Monday, December 8, 2008

Throwing Out Interpretation in Bible Translation

This is another translation challenge. How can a translator better the English rendered for these Greek clauses?

ἐξεβλήθη ὁ ὄχλος
ἐκβληθέντος τοῦ δαιμονίου
ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια
ἐκβάλῃ ἐργάτας εἰς τὸν θερισμὸν αὐτοῦ

They're sentences from Matthew 9, the first two the author's conveying the actions of Jesus, the second two the author's translating the words of the Pharisees and then the words of Jesus. In verses 25, 33, 34, and 38, do different English words give less-biblish and more-acceptable meanings of the Greek verb? The verb seems to be one of Matthew's favorites, but does its object change its meaning? Does it mean something different for Jesus and his Father to act on a crowd, on demons, and on workers in the harvest?

In comments here, please feel free to give the English (yours or someone else’s). And feel free to label the method of translation (such as “translation equivalence” or “dynamic equivalence”; “formal equivalence” or “literal translation”; “literary translation”; “bi-lingual quotation”; and so forth). In addition, feel free to explain why this English translation is one of the best and how the translation method is one of the best.


linguafranka said...

I once composed a translation exercise on this particular verb, ἐκβάλλω, showing how even in the venerable King James Version, source language (in this case, Greek) words are not simply translated mindlessly into English in a one-to-one fashion. Rather, a reasonable translation has to take into account the range of meanings that a word has, and the sense it has in a particular context, and then translate it according to sense in context.

While you are at it, as long as you are looking at the gospel of Matthew, consider also Matthew 7:4-5, 12:20 (similar to 9:38), and 12:35.

A poor translation is one that tries to consistenly use one target language word for each source language word. A good translation cannot avoid understanding the meaning of the source text, and then trying to give something in the target language with the same meaning, where "meaning" is not focused only on words in isolation, but rather words used in context.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, David -- aka LinguaFrankA :) --

Yes, Matthew more than any other NT writer uses the verb ἐκβάλλω, making for some of the interesting contexts that you refer to by ch.&v.

Can you give examples of any "poor translation" or any "good translation" of the Mt 9 passage?

The reason my translation challenge here focuses on ch 9 is for two reasons: first, Matthew uses the verb very differently within the space of just a few sentences; second, Matthew as historian uses the Greek verb both to record the action and to translate the spoken Aramaic of others into Gr within that very tight space of a few sentences. How can a translator get away with changing the verb if Matthew uses the same one if with different senses?

If others also give examples of good translations, then I'll compile them and add my own, possibly in another post.

John Radcliffe said...

(I'm sorry I missed your James 1:1 exercise; I'll have to remember to come back and look at that again when I have more time.)

To business: these are just about all the renderings I've come across.

Cast out (used by NRSV and NASB, following KJV, and NET in v33 and 34) may be the traditional rendering, but it just isn't standard English any more. It certainly isn't an expression I'd use.

Throw out is perhaps too strong for v25 (too physical: I doubt physical force was used) and v38 (there would be a risk of the workers being hurt when they landed). It could be appropriate for v33 and 34 except that (to me at least) "throwing something out" seems to be something you do from the inside, and that idea doesn't seem to be appropriate there.

Eject works for the first three, but not for v38 (unless you view the potential workers as lazing around the fire when they should be working, so that they need to be ejected, out into the harvest field). However, in v25 I doubt it sounds natural: it isn't what I'd naturally say. [CJB and Weymouth have "expelled", which to me has a similar "feel" to it, but I think works less well (not physical enough?) in v33 and 34, and certainly in v25.]

Put out is ok for v25 (the most conmon here), acceptable for v33 and v34, but not for v38 (I think it has too negative a connotation to be used there).

Drive out is more vigorous for v25 (I can imagine Jesus with arms outstretched moving the crowd towards the door), but in v33 and 34 (where it seems to be the most common rendering) I think it's too vigorous, and implies too much effort. Applying great effort doesn't seem to be how Jesus got rid of demons: the impression I get is that he just said, "go", and they went. (Of course there was real power behind the words, but that wasn't observable.) I certainly don't think it works for v38.

Force out is perhaps better than "drive out" in v33 and v34 (so CEV); it might even work in v25 and v38, but perhaps it's still too "physical".

