Thursday, June 26, 2008

Accuracy and Readability

Looks like the bishops are at it again deciding whether or not we lay people can understand archaic language and whether or not the new English translations being prepared are not only accurate but also readable.

Being someone who has studied literature, philosophy, and theology on both undergraduate and graduate levels I am keenly aware of both sides of the argument when it comes to the new translations of the mass into English. One must keep in mind, as it appears the bishops are doing, that the church is not made up solely of intellectuals or merely artists or couch potatoes, so some common ground must be met in regards to the translations. If the church was composed solely of one of these groups then translating from the Latin to English would be simple, but that is not the case.

Here I present two accurate renderings (not from the original languages) of a biblical passage. One is more readable than the other but both are accurate.

Here is the first:
In a quick and sudden moment, a feeling welling inside of human emotion occurred where a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of fluids, containing quantities of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, leuenkephalin and also containing elements of potassium and manganese, from the lacrimal apparatus without any irritation of the ocular structures thus signaling to others that he, Jesus, is wrought with emotion about something that has recently happened.
Or As John put it in Chapter 11 of his Gospel:
Jesus Wept.
I do this to demonstrate that an accurate rendering doesn’t always mean more readable. As I am sure the later rendering is much more pleasing and easier to read, it speaks mounds more than the longer sterile scientific description of a person crying. The sentence “Jesus Wept” does two things that the scientific description cannot do: first it allows the hearer to use his or her imagination and second it taps into human emotion thereby allowing the reader to connect to the text in a way that cannot happen with the longer scientific description. Also, if a person is not careful in listening or in reading the longer scientific version, he or she might miss the main point of the sentence, that being that Jesus wept. In other words, some renderings are more culturally relevant to the masses.

Lastly, I have no doubt that whatever translation the Bishops decide upon it will be unsatisfactory to many people within the English speaking church as it is impossible to please everyone at the same time.


Tune said...

But then... we all can google dictionary, can't we? "Ineffable", one of the contested word, can be "googled" easily and known its meaning right away.

Nadja said...

I get your point. I tried a few times to get through the first rendering, but kept dozing off before the end of it...

Paul Cat said...


You seem to miss the point. I was not only speaking about difficult or confusing words that you can look up in the dictionary but also about syntax and diction that lend to the readability of a work of literature.

I think of Kant in that he has horrible syntax, which hinders the understanding of his writings.

In other words, it isn't just about words but also about how those words are used, arranged, and resented to the people.

Paul Cat said...

Oh one more thing. Most of the 'hard' or archaric words can easily be replaced with the modern counterpart. In some cases it won't sound as pleasing to the ear, as I like the way "ineffable" sounds over "inexplainable", or 'mystery beyond words'.

I'm just glad I don't have to make the decision that these Bishops are having to make. It is in deed a tough one.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

The translations should express Theology preciesly, (the joy of the Roman Prayers, they're consise)

I see where you are coming from though. Hopefully the trnnslations bring out the Theology that's in the prayers. (Of course this is the argument for keeping prayers in Latin)

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