Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When translations use bad English: ESV vs Others

I have been using the ESV for some years now, and I have to say that I find it accurate, and easy to read. However, there are times when it is more wooden than translations that are known for its so-called woodenness, such as the NASB (I never found that when I used it before the ESV).

Sometimes translations, whether formal equivalent ('literal') translations such as the ESV, NASB and KJV or dynamic equivalent ('thought-for-thought') translations such as the NIV, NET and GNB, just sound odd and don't make proper sense in English.

The ESV has this one phrase that doesn't make sense to me at all, in any context. It is "at table." Use your Bible software and search for that phrase, especially in the New Testament part of the ESV. The ESV uses this phrases when people come together to enjoy a meal, when they recline "at table." This is just bad English. No-one sits "at table." We sit or recline "at the table."

The ESV uses this many times, and here's a list of them in the New Testament:

(Mat 8:11, Mat 9:10, Mat 26:7, Mat 26:20, Mar 2:15, Mar 14:3, Mar 14:18, Mar 16:14, Luk 5:29, Luk 7:37, Luk 7:49, Luk 11:37, Luk 12:37, Luk 13:29, Luk 14:10, Luk 14:15, Luk 17:7, Luk 22:14, Luk 22:27, Luk 24:30, Joh 12:2, Joh 13:23, Joh 21:20)

ESV When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.
HCSB When evening came, He was reclining at the table with the Twelve.
KJV Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
NASB Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples.
NIV When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.
BISHOPS When the euen was come, he sate downe with the twelue.
GENEVA So when the Euen was come, hee sate downe with the twelue.
NET When it was evening, he took his place at the table with the twelve.

As you can see, not even two of the oldest English translations (Bishops and Geneva), which predate the KJV, translated the idea as wooden as the modern ESV! Personally, I prefer formal equivalent translations and will stick with them rather than the dynamic equivalent ones, but I would like to know from the ESV translators: "What were you thinking?"

In fact, lately I have been looking back to the NASB which served me well for about 20 years! I have also started looking at the HCSB, which is called an optimal equivalent translation, a clever mixture between formal and dynamic equivalence. I like the way it is written, and the ease with which it is read. I also like the idea that although they keep to a "literal" method of translation, they also tried to conform to modern English standards.

Translation work is not easy, but we also have to acknowledge that while that is so, translators must use proper and correct English without violating their philosophy of translation. The things is, though, "at table" just doesn't cut it!

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