Send out (used by T/NIV and many others in v38) surprised me by working reasonably well (although understood with a different nuance) in each case: I wouldn't have considered it an obvious choice.

In my view "cast out" is definitely "biblish", but I don't think any of the others are.

One problem is whether I'd like to preserve concordance within such a relatively short passage. In other words: did Matthew deliberately use the same term in v25 / v38 that he was going to use / had used in v33 and 34? Or is the word just so common (or "un-nuanced"?) that he would have used it without thinking? Now in v38 it doesn't seem an obvious choice to me (why not apostello for example, which he is going to use in 10:5, 16?), might incline me to think the choice / reuse in v38 was deliberate (I'm not so sure about the pre-use in v25).

On the other hand, it seems to me that in Matthew's usage at least the word has little of nothing to do with "throw" left (I can't find a single instance [out of about 28 uses] where that idea is *required*; it may apply in 21:39 and probably does in 22:13 and 25:30), but still has to do with "out" (which seems applicable in just about every instance). So perhaps it's just Matthew's default "out" verb; in that case we shouldn't worry too much about concordance.

What's my preferred translation method? "Pragmatic" i.e. whatever works for me, and that may vary from passage to passage (and purpose to purpose). In this case what I'd like to see in a translation of Matthew 9 isn't necessarily what I'd like in a translation of the whole of Matthew, and for the whole of the NT the goalposts might move again. The wider the scope the more I think a translator needs to be concerned about immediate context (e.g. using the same English wherever "demon removal" is referred to) and less about internal consistency between different contexts (removing people from a room; getting workers into a harvest field).

linguafranka said...

Kurk, you asked, "How can a translator get away with changing the verb if Matthew uses the same one if with different senses?" I'm trying to make sense of that question. How does the translator get away with it? It's called "translation." Translation involves changing something from one language to another. I suspect you know that, and that your intent was to be provocative.

As I wrote before, normal translation involves studying a text to understand what it means, and then trying to convey that same meaning in a different language. This requires understanding not only the primary dictionary meaning of each word, but also the different senses, and then translating according to sense in context. Given that there is not a natural one-to-one correspondence between the range of meanings of a word from one language to another, it is necessary to translate one word in different ways into another language. This requires not only looking to see what word is used, but also what it means in that context, and then considering what word in the target language (such as English) expresses the same meaning of how the target language (e.g. Greek) word was being used in its context.

Without looking it up, I believe it is fair to say that the primary meaning of Greek ἐκβάλλω is something like "cast out." And that is how it is translated in some contexts, such as when a demon is the object of the verb. I don't have a problem with "cast out" in many contexts, but then again, I speak fluent Biblish, having been raised on the KJV, not that I recommend its use in the modern world. Other reasonable alternatives might be "throw out," "drive out" or "expel," if the object is a demon. However, if the object is a disciple, then I would suggest something like "send out."

If the object of the verb in question is a speck in one's eye, then something like "take out" would be more appropriate as an English translation. Even the literal RSV has "put outside" in Matthew 9:25 where the object is "the crowd," but "drive out" in vv. 33-34 where the object is demons, and "send out" in v. 38 where the object is workers for the harvest.

Part of the different English renderings here have to do with different rules for deixis, when comparing one language to another. For example, if someone says to you, "Come here," in English we respond by saying "I'm coming," but in Spanish you say "I'm going."

mike said...

I think if you maintain the "out" of each of these occurrences in Matt 9, you'll be find even if you use a different verb. The continuity can still be seen quite well.

J. K. Gayle said...

You three have given us lots of good insight!

Your sorting through the various translations and phrases is helpful. I love your assessments, especially with regard to what's "physical" (i.e., CEV's "force out" and to what surprises you with the T/NIV.

Your problem of preserving concordance "within such a relatively short passage" is exactly mine. However, I could care less what Matthew did deliberately (and how could we ever know)? It's "them" and "us," his intended and unintended readers that concern me most. Yes, it's his "default 'out' verb" -- but that has importance, and meaning, to us. Why? We can read the same word thrice, and read it both the same and different. In other words, whether or not Matthew even thought about using the verb 3x in a few sentences, we readers can see that he did. We also can contemplate and enjoy that the form is the same but the senses are not the same. The game, the question, the problem -- is whether translation can play with the words as well.

