a translation opening

For my real job I am currently checking a translation of Psalms in a tribal language of South America. Last December I asked the translation team a question about Psalm 18.9:

wl-12/13/10: How natural is it for [the X speakers] to refer to the sky “opening up”

Yesterday I read the team’s response:

One [translator] says that it is natural to say: ‘The sky is open this morning’, meaning that there are no clouds, just a big expanse. The other [Mother Tongue Translator] says that they use this expression when after it rains, the sun comes out or when after there are a lot of clouds the sky clears.

After this response, in terms of the CANA parameters described in my preceding post, I now believe that the translation for this verse is natural. The translators appear to have an important spiritual leadership role in their tribe, so the translation seems to be acceptable. The translation seems to be understood readily, so it seems to be clear.

But is it accurate? If you question its accuracy, what do you suggest might be inaccurate about it?

4 thoughts on “a translation opening

  1. Daniel Buck says:

    “(And, yes, there were times when for poetic effect or authorial lapses, natural patterns were not followed but they are in the minority not the majority of biblical text passages.)”

    First of all, this is poetic language. Should you seek to translate the poetic phrase, “Be still, my heart” into X language, your translator is probably not going to tell you that it is natural for the X people to request that their heart stop beating.

    But the problem is, no English language informant is going to tell you that either. So whether or not the X language has a natural phrase for God coming down out of heaven is not the point. If God in fact does come down, then they have to say it, whether or not it sounds natural.

    Given the difficulty of being either clear or natural, I would settle for accurate and acceptable. And since this is metaphorical language in addition to being poetry, any number of verbs that go with the word “sky” will probably do. Even in English we have our choice of “bowed,” “bent,” “parted,” and “opened.” But we still stick with the poetic expression “heavens” which carries so much weight of tradition that we are unlikely to ever accept a CANA replacement for it.

    NCV does have “tore open the sky” and if you want to express that in language X, you probably can–but accuracy just went out the window. “The sky” is not something that can be torn open, not even in poetry. Fluids may part, but they never tear.

    That, all by way of introduction. Now, to answer your question, “Is it accurate?” If the metaphorical/poetic idea is that God is coming out of his eternal dwelling to intervene in the affairs of men, “opening the sky” does seem to fit. But look at the context: dark waters, thick clouds, wind. If the X language associates an open sky with the opposite of all this, then it’s a bad choice of words. You may have to coin a new phrase in the X language to do it, but try something that expresses the metaphor either of bringing the heavenly sphere into contact with the earthly (expressed by “bowed” and “bent”), or making a passageway from earth to heaven (expressed by “parted” and “opened).

    A lot of tribes have a concept of ‘the heavens’ that includes a physical barrier between the atmosphere and outer space, often thought to be close enough that a high-flying bird could reach it. Such a language would be an idea receptor of this metaphor, of God breaching the barrier in order to carry out his deeds within the earthly sphere.

  2. Daniel Buck says:

    Oops, I stand corrected. The heavens are torn open in Isaiah 64:1. At least point out to your translation team that they should probably look for a word that will fit both verses, as the contextual imagery seems to be pretty much the same.

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