understand the terms, there is a big difference between colloquial language and standard language. Both are natural language in that they both consist of forms used by native speakers. But colloquial language is characterized by being informal, something slangy. Colloquial language has many colloquialisms (sometimes faddish language that may not persist for very many years). Standard language is broader. It includes all natural forms of language used by native speakers of a language within a wide range of ages, education levels, social spheres, etc.

    The Cotton Patch translations used colloquial language. I think there has been an English translation published in the last 5 years or so which uses “street” slang. That would be a colloquial translation.

    I would consider an English translation that has many expressions similar to “Hey, what’s up man?” (or even more so, “Wassup, man?” to be a colloquial translation.

    I know of no topselling colloquial English Bible translations today. I’ve stated that the CEV (not CEB) has the most natural English of all English translations today. But it’s language is not colloquial. It is not slangy. It is language which would be considered to be “good English” (proper grammar, collocations, etc.) by any native English speaker, regardless of educational level.

    There are so many different ways to rank language that the polar terms we sometimes use are simply not adequate to cover all the parameters. It’s probably better to use a continuum for each range of values of each parameter. So we can have different parameters such as:

    1. formal vs. informal language
    2. educational level
    3. reading level (often not the same as educational level)
    4. colloquial vs. non-colloquial
    5. simple syntax vs. complex syntax
    6. natural vs. unnatural (I think standard vs. non-standard is equivalent to natural vs. unnatural. And it needs to be emphasized that there is no one single “standard English.” There are a number of standard Englishes (yes, the plural is used by dialecticians!), such as Canadian English (which really has more than one dialect), American English (which has a number of dialects, including several dialects in the South), British Received Pronunciation, Cockney, Scottish English, several other British dialects, Australian English, New Zealand English, Indian English, Nigerian English, etc.
    7. widely used vs. narrow dialectal (I grew up in an Alaskan village where people from the original families typically spoke with a “village” dialect: “I been tinking about dis and dat.” “Don’t you trow dat rock at me!” etc. Ours was narrow dialect, not spoken by very many people and confined to a small geographical area.)
    etc.
    etc.

  32. Peter Kirk says:

    IBS/Zondervan were forced to withdraw [TNIV].

    Not really true, Theophrastus. A more accurate way to put it was that Biblica/Zondervan decided to tinker with it a bit then relaunch it under the title NIV 2011.

    Also note the widespread recognition that in the US Oath of Allegiance “much of the language is antiquated and confusing”, because much of it dates back to the 16th century. In 2003 an official decision was made to update it, but this was blocked, presumably by traditionalists. So this is hardly an example of language widely accepted today.

  33. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne wrote:

    Kurk and Theo, I appreciate your noting that this is a poetic passage. That, however, does not keep us from translating in more natural English while being poetic as we do so. Poetic license is not antinomian when it comes to the patterns followed by native speakers of a language, both in prose as well as poetry. // Mike has answered the question at the end of my post, while trying two different ways to reflect poetic style. I would invite you both to do the same. It’s fine to use poetic license. That’s the right of any poet. But I don’t think it’s fine for poets to squeeze their own language into a mold imported from another language. I think that the default should be to use the molds of one’s own language, but tweaking it for poetic license.

    Wayne,
    I believe we may have similar goals in giving license and in not taking away the squeeze of a mold. But Theophrastus suggests not taking away the poetry of the American folk, of Dick Burnett, of Bob Dylan, and the makers of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” (And EricW suggests Rod Stewart be given the same room.) I’d like the JPS translators, and others, not to be squeezed when they use “sorrows of the wicked” in translation of Ps 32.

    “The Sorrows of Yamba or The Negro Woman’s Lamentation” was written most creatively, powerfully, and poets Hannah Moore and E.S.J. did not by it “squeeze their own language into a mold imported from another language.” Now, when Phillis Wheatley did use “sorrows” multiple times for her poetry, she really may have been squeezing things, since her first language was Fulani; the the poetry was so elegant that men put her on trial for plagiarism.

    You want poetic license, but the mold you advocate would restrict English poets.

  34. J. K. Gayle says:

    native English speakers today do not normally say (or write) “a man of sorrows/suffering/pain.”

    How do native English speakers typically express that meaning?

    “The Sorrows of American-Jewish Poetry” by Harold Bloom, published March 1972

    Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann, published June 6, 2006.

    The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, published March 3, 2009.

    The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi, published 2010.

  35. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk, thanks for sharing those book titles. They reflect a special kind of English that is not spoken by most native English speakers today. Book titles often are in a kind of non-standard literary English, for a reason. They sound poetic. They catch our attention. They are “marked” English. Perhaps you can recall that we’ve discussed the concept of markedness in language before. A marked form is one which is exceptional. If we use it rarely enough, it stands out from what is normal. Poetic license is use of marked forms. The unusual grabs our attention.

    I’m sorry for not being clearer when I posted the assignment. I’ll try to make it clearer now, if you’d be willing to add to what you’ve just contributed.

    “How do native speakers today, when they are speaking in their normal everyday language, express the meaning of the Hebrew phrase?”

    I also apologize for not explicitly stating that contributing one or more examples for this assignment does *not* mean that these examples are what should be used in translation of Isaiah 53:3. As has been correctly stated, that is a poetic passage. It just may be that when all the factors are considered, including genre, a translation team will conclude that “man of sorrows” is most appropriate for Is. 53:3.

    I can see now that I should have chosen a prose example from the Bible for this translation example. I have you, Theo, and others to thank for reminding us that poetic language should be translated poetically. I already knew that, and believe it, but was so focused on the single phrase “man of sorrows” that I missed the poetic part when I wrote my post.

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