Most English translations of the Bible contain quite a bit of unnatural English. By unnatural we mean here forms of grammar and lexical word combinations which never naturally occur in the speech or writing of any native speakers of English at any level, register, or degree of formality of the language. Some advocates of these less natural translations justify the use of unnatural English on various grounds, such as that a Bible should sound “sacred,” which, to them, means it sound or read as something “other” than what we normally encounter in good quality speech or writing, or on the basis that we must literally translate forms of the biblical language texts to maintain an “otherness” of language and culture so that a translation doesn’t sound like it was written for contemporary speakers.
What do you think?
- Do you believe that the majority of sentences in the biblical language texts were at any level / register / degree of formality of language natural or unnatural?
- If your answer to #1 is “yes,” do you believe that an English Bible translation should be written in natural, good quality contemporary literary English (that would pass muster with English professors and literary editors and would sound natural and good, but not slangy or colloquial, to essentially all native English speakers)?
Please try NOT to comment on minority percentages of language examples either in the biblical language texts or good quality contemporary natural English. Rather, let’s try to address the majority, big picture, of language examples both in the biblical language texts and current English usage. If the majority of sentences in the biblical language texts would have been regarded by native speakers of those languages as unnatural, then answer that the biblical language texts were, on the whole, unnatural. If, however, the majority of sentences would have been regarded by native speakers to be natural, good quality language, then do not answer “unnatural”. We all speak and write occasionally in unnatural ways, but a high percentage of native speakers of English, including each one who comments on this blog, writes using natural English most of the time.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.