I appreciate your declaring your method "Pragmatic." How convenient! And now you want something different for Mt 9 than for the whole gospel. Brave!

I think I will write a follow up post to explain my question. Sorry to delay what I mean when its so vague in the first place. I really want to hear what some others think because I've got this thing (at this passage particularly) that keeps yelling loudly if silently in my own ears.

Yes, I do agree with you about the disjuncture between two languages. So I imagine Matthew the translator, who must know exactly what you mean--he can't possibly make the talking demons (earlier) and the Pharisees and Jesus and his own narrators' voice sound the same, can he? Should he? How does spoken Aramaic, and Greek deities talk, and a history of this second Joshua come across in imperial (albeit "koine") Greek? What I'm trying to say is that we're not more sophisticated than Matthew. That we in our English want to vary the verbs means that we are sensitive to difference between Greek and English. But Matthew is sensitive to low-Aramaic, high-Hebrew, demon-talk, and written-Greek difference too, no?

(A friend just gave me a copy of Pike's Talk, Thought, and Thing in which he writes: "Why should I be a person who begins with language [and not with formal logic]? In part because of the inescapableness of language (or, for the mute, with gestures replacing [i.e., translating] spoken language) and in pat for reasons of science. I am a linguist by training and experience--especially with experience in analyzing languages having no alphabet and, therefore, no written documentation of human experience. Yet in these languages we find some of the basic components necessary to a [not formal logical] foundation of knowledge based upon experience and a readiness to develop broader concepts built on linguistic metaphor [not logic again] and social analogies appropriate to the highly intellectual competence of, albeit preliterate, peoples." page ix).

David, I absolutely love your discussion of "deixis" as in "comparing one language to another." And what a comparison of English and español -- which sounds not only different but opposite in literal responses.

Very interesting observation. Maybe it's the "out" that keeps the English play in Matthew's Greek play with ἐκ/ἐξ. Back to John Radcliffe's thought of it as Matthew's default.

(Now my thoughts digress over to our English transliteration of the Greek LXX "Ex-Odus" but our different actual translation of Luke's (9:31) record of the subject of Jesus's conversation with Moses and Elijah: τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ (his Ex-Odus, his departure. Quite an Odussey, indeed.)

linguafranka said...

Here are a few more half-baked thoughts on the deixis of Greek ἐκβάλλω. To start with, the "ἐκ" park of the word is obviously deictic. As long as you brought up Ken Pike, I will give the Pikean explanation of deixis as having to do with the "I-thou-here-now" dimensions of language. Except that it is not Ken Pike's voice I hear saying this, but rather his wife Evelyn's. Anyway, the "ἐκ" part of ἐκβάλλω is obviously deictic, but also the "βάλλω" part of the word is deictic, though more subtly so. Or I should say that the English translations of βάλλω have a deictic element that the Greek word doesn't specify. Thus βάλλω could be translated into English as either "throw" (implying away from the actor) or "bring" (implying toward the actor). Since the Greek word ἐκβάλλω can be used in a variety of ways, either in a sense of away from the actor or toward the actor, I would say it is not as specific, in terms of deixis, as the corresponding English words that could be used to translate it. Depending on what the object of the verb is, it could be translated as "force/drive/throw/send out" (actions away from the actor) or "take/bring out" (actions toward the actor).

As a result, ἐκβάλλω has to be translated a variety of ways into English, depending on context. The Greek word is less specific than the different English words that might be used to translate it.

In St. Lucian Creole, a simple preposition andidan can mean either 'in' or 'out,' depending on context. I'm trying to express this here in English, but in French Creole, you can say "It [is] in the tree" or "It fell," but if you combine the two, "in" becomes "out" (in English, at least): "It fell out of the tree."

J. K. Gayle said...

"I-thou-here-now"! Now, we're going places together, David. I think I may have literally heard Evelyn Pike say this in their home. Note these distinctions of hers are not separations but are rather much more distinctions giving way to what's in common in space, in time.

So I'm not following you on this other point:

"As a result, ἐκβάλλω has to be translated a variety of ways into English, depending on context. The Greek word is less specific than the different English words that might be used to translate it."

How do you know my Greek, and don't we use the "same" English? What if I showed you an English deictic phrase that is, for me-and-you here-and-now, as "less specific" as Matthew's Greek there-and-then for him-and-them-and-us? My poem at the beginning of this post, and Ann Nyland's English translation of Matthew's Greek, start to get at this.

