Bible Translation

Words in Context

Translation is simple isn’t it? Just a case of finding the right words in the new language to replace the words in the old language; nothing to it really!

Well, of course it isn’t as simple as that. Words combine into phrases which don’t quite up to the sum of the individual parts; has anyone ever really had a frog in their throat?

There are many complexities in translation; not least the fact that words change their meaning according to the context. Nataly Kelly, co-author of the excellent Found in Translation, has just posted an excellent blog post which explores the way in which some common English words have multiple senses according to the context in which we find them.

This infographic captures the issue wonderfully.

Words with Multiple Meanings

Though the example is from English, the same is actually true of every language, including Greek and Hebrew; the meaning of a word is determined by its context. This is why it is impossible to always translate a word or phrase in the Bible by the same word or phrase in English (or any other language for that matter). Languages just don’t work like that.   


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2 replies on “Words in Context”

Eddie, thanks for this. I regularly come away from your thoughtful blog posts with fresh insights, better ways of understanding language & translation, and a rich appreciation for the work of Bible translators in different contexts. Thank you for sharing what’s in your head and in your heart.

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