Good Translation: Bad Translation

By | April 22, 2013

I’m currently thoroughly enjoying Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. It is a fascinating and amusing overview of the world of translation. I’ll give a fuller review when I finish it. Those who are interested in Bible translation will be immediately struck by the fact that the authors never talk about ‘dynamic equivalence’, ‘formal translation’ or any of those other terms which creep in whenever Bible translation is mentioned. These categories, so beloved of Bible translation polemicists, are simply not used in the wider world of translation.

In a recent blog post, Simon Cozens picks up on this theme.

And this is what bothers me about the whole discussion over Bible translation. People have got more concerned about literal versus dynamic, word-for-word versus thought-for-thought, and so on that they forget that when it comes to translation, there’s really only one dimension that matters: is it a good translation or a bad translation? It’s possible to do a literal translation really well, especially in languages that are genetically similar. And this is where I think English speakers are at a disadvantage thinking about translation, because their first experiences of translation tend to be of languages like French or Spanish which have similar modes of expression to English, and therefore they’re tricked into thinking that literal translation is necessarily a good idea. But where a target language has a very different mode of expression from the source, for instance when translating from Japanese to English, or from Hebrew to English, literal translation generally ends up being bad translation.

Make sure you read Simon’s full post, it’s well worth it.

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