Producing a second-language friendly translation

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Producing a second-language friendly translation

Coburn
Friends --

I have recently read a paper on Academia.edu that highlights a significant problem in the non-English-speaking world (if there is such a thing any more). To quote the author, Jim Harries,

Whether for good or for bad, English has, in much of Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa, acquired a kind of pseudo-authority as if it is an original "biblical language." This has been almost inevitable and occurs in many fields of endeavour in parts of Africa, where many formal activities (and some informal) are effectively "translations" from English-language originals...

In order to learn correct theology a student of English must first learn English in the way that Westerners and not Africans know it. If they do not do so, then their theology will be "incorrect."


In other words, Africans are using the English Bible as if it were an original source.

This presents two problems for our translation. One, who are we translating for? Educated Anglicans in the UK? Or are we also trying to be aware of speakers of English as a second language in the two-thirds world? Certainly that is where expansion of the Gospel is taking place, and where the majority of Christian believers live.

The other is that, of course, English speakers from other cultures will read the OEB. And the problem that seems to be happening is that they, like the rest of us, superimpose their own cultural ideas on the text. That is where things like the prosperity teaching or neo-pagan syncretism are coming from.

Are we doing all we can to make the text clear and understandable? Or are we pitching it to an affluent, academic crowd? I must confess that I've had moments of cognitive disconnect, when at one point I'm saying "Wow! This is the best version ever," and the very next I feel, "OK, that was awkwardly put."

It seems to me that we have plenty of Biblish versions. What the world needs is something closer to the CEV, or the Bible in Basic English, combined with the attention to detail, grace, and fluidity that are already a hallmark of the OEB.

I've already seen the Kingdom New Testament recommended as an important resource for comparisons. Might it be fair to say that we should be striving for a version that is very much like the KNT, but that is purified of some of the quirkiness that a one-translator version tends to have?

I am not going to comment on specific texts. At this point I haven't even read the complete NT in the OEB. But I'd like to start some discussion on this issue. I feel that it is important.
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Re: Producing a second-language friendly translation

russellallen
Administrator
As an aside, we already have readers from Africa as the logs for the website and occasional emails show.

Pitch for the OEB is difficult, in part because of resource constraints. I'm aiming for better than the ASV derivatives - more natural English at least. But something like the CEV (or the earlier Good News, which was my own first Bible) will have to be stage 2 - or there will be no stage 1! The perfect is the enemy of the good, as Voltaire probably didn't say.

Our source 20th Century New Testament wasn't aimed at educated people per se, but you are right that it is probably most easily understood nowadays by educated Anglicans in the UK. I think our changes have softened that, and certainly I'm not (consciously?) aiming to perpetuate it.

I think there is also something important in the phrase in the OEB's 'mission statement' which says that we aim to be usable within a religious community. This constrains some of our translating, but also liberates us to not get bogged down in constant second guessing ourselves. In a way, the Bible is a story (many stories) continuously told across the millennia; its not just the text but the sermons and the academic papers and the comics and the conversations over bad coffee. Liberating that telling is something a copyright free Bible can do that its more restricted siblings can't.

Cheers, Russell


On 14 Jun 2015, at 4:02 am, Coburn [via Open English Bible] <[hidden email]> wrote:

Friends --

I have recently read a paper on Academia.edu that highlights a significant problem in the non-English-speaking world (if there is such a thing any more). To quote the author, Jim Harries,

Whether for good or for bad, English has, in much of Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa, acquired a kind of pseudo-authority as if it is an original "biblical language." This has been almost inevitable and occurs in many fields of endeavour in parts of Africa, where many formal activities (and some informal) are effectively "translations" from English-language originals...

In order to learn correct theology a student of English must first learn English in the way that Westerners and not Africans know it. If they do not do so, then their theology will be "incorrect."


In other words, Africans are using the English Bible as if it were an original source.

This presents two problems for our translation. One, who are we translating for? Educated Anglicans in the UK? Or are we also trying to be aware of speakers of English as a second language in the two-thirds world? Certainly that is where expansion of the Gospel is taking place, and where the majority of Christian believers live.

The other is that, of course, English speakers from other cultures will read the OEB. And the problem that seems to be happening is that they, like the rest of us, superimpose their own cultural ideas on the text. That is where things like the prosperity teaching or neo-pagan syncretism are coming from.

Are we doing all we can to make the text clear and understandable? Or are we pitching it to an affluent, academic crowd?

I am not going to comment on specific texts. At this point I haven't even read the complete NT in the OEB. But I'd like to start some discussion on this issue. I feel that it is important.


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Re: Producing a second-language friendly translation

Coburn
Please don't take my mention of the CEV as saying that I think the tone of the OEB should be radically changed. I think the majority of it stands equal to any version available, and needs no change. There are just a few awkward bits.

I think where there is doubt, we should err in the direction of standard spoken English, rather than an educated, formal tone. Just as we also err in the direction of ecclesiastical terms like "baptism" over awkward neologisms like "plunging. (KNT)"