[B-Greek] translation strategies

Yancy Smith yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Thu Jun 25 09:20:53 EDT 2009

I want to add two pence to this discussion from the far left field. My Greek
teacher, Mr. Robert Johnston of Abilene Christian University, used to tell
his students that the didactic categories of Greek grammar taught to
middling students were like the scaffolding built around a building. At some
point in the construction process, the scaffolding becomes a bother and must
be removed. Before that point the scaffolding is probably necessary. I say
"probably," because it all depends on the method of learning. For example,
many students of living foreign language don't get this kind of stuff until
they take a "Contrastive Grammar" course sometime late in the language
learning process. We become hopelessly confused, however, when we think that
our didactic grammar categories represent something like (universally?)
normative grammar rules and binding us to them some sort of description of
reality. Didactic grammatical tags are rather ad hoc for the most part.

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Carl Conrad
Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 6:47 AM
To: Eddie Mishoe
Cc: B Greek
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] translation strategies

Let's start all over again with this, please. I've re-read the  
original question as posted below and I think now, as I did when I  
first read it, that it is a reaction to (against) my fervent hope that  
we were not going to add a new subcategory of "genitive of purpose" to  
the numerous subcategories of Wallace's GGBB.

Unless I really am off my rocker (Eddie suggests "early signs of  
dementia" and later comments that I am out in left field (while Mike  
Aubrey is out in right field, neither of us two  having grasped what  
Eddie is really trying to say), let me try a strategy (that word will  
get me into trouble again, I'm sure) I once learned that was supposed  
to foster effective communication in meetings and make meetings  
shorter and more efficient: make sure that you understand what the  
other guy is saying; state in your own words what you think the other  
guy's saying, then let him tell you if that's what he really meant.

I and perhaps a few others have frequently complained (verily, ad  
nauseam) about the "multiplication of grammatical subcategories" in  
Wallace's GGBB, with special frequency and vehemence directed toward  
the interpretive subcategories of the adnominal genitive (including  
that most curious beast, the "aporetic genitive" -- a term that seems  
to point roughly to something like Abbot and Costello's "Who's on  
first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third."). I have even  
suggested, and I think some others have concurred with me, that  
Wallace's subcategories such as these subcategories of the adnominal  
genitive, do not really represent grammatical constructions that would  
have meant anything to a native Greek speaker or writer; rather these  
subcategories are explanatory terms designed to help the intermediate  
Greek student understand how the meaning of the Greek construction in  
each particular instance would find expression in English. I think  
that I myself may have to bear the responsibility and blame for  
calling these subcategories "translation strategies" rather than  
straightforward grammatical accounts of how the Greek construction  
functions in the mind of the Greek speaker/writer and what it means to  
the Greek speaker/writer.

Now perhaps I am wholly mistaken here -- Eddie certainly seems  
convinced that I am --, but I had the impression that Eddie was using  
the term "translation strategies" to refer to Wallace's subcategories  
of the adnominal genitive in GGBB, objecting once again, as indeed he  
has done before, to my disparagement of these "grammatical"  
subcategories as explanations of the Greek construction in terms of  
how the Greek construction is best conveyed in English. If that is the  
case, then Eddie is insisting (more forcefully, in fact) that  
Wallace's subcategories -- including a putative "Genitive of Purpose"  
-- do indeed convey exactly -- no more and no less -- what the  
original Greek expression is actually saying/meaning.

IS that what you actually meant, Eddie? Or have I really misunderstood  
you altogether, after all?

Now I continue to disapprove of all those subcategories and I continue  
to think that the student of Greek really ought to read oodles of  
Greek and spend less time working with "Greek" grammars that focus on  
explaining how to turn Greek constructions into idiomatic English.

BUT -- to be fair to Wallace's declared intent with regard to GGBB,  
Wallace has acknowledged openly -- recently in a comment on a blog  
(was it yours, Mike?) and even in the Introduction to GGBB (but who  
ever reads Introductions?) --, that these subcategories are NOT  
precise semantic content inherent in the syntactic structure of the  
adnominal genitive, but RATHER are interpretative/interpretive  
SYNTHESES  of the inherent semantic content of the adnominal genitive  
construction PLUS the contextual indicators ("pragmatic" factors)  
pointing to how the phrase formulated in this constrution in this  
particular context means what Walace believes it means.

