Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jobes on Better Bibles

Karen H. Jobes is a scientist turned translator. How she's translating and talking about translation of the Bible is no less radical than how Willis Barnstone has been translating the Bible and talking about it.

Jobes is a woman, and Barnstone is a Jew. (She's a physics-trained computer scientist who's come to Bible scholarship lately, doing work on the book of Esther as variant texts of the Septuagint. He's a classicist, a comparative literary scholar, a polyglot, and an English translator of texts authored in various languages both IndoEuropean and not.) So it will be interesting to see how these two are received by traditional mainstream Bible translators.

To date, the Better Bibles Blog contributors have not listed Barnstone's The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament as a notable English "Version." That's too bad, because Barnstone's recent Bible translation is well reviewed by many (including Robert Alter) and comes on the heels of his many other acclaimed translations, by the methods he articulates in his brilliant book The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice. Barnstone has contended that the history of the English translation of the Bible is replete with anti-Semitism that is borne out in and through the theory and practice of translations. He says much much more than that in his book. Nonetheless, for Christians, the most notable issue is the mistranslation of Yeshua as an anti Jew if not just a victim of the Jews.

Jobes is making a somewhat similar claim. But instead of accusing Christian translators of the Bible of producing work that hurts a particular race, ironically Jesus Christ's own race, Jobes says something else, perhaps more general. She does specifically argue that both "dynamic equivalence" and "formal equivalence" are inadequate theories which have polarized Bible translators in debate; and, she makes her more general claim. A better method "shows how Anglo-centric the evangelical debates have been." That's one of the most important statements (on page 9) of her essay "Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation."

What may make such a statement more palatable to evangelicals (than Barnstone's claims) is the fact that Jobes herself is an evangelical Christian. What may make Bible translators take note of her "bilingual quotation" theory is that Jobes also has been included in the elite group of translators who have just completed the New English Translation of the Septuagint. (She's the only woman selected along with thirty men). (In contrast to Jobes, Barnstone is not a Christian--although he sees Jesus in very important, very fresh ways [see his statement on YESHUA BEN YOSEF]--and he has conferred with Alter but collaborated with no other person on his project. In comparison with Jobes, Barnstone does even more thoroughly take on the sucker's choice of either "dynamic equivalence" or "formal equivalence" in the theory section of his book.)

Paul J. Caminiti, Zondervan's Vice President and Publisher of Bibles, has posted a blog for your review, in which he allows Jobes to introduce her theory. This afternoon, Mike Pritchard, a manager in Zondervan's marketing office, kindly sent me an email notice, inviting us all to read the blog, and to comment as we would. Wayne Leman, a contributor at Better Bibles Blog, and a Bible translator and translator consultant, had gotten Pritchard's email earlier and had thoughtfully forwarded it to me. I mention all that to keep the conversation going. Although I've quoted from page 9, Caminiti gives quotations from pages 5 and 7, and a comparison chart of "verbosity" of Bible translations on page 15. Another main "point" of Jobes is then quoted from page 16. The blog and a link to the full essay can be found here.

Whether you read and comment there, or come back here to comment, I'd be curious. What do you think?

When Wayne forwarded the email to me, he said "speaking of 'feministic translation', consider Dr. Jobes' paper." So I am! Do know that Professor Jobes is not a self-identifying "feminist." Nor does she label "Bilingual Quotation" as womanly discourse of any kind. I would, nonetheless, like to know whether any of you think Jobes' translation theory is related to Pike's tagmemics or his monolingual demonstration (which I've said may contribute to translation theory and practice as much as Jacqueline Jones Royster's afrafeminist methods can).

UPDATE: These are bloggers who have either commented on or are inviting others to comment on Jobes' essay:

Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog
Wayne Leman at TNIV Truth
John F. Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry (twice)
Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom
James Getz at Kituvim

and in a more recent post, I wonder more about the gender inequities surrounding Jobes.


solarblogger said...

