Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost in Translation (Challenges and Perspectives)

One interesting challenge for Bible translators has to do with translating animal names from the Biblical languages into target languages. In some cases this can pose interesting challenges, To take an example from the New Testament, Jesus is said to have been moved with compassion on the multitude because “they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). A Greenlandic translation made in 1744 explains "sheep" as “small animals which are nearly like caribous.” Inge Kleivan explains,

The comparison may at first sight appear astonishing, but in fact Poul Egede [the 1744 translator] has chosen the animal which is nearest to the sheep in size, appearance, and behavior if he wanted to compare the sheep with an animal which the Greenlanders knew; there were only the following land animals in West Greenland: hares, foxes, caribous, and polar bears. The comparison is, however, unsatisfactory at a very important point, because the caribous are not tame animals and the pastoral culture which pervades the Bible was quite unknown to the Greenlanders (Inge Kleivan, “`Lamb of God’ = `Seal of God’? Some semantic problems in translating the animal names of the New Testament into Greenlandic,” in Kirtsten Gregersen, ed., Papers of the Fourth Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics, Hindsgavl, January 6-8, 1978. Odense University Press, 1978, 340).

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