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Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Selective Translation

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything,
David Bellos, Penguin, 2011, page 335

Having worked through some examples of how translators try to match or overcome issues between styles, cultures and languages, David Bellos admits:

No translation is the same as its source, and no translation can be expected to be like its source in more than a few selected ways. Which dimensions are selected depends on the conventions of the receiving culture, the nature of the field involved, or even the whim of the commissioner of the translation.

We can see the latter at work in the King James Bible, where - despite the presence of the name 'Jacob' in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament, the name is always translated 'Jacob', whereas in the Greek New Testament, the same name is always translated 'James'. Similarly, the translators were given strict instructions to avoid the word 'congregation' wherever possible at the explicit command of the king, who had suffered at the hands of congregationalist church leaders in Scotland before becoming James I of England.

What does this mean? Simply that you need to know where the translators of your Bible are coming from - what are their particular points of bias? They all have them, but knowing the specific stable from which the translation committee comes will enable you to navigate around the differences in word choice between different Bible translations and get a greater understanding of what it going on behind the scenes.

Posted By Jonathan, 8:00am Comment Comments: 0