TIP of the day: Idioms and translation styles

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Oct 13 2015 2:22 PM

1. Editted to reinstate first paragraph. This post is inspired by chapter 3 of Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications  by Munday, Jeremy which mentions Nida's regret over his terminology of dynamic equivalent/word-for-word translation as it has been misused. His intent was more translation assuming the reader understands the culture of the original text vs. translation assuming the reader does not know the culture.

2. One  indication of familiarity with a language and culture is the recognition of idioms. So from O.T. Hebrew Idioms Explained I extracted the following:

Old Testament Hebrew Idioms (Oh, so that’s what it means!)

Okay, just because I’m Jewish doesn’t mean that when I read a phrase like “beginning of his strength” (Gen 31:35), I automatically consult my gene pool and come up with the correct meaning: his firstborn. Actually, throughout the Hebrew bible there are hundreds of cultural idioms that, through translation into English, have lost their concrete, colorful meanings. But thanks to electronic scholarship and my Jewish upbringing, modern English speaking readers who wonder about the significance of phrases such as suck the milk of nations, can confidently raise a hand in Sunday School and with knowledge straight from the horse’s mouth (American idiom) explain it as: getting the wealth of other countries.

Most scripture was originally written in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. For hundreds of years, Hebrew idioms have been literally translated into English. So ancient manuscript which were written to a Jewish culture have been altered to fit modern society. When we read the scriptures, we read the work of translators and scholars who have transformed an ancient document by substituting English words for the original Hebrew. Consequently, Hebrew thought is lost. The words are there, but the meaning is missing.

Lack of knowing Hebrew and not understanding the unique Jewish mindset has robbed our scripture study of the richness and variety of Hebrew scripture with its poetic, visually descriptive metaphors and analogies. Here, for the benefit of my readers is a short list of O.T. scriptural verses, idioms and meanings. Print out this post and amaze your friends with your acumen. Be sure to tell them where you found it!!

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3. I chose "Little man of the eye" from Ps 17:8 to see if any translation attempted to keep the "flavor" of the original text. The LEB tries to keep the style by using an English idiom.

Note that the square corner brackets indicating an idiom not translated literally.

Second, some expressions in biblical languages are idiomatic, so that a literal translation would be meaningless or would miscommunicate the true meaning. The LEB uses lower corner brackets to indicate such expressions, with a literal rendering given in a note.

Harris, W. Hall, III, Elliot Ritzema, Rick Brannan, Douglas Mangum, John Dunham, Jeffrey A. Reimer, and Micah Wierenga, eds. The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

4. It is interesting that the English idiom "apple of the eye" appears as early as Wycliffe (remember that I am limited to Bibles in my Logos library).

5. It is also interesting that the Young's Literal Translation preserves the "daughter" on the original text as given in the LEB popup.

6. So now I have a bit of a quandary "apple of my eye" to me brings up a image of favored, most cherished ... How are the Bible translators using it? In this day of the web, I can quickly go to Phrase Finder, a source of meaning and origin of phrases.

Hmmm ... that's interesting. Color me embarrassed. I just discovered I was misunderstanding my English Bible as it was using an old meaning for an idiom and I was blithely substituting a new meaning.

7. But guess what. A simple right click could have saved me public embarrassment as it provides the meaning as used in the idiom (pupil) as well as the literal (man). I don't need to know Hebrew to benefit from the extensive Hebrew coding - even though my interpretative error was in the English.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Bruce Dunning | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 13 2015 2:35 PM

Great post MJ. Understanding idioms is so important in Bible study.

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