What if I asked you to translate my English poem into Russian? Could you make your Russian play-along as English, my English phrase "throw out"?

(Since we're playing with language and noting the variances within a single I-Thou-Here-Now shared phrase, I see you mention "in" and "out" in St. Lucian Creole and French Creole respectively, different "ins" and "outs" depending on contexts and combinations. What is the translational constraint? What is it that you say "has to be translated" a certain way? Can't there be play (i.e., wiggle room and playfulness) within the language that is being translated from and the language that is being translated to? Here's a little parable, a true story: once upon a time right here in Ft. Worth, Texas, there was a Chinese-fast-food restaurant "Takee Outee" named that by the Vietnamese-American family who owned and operated it. We became friends, because I was a regular customer who -- like the family -- spoke both English and Vietnamese. We'd talk about why the name of their restaurant was funny and punny in English because it invoked stereotypical Chinese-English while retaining the stereotypical American penchant for "take out" dining. We joked about what they'd call a burger joint in Beijing or Ha Noi. The host language welcomed the guest language, with some accommodations by both. In our PC -- more politically correct culture of language here -- there are new rules of politeness, and the family has changed the name of its restaurant to be more sensitive to clients who might be offended by the stereotyping. But my point is that people can be flexible, and creative, with their languages. For people to have to kowtow or cowtow to "language" even in Cowtown -- sorry I couldn't resist since that's the nickname of Ft Worth -- is an unfortunate thing in itself.)

linguafranka said...

JK -- I'll try to explain myself a little better. Don't take me wrong when I use an expression like "has to be translated a certain way." I'm not dogmatic. I do think there is wiggle room in translation. I don't think I have all the answers, or that there is just one answer with regard to questions of meaning or translation. So maybe I didn't express myself very well.

One other thing I confused you about is that when I wrote about St. Lucian Creole and French Creole, I was using both of those labels to refer to the same language. Well, there are different varieties of French Creole, but the variety I was writing about was St. Lucian (French) Creole.

What I was trying to get at was that in translating, sometimes in the receptor language you can't avoid using words that are actually more specific than the words of the source language. For example, Andrew the disciple is the brother of Peter the disciple, right? As I'm sure you know, some languages don't have a simple word for brother, but rather have specific words for younger brother or older brother. So, to translate into such a language, you have to be more specific, deciding whether to tranlate ἀδελφὸν in Matt. 4:18 with the receptor language word for "younger brother" or for "older brother."

In the context of the discussion of ἐκβάλλω, I was saying that it seems that the English words that one might use to translate it are more specific than the original Greek word, and the difference seems to have to do with the deictic orientation.

Having said that, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that a single English word could be found to translate ἐκβάλλω, that does successfully avoid this deictic problem. I'll leave it up to you to find such a word or phrase, but I don't think it will be "drive out," "send out," "throw out," or "take out." Each of those English phrases has a certain deictic orientation that the Greek word doesn't seem to specify. My solution would be to translate ἐκβάλλω into English in different ways, according to different contexts.

J. K. Gayle said...

My solution would be to translate ἐκβάλλω into English in different ways, according to different contexts.

LinguaFranka, My apologies for mistaking your names for the Creole as for different creoles. I see what you were saying now, and I appreciate your clarifying how there are differences of specificities to acknowledge and not to impose in translation. I grew up speaking one of the languages with various specific words for "younger brother" / "older brother" / "younger sister" / "older sister" and specified rankings of each sibling in the family; the language is Vietnamese. Interestingly, Vietnamese in contrast to English has different basic color terms; whereas English has two terms ["blue" and "green"] for a single hued band of light Vietnamese has only one term ["xanh"]. But I guarantee you, when we speak Vietnamese we can most clearly distinguish the colors by adjectives and such. (Another funny difference between VN and English is the tone vs. intonation phonologies. When American missionaries, like my parents, translated English language hymns but retained the Western melody, I can guarantee you there's an awful sound in church -- but I don't know if it's more awful in English or in Vietnamese :) )

So I do get your point and thank you very much for helping me see it; my point is just that either language "bridged" by translation -- the guest or the host, the target or the source -- either language is as N-dimensional as the other. We people make them so, I think.