Where Jobes quotes the evangelical theory as being that because God’s authority is behind the words of the original texts of the Bible, his authority also stands behind translations of the Bible into other languages as long as the translations are faithful to the original, I would have to think the theory should read "insofar as" instead of "as long as." "As long as" suggests that a judgment be made of an entire Bible translation, and that any mistakes have the same authority as the passages translated best. I don't know if this is a problem with Jobes's reporting or with the evangelical theory. She does not cite a particular statement of the theory. But I think she should take on the theory in its most robust form.

The idea of using a situation where you have one shot at communicating accurately as a test of a translation philosophy is intriguing. She may have convinced me that where we have only one shot, dynamic equivalence is best. But this is not where we usually find ourselves. Formal equivalence allows the reader or hearer to dig deeper, in a way that even a translator might not be able to do, when the translator is responsible for covering so much ground. Dynamic equivalence theory seems to imply that a translator can understand a text exhaustively.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your comment. Yes, what you're saying is the "evangelical theory" does have to work around the question of "mistakes." No wonder Jobes makes the contrast with strict Islamic theory that allows no translation of the Koran at all. No mistakes will result from no translation.

I do think Jobes is trying to move evangelicals away from the "either/ or" binary of formal equivalence vs. dynamic equivalence. She says:

the important question of how to honor our doctrine of Scripture when discussing translation theory must not be carried on in an evangelical vacuum apart from the light of linguistics and from an awareness of how Anglo-centric our discussions have been.

What's odd about that is Jobes hasn't seen that "the light of linguistics" can be very dark indeed. That "linguistics" can also be mostly Western-Euro-centric insofar as it's rationalistic (i.e., Platonic and/or Aristotelian).

But simultaneous translation as a method in many ways defies cold logic. The interpreter "must make split-second decisions and has no opportunity for editing." It defies abstract objectivity: The "translator must so identify his or her translation with the speaker being translated that the translator must use the first-person when speaking in the target language on behalf of the speaker." It really defies the end-game of "evangelical theory"(i.e., targeted accuracy in matching the source language meanings to equivalent target language meanings): "the simultaneous interpreter must keep in mind the linguistic and cultural contexts of both the speaker and the listener." In other words, God's word is not the only thing; and so accuracy with respect to "God's word" without consideration and care for the language of the translation is not the only thing.

The simultaneous translator must be bilingual. (Or, if not, then the translator can use the "monolingual demonstration" developed by Kenneth Pike, in which the translator always uses the language of the other to translate it.) The evangelical assumption is that God is bilingual at least.

Eastern European language models and Asian language models challenge the Anglo-centrism at this point. Jobes mentions her friend Lynn Visson, who works in Russian. My guess is that Visson knows the theory of Russian linguist Mikhail Epstein, who rethinks trans-lation as inter-lation, or when texts are involved as stereo-texting. What he says is there's not just a "source" text or language and a "target" language or text. Rather, when bilinguals read or hear the language, then there's third meanings being made, meanings beyond the accuracy of either of the other two. The two languages read one another back and forth (so there's this interlanguage or interlation).

Similarly, Chinese scholar Lydia He Liu says that when Chinese societies have appropriated Western modernism, they do not think of the "translation" they do as "translation" qua "translation." They're not bound by the equivalence model of "source" and "target" with more or less "accuracy." No. The Chinese view the process as what Liu coins "translingual practice." The two languages and interact as "host" and "guest" and the rules of "politeness" apply in the methodology. (Liu says the anglo-centric PostColonial models of scholarship just don't work. In other words, former colonies reacting against the colonization of Europeans has no relevance for China. China has never been colonized. Hence, the Chinese translingualism practice of viewing the West as a guest and China as a host works much better for them.)

So back to "evangelical theory" centered in the West with some hope for help from "the light of linguistics" all for faithfulness and fidelity and accuracy in the "target" language English. Jobes and evangelicals may just accomplish (albeit unwittingly) "accuracy" by imagining a method that does not (ironically) set out only to control accuracy. Simultaneous translation is personal and subjective and wildly / warmly varied.