[b-hebrew] verbs

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Fri Jul 29 10:03:57 EDT 2005

On 29/07/2005 14:37, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> ...
>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. ...

OK, I take this as qualification of your earlier "I argue against the 
view that single words are not important for translation, but units 
above the word must be used." In other words, you are not in fact 
arguing against the view that "units above the word must be used", but 
only against the straw man view that "ONLY units above the word must be 

>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, ...

Well, this last point is of the essence in Nida's scheme as properly 
understood. In this scheme, in most cases one word or short phrase 
corresponds to one concept, but in some languages (especially Greek, 
less so Hebrew) there is often a mismatch between parts of speech and 
semantic classifications. Thus the Greek word KATABOLH, a noun, 
corresponds to the verbal concept "create" or "found". But the kernels 
are still divided up into separate concepts which in general correspond 
to words - or sometimes are implicit from the context, e.g. "God" in 
parentheses above. So, although the theoretical position is slightly 
more carefully stated than "a word (defined as a series of letters on a 
page delimited by spaces or punctuation, or as a purely phonological 
unit) is the basic translation unit" (and I guess that even you would 
accept that there are sometimes mismatches between orthographic, 
phonological and lexical words), according to this method extensive use 
is made in translation of words as well as higher level units.

>... but the problem here is that "to create" and "to found" are not
>necessarily the same. ...

This is a separate exegetical issue, independent of the translation 
principles discussion, and not for discussion here as it relates to the 
NT. The phrase can easily be expressed as a kernel according to your 
preferred exegesis, e.g. "(God) started the human family". Nida and 
Taber did not do so because they had a different exegetical preference.

>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.

But this method requires a highly sophisticated target audience. Nida's 
method was designed especially for audiences with little education and 
little background knowledge, and it is for such audiences (surely a 
majority of the world population) that it comes into its own.

>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.
And so do the basic problems with taking the word as the fundamental 
translational unit, the very problems which led Nida to develop his 
theory in the first place - although these problems had been recognised 
long before Nida, e.g. by Jerome and Luther, both of whom criticised 
literal translation, and by the KJV translators who incorporated many 
non-literal wordings. Yes, Nida's theory needed refining, and some of 
that refining has been done. And the refined version of his theory 
produces a translation which is very much better for certain large 
target audiences than anything that the old literal method can produce. 
Further work is needed, of course, but not a return to the methods which 
have been recognised as lacking for centuries.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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