Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The ABCs of Bible translation

Last Friday, Robyn - one of the missionaries our church supports - visited our youth group. She's been translating the new testament into Ramoaina, an indigenous language of one of the people groups in Duke of York Island, PNG. She spoke about the ABCs of a good Bible translation. It has to be:
Accurate - say what the Bible actually says;
Beautiful - sound like how people in the target language would say it; it can't sound like a foreigner saying it;
Clear - it has to communicate clearly.
The "beautiful" category intrigued me. The Bible must be heard not only in the local language, but with a local accent. There's no point if it's in the local language but speaks with a foreign accent. That still sounds alien. It needs to sound local. And that's foreign missionaries need local assistance. So they know what it really "sounds" like. 'Coz God ain't a foreigner - he's a local.


Seumas Macdonald said...

Beautiful... is an interesting choice. Because what is being described isn't beauty at all, it's domestication. That's a translation choice, not a translation mandate. To domesticate the text to a cultural-linguistic setting reduces the burden of cross-cultural interpretation for the reader, but entrusts the translator with more responsibility for those interpretations.

Which is not a case against it, but merely to point out that there are other possible translation strategies (the clear opposite is to maintain the foreignness of a text in order to force readers to do cross-cultural interpretation of their own)

Kamal Weerakoon said...

Yeah but ADC isn't such a good acronymn...
I take your point. There's the deeper issue of the nature of the Bible: it is both a historical document - or, to be even more precise, a set of historical documents - bound in time & space; and also a trans-temporal, divinely authoritative communicative act. The translators have to make a choice to which aspect to give priority to in a translation.
Given the Ramoina church is small and not highly educated, it seems reasonable to give priority to the latter - the Bible as a trans-temporal, divinely authoritative communicative act - and make the text "domestic". But you're right, such a decision gives the translators more interpretative responsibility.