Many claims stated as absolute desiderata
in the Bible translation debates among evangelicals
would not make sense
if the target language were other than English. . . .,
which shows how Anglo-centric the evangelical debates have been. . .
Surely evangelicals must not mandate
a translation philosophy on theological grounds
that would exclude, even inadvertently,
many of the world’s languages.
--Karen H. Jobes
The theological grounding of the translation philosophy of some evangelicals is a certain foundation. But the linguistic grounding of the translation philosophy of other evangelicals is the same certain foundation. And the anglo-centrism of the evangelical debates over translation has a more focused and equally-shared center. That is, whether the evangelical argues more for formal equivalence or more for dynamic (or “translation”) equivalence, the anglo-centric theology and the anglo-centric linguistics are centered in ancient Greek logic. Such grounds are the same sand; and such a center is, to use a Greek word, σκότος.
So when Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog writes his latest installment on “translation equivalence,” he’s escaped neither the methodological philosophy of the ancient Greeks nor the results of their logic. That’s not to say that Leman fails to do anything good. As a matter of fact, he’s friendly, uses personable examples, and invites other people to participate out of their own subjectivities. But we pause to read a linguistic concept as benign as “possession.” Let me just say that after twenty-one years of being paid to teach English as a second language to adults in the U.S. Academy, “possessives” as an English thing is something I’m not unfamiliar with; and we teach it in all its glorious complexities. How would we get around the concept? And why would we? Now, while those are both very interesting questions (I’m so glad you asked), they’re queries really beside the point.
The issue for translators such as Leman is whether there is some universal transcendent category which all languages share (at least English and Greek, and English and Hebrew). If so, then there’s also “translation equivalence.” Do you catch the logic? Desideratum 1: “possession” is a phenomenon of all languages. Desideratum 2: English and Greek and Hebrew are languages. Desideratum 3: English and Greek and Hebrew possess “possession.” And in front and behind all of those Desiderata is this one Desideratum X: If you can come up with the syllogism Desiderata 1 through 3, then X = the ideal we can call “translation equivalence.” (Now, lest you’ve not been paying attention to the series, “translation equivalence” is equivalent to “dynamic equivalence.” But “translation equivalence” is not equal to “literal translation”; for “literal translation” is the translation equivalence of “formal equivalence”; and, therefore, “translation equivalence” is the top dog in the hierarchy.) For the logic junkies, this is both deduction and induction. And for those looking for logical fallacies, you may be hard pressed except to note that we were taught in kindergarten not to mix metaphors, even metaphors we live by, such as both deduction with induction.
I’m being a little silly here. It’s my way of trying to be friendly. Kind of like nervous laughter when playing with dynamite so no one gets any body parts blown off. Okay then, we remember Plato played with shadows. Powerful things that would prove the light. The linguistic desideratum we call in English “possessives” is such a shadow. We really want it to be the real deal. We know our ancestors, for instance, dealt with slavery (the possession of some human beings by others); and that our great great great grandfathers dealt with spousal abuse (thank God that’s over now: the husband possessing his wife, or in the case of many of our biblical patriarchy, his wives). When it comes to language, English and Greek and Hebrew, then, how could we do without “possession”? Which, again, is a really good question. It’s kind of like Kenneth Pike’s questions about those (yes exceptional) languages that do not have many numbers (with which to do logical math, the kind of logic, Pike says people really are over, even when translating). But, for now, that’s just not the question we’re asking. We’re asking How we could even imagine a language that doesn’t have “possession”? Our question is not about “the text”; it’s about us. How could we imagine? Why would we? Are we trying to come up with little obscure counter-examples to enter the debate of the evangelicals on the side of the formal people? Well, no. The formal and the dynamic are stuck on Greek logic which is the translational equivalence of Anglo-centrism. What we’re trying to do is to come down from our high horse for a minute. Or, if we put that in Trojan, we’d say (with our hands over our mouths): “There’s no one hiding inside the gift horse—Please don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!!” Plato fell for that, of course, because he hated the hidden meanings of ambiguous epic poetry, and because he wanted to keep his slaves and have his wives too. Plato never listened to Lydia H. Liu, who refused his proposal for marriage, and who went on to publish these audacious words in English: “one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change.” Oh yeah, I almost forget, Plato didn’t want to change either. His student Aristotle didn’t either, and so he set out (with new logic—the old stuff evangelical Bible translators use) to teach little Alexander to become Great and to teach the world Greek.
Only, Plato and Aristotle never counted on Matthew translating into Greek, hosting another’s Aramaic, and all the while listening very carefully to this very different teacher who actually wanted his students to change their thinking and the way they thought about his words and the ways by which they had to change those words of his by their translation. The strange irony of that is evangelical Bible translators never counted on that either. Matthew gives his sympathies. It’s hard to humble yourself when you’ve got English and logic on your side. It’s hard to change darkness for light, sand for bedrock.