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some translation principles

I have already described how much I am appreciating the Mahzor Lev Shalem. In its Introduction (page x) it describes some principles that have guided the translation. I think some of these principles so good they can be used well beyond the Mahzor, and well beyond translating Hebrew.

1. We believe the translation ought to reflect the Hebrew original as closely as possible, allowing the English reader to experience the text without a filter, and allowing the congregant who has some basic familiarity with Hebrew to find familiar words. When the Hebrew text is jarring, which it sometimes is, the English translation ought not to smooth over the difficulty

2. The Hebrew prose frequently borders on the poetic, and the translation ought to convey some sense of that in its cadence, in its form, and in its use of language.

3. The translation ought to be prayerful; it ought to put the English reader in the mood of prayer.

4. Because each language has a distinct grammar, we have sometimes changed the word order, syntax, and sentence structure to create an appropriate English translation.

5. A contemporary American translation needs to be gender-neuitral as far as possible, while conveying the intent and meaning of the original. Sometimes this has necessitated changing the third person in the original to the second person, in this translation.

6. We have consulted previous translations…

There are some standout moments in the translation. I am particularly fascinated by the translation of acrostic prayers in Hebrew as acrostic prayers in English!

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6 Responses to some translation principles

  1. Reading any translated text “without a filter” is never entirely possible. Insofar as it IS possible, this necessarily entails dynamic equivalency, which means that a good translation will have the same meaning for speakers of the target language as for speakers of the source language. A related principle is that a good translation will not sound like a translation; ideally, it should be able to fool you into thinking it was (or could have been) composed in the target language. This is not to deny the place of poetic and prayerful language; I am all for the preservation of textual “atmospheres” that may be easily lost in translation if we err too far on the side of deformalisation. But this concern must indeed be balanced with a respect for the appropriate syntax, idioms, etc. of any target language.

    I admit that, speaking from a Catholic context, I have other things than the Mahzor Lev Shalem in mind as I compose this response.

    • Julia, I have written several blog posts on the forthcoming Roman Catholic translation. I hope you have read them. I will also be doing a post on translation in my “The Bible says” series. Thanks for your points.

  2. I am not sure where is the proper place to post this regarding your series, but I wanted you to have it Padre.

    “I’m using the Anglican Communion as an example. I think it cuts across all Christian communities. We’re very good at saying “the Bible says.” We are not good at saying how it is that we extract that meaning from scripture. One of the things I do with my first-year class is hold up a Bible, and I open it, facing them. I say, “Listen carefully now. Can you hear it?” They look at me blankly, and I say, “Can’t you hear it? What does the Bible say? Can you hear it? What does it say?” And they say nothing. Without a reader, without a believer, the Bible says nothing. And so we, as readers and as believers, have to become much more attentive to how it is that we enable the Bible to speak.”

    Gerald West is [to be] a featured speaker at the 2011 Trinity Institute: Reading Scripture Through Other Eyes.

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