TO ME that means that GGBB's textbook explanation of Greek grammatical  
constructions in the GNT is in itself NOT a GRAMMAR of NT Greek but  
rather a METHODOLOGY FOR INTERPRETING the NT Greek text. And I surmise  
NT Geek text, it is impossible to EXPLAIN what the Greek text MEANS.

Now IF that's what Eddie was trying to say, I understand it, even if I  
don't agree with it. I would rather approach the Greek text of the NT  
as freshly as I can every time I look at it, even if I'm looking at a  
passage I've looked at before, and try to understand it as it flows in  
its own sequence of words, phrases, and clauses, gathering my own  
grasp of the meaning of the passage as a whole before I ever begin to  
ANALYZE the construction in terms of WHY I think it means what I think  
it means. I really don't want to have all these algorithmic tools for  
calculating the pragmatic features of the context and pigeonholing the  
resultant construction into something called a "Genitive of Purpose."

I don't want to read 2 COR. 1:24 OUC hOTI KURIEUOMEN hUMWN THS PISTEWS  
the need to analyze what kind of genitive is involved in the phrasing  
of  SUNERGOI ESMEN THS CARAS hUMWN. I am perhaps silly enough to  
imagine that it is reasonably clear that Paul is claiming to have  
played some part in bringing about the joy felt by the Corinthian  

IN SUM, I don't really think it is all about "translating,  
translating, translating." I think it's about "reading Greek and  
understanding the Greek that one reads" without giving thought to how  
the Greek phrasing would convert into the right phrasing for one or  
another target language. I continue to believe that one must  
understand the Greek text BEFORE one can ever translate it. And I  
continue to think that "explaining the Greek NT" is not ultimately a  
matter of "translation strategies" as it is a matter of understanding  
the text of the NT as a Greek text and being able to communicate what  
one understands.

Now it may be that this is not at all what Eddie Mishoe was talking  
about. If it isn't, I apologize for being still out in left field, but  
I hope that I have made clear at least what I think about what I  
thought he was talking about.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

On Jun 24, 2009, at 4:36 PM, Eddie Mishoe wrote:

> I have spoken out in opposition to this, and feel compelled to  
> continue saying why I think translation strategies are the key to  
> explaining the GNT, no -- the only way to explain the GNT.
> Translation strategies are when the translator brings the original  
> language concept into the target language. The concept being  
> explained is EXCLUSIVELY that found in the original language.
> It is sheer nonsense to continue to gripe about translation  
> strategies as if they are somehow using the target language to  
> explain a target language concept. Idioms create their own set of  
> challenges, but for the rest of the text, the most effective way (no  
> -- the only way) to translate the meaning and nuance from the  
> original language to the target language is by translation strategy.
> Translators are interpreters. Interpreters translate in the target  
> language the concept being discussed in the original language. The  
> many, many Genitive categories and sub-categories we find in GGBB is  
> only the tip of the iceberg of the many ways a Genitive can  
> function. If we included the Hellenistic literature, we would need  
> to add a couple hundred more; this is what the concept of "nuance"  
> means. If one were to give the nuances of the English word "in" to a  
> Greek reader, that Greek reader would have to learn more than 100  
> usages of this "simple" preposition. Other words are even worse. The  
> point is, each of the 100+ usages of "in" have a separate  
> grammatical categories and sub-categories.
> Using this "purpose adnominal genitive" is an attempt to convey the  
> GREEK concept behind the GREEK structure to ENGLISH readers. We may  
> need a much larger literary corpus to analyze the legitimacy of this  
> "purpose adnominal genitive." However, until that is undertaken, we  
> have to continue following hunches.
> One could argue that the sole function of a translator is to use  
> translation strategies to convey the meaning and nuances of the  
> original language into the target language.
> Eddie Mishoe
> Pastor

B-Greek home page: http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek
B-Greek mailing list
B-Greek at lists.ibiblio.org
[Yancy Smith] 

Yancy Smith
Yancy W. Smith, PhD
World Bible Translation Center
4028 Daley Ave., Suite 201
Fort Worth, TX 76180
p 817-595-1664
f 817580-7013
yancy at wbtc.org

Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of

More information about the B-Greek mailing list