[b-hebrew] verbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Jul 29 09:37:18 EDT 2005

Dear James,

My posts to Bryan and Peter have a bearing on your confusion. And I give a
few more remarks below.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Read, James C" <K0434995 at kingston.ac.uk>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 11:45 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] verbs

> Thanx for your example Rolf. While most of the tenses seem to read well
> you have left me a little confused. You have argued that your research
> is based on the word and that the word is the basic unit of translation
> and then you have performed a translation which is entirely based on
> context
> as I have been arguing it should be.

There is no opposition between using the word as the basic translation unit 
at the same time make an extensive use of the context in actual translation
work.  The basic point here is the realization that words do have meaning
(or better, signal concepts that have meaning) without any context. The
same is true with morphosyntactic words, e.g.a YIQTOL and a QATAL have a
different semantic meaning. When we start with the words as units, we first
must ascertain the potential of each lexical and morphosyntactic word. And
after that we have to look at the context to see how grammar and syntax and
other contextual factors make visible a part of the potential meaning of
each word.  Then we can draw our conclusion.

E.A. Nida was the one who took the lead in the abandonement of the word as 
fundamental translation unit. He was inspired by Chomsky`s "deep
structures," and on this basis he suggested the "kernel" as the translation
unit. The kernels are short expressions of the *idea* the translator gets
from a short sequence of words. (see E. A. Nida and C. R. Taber (1974). "The
Theory and practice of Translation"). I will use a NT example to illustrate
how the "kernel"- approach can mislead the reader.  In Ephesians 1:4 the
literal rendering of KATABOLHS KOSMOU is "the foundation of the world," as
RSV renders the words. The kernel in this expression is "(God) creates the
world" according to Nida and Taber (pp. 35, 36), and NIV renders it as "the
creation of the world".  A noun can even in a literal translation be redered
by a verb, but the problem here is that "to create" and "to found" are not
necessarily the same. The connotations of  "the creation of the world" for
most people is the universe and the earth, and Genesis 1 when they were
created. However, in most cases when KOSMOS is used in the NT, it refers to
the human family, or to something connected with the human family (I am
aware of a single instance in the NT where it possibly refers to the 
universe). And
then we get a problem. In Luke 11:50,51 "the foundation of the world" is
connected with Abel, and one interpretation is that  the words here do not
refer to the creation of the universe but to the start of the human family 
(In Hebrews 11:11 KATABOLH is used in the meaning "to conceive seed"). In 
any case, KATABOLHS KOSMOU can either refer to the beginning of the earth 
and the universe or to the start of the human family when seed was conceived 
for the first time. By using the kernel rather than the word, Nida and Taber 
(and NIV) in fact exclude one of the
possible meanings (the most likely one, in my view), namely the start of the 
human family. Moreover, this can
have an impact on Christian teaching, because if those mentioned in
Ephesians 1:4 "were known" before the creation of the earth, that would
strongly suggest predestination, but the same is not necessarily true if the 
human family is referred to. I do not want to discuss Christian or Jewish 
doctrine, I just want to show how great the implications can be of a
non-literal translation. Most people will say the difference between 
"create" and "found  are minute.  But this "minute" difference can have a 
great impact.

I agree with Peter that if one word consistently is used for each SL word as 
far as possible, this can mislead the TL readers, because of the meaning and 
connotations of a word in their TL. However, the possibility of distorting 
the message with a non-literal translation, as in the example above, is more 
serious. And this is the case in hundreds of cases in modern Bibles. If the 
target group understands that they should take the core of each TL word (in 
their language) and find the Biblical nuances that do not occur in their own 
language by looking up the passages where this word occurs in the Bible, 
then a literal translation will serve its purpose.

Nida`s system with kernels is today followed by very few Bible translators. 
The system has been refined and refined, coming a little closer to the word. 
But still there is a great distance between the methods used by "orthodox" 
translators and those who take the word as the fundamental translational 
unit. And the basic problems created by Nida remain.

> The hebrew verb system, IMO, is a verb system which we will never find an
> adequate way of rendering consistently in the English language. The
> English
> language is entirely centered around tenses and the very concept of
> tenselesness
> to the English mind is completely indigestible.

You are both right and wrong. It is absolutely possible to render the Hebrew 
text accurately into English, even though Hebrew, as you say, is tenseless.

In fact, I am of the
> opinion
> that the hebrew verb system is so completely tenseless that it has the
> capacity
> of expressing both history and prophecy in the exact same phrase. The
> example
> you have given is a good case in point. IMO opinion the hebrew mind was so
> devoid of tense constraints that they read these verses with little care
> of
> tense and did not feel the need to place the events either in the past or
> the
> present but happily accepted that they could exist in both.

I am not sure you are right here. The Hebrews of ancient time were very 
conscious of time, and even though time is not grammaticalized, it can in 
most texts be construed on the basis of the context.

> In fact, a large feature of bible prophecy is the larger fulfillment of
> past
> events which described greater future events e.g. The (almost)sacrifice of
> Isaac, the emancipation of yah's people, the taking of the promised land
> etc..
> The author of the gospel of John, who evidently had an adequate command of
> the hebrew language translated a section of your example as 'OPSONVTAI EIS
> EXEKENTISAN' (They will see the one they pierced John19:37).
> I do not believe he is saying this is the one way the sentence should
> always be
> translated because of the inherent sense of the verb forms but 'given the
> limitations
> of the language I am translating into this is the way I would render it
> best
> in the given context'. His context and his agenda was to show the
> fulfillment
> of bible prophecy and so the future tense was the natural choice in the
> Greek
> language. However, I firmly believe that as the hebrew language was
> tenseless
> that these verses could easily have been translated as a historic account
> in
> other circumstances as the hebrew mind was not concerned with these
> things.
> I know this sounds strange and alien to speakers of tense driven languages
> but
> I am told, correct me if I wrong, that Chinese languages also exhibit this
> behaviour and that it is very difficult for the Chinese to even understand
> the concept
> of tenses when learning the English language.
> Hence, as you seem to have shown Rolf, it is the context which dictates
> the
> translation and not the verb form and your research only seems of use to
> me
> in helping a biblical hebrew student to better understand the hebrew mind
> and concept of expression.


Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo
> -----Original Message-----

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list