Care and Feeding of a Translation Committee

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Feb 4, 2011.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    On Fridays, I arrive at the church at 1:30 and begin preparing. I get out the instant coffee, including the little one serving fancy types that I like. (Recently I found a delicious instant creme brulee.) Cream and sugar, and various kinds of tea go on the table too.

    I also put out a bowl of candy that I bought on Wednesday with some diet Coke. There are several varieties, including a coffee hard candy that I like, with espresso and cappuchino varieties. I put some "Venezuala Bitter" individually wrapped chocolate pieces. This is the best chocolate I've ever had, put out by the Morinaga company.

    If there are only going to be two or three of us, I put my reference books over by the computer: Souter's little Greek-English lexicon for quick reference, my little Greek Japanese lexicon, the Nagai Yaku Japanese NT (an excellent pre-war translation from the TR which, nevertheless, is in the difficult classical Japanese). I also like The Complete Biblical Library, which has both commentary and interlinear.

    If we have more than three coming, I move the computer over to the table, where everyone can have a seat and see the screen. Some will have their own laptops too, and the table gives them room for that.

    At precisely 1:00 I call Uncle Miya. He picks up the phone and says in English, "Hello, sir." I say "Hello, sir." He replies, "The time is as usual?" I answer, "Yes, sir." He says, "See you then." We both say goodbye and hang up. The whole conversation takes place in under ten seconds.

    I have lunch then, after which I look at today's passage. I carefully examine Uncle Miya's corrections, which he has sent me by email. His renderings are in red, making it easy for me to compare them to my first draft and the Greek.

    I make sure all of the needed software is up on the computer: two word processors; four Bible software programs in Greek, Japanese and English; a Japanese-English dictionary. And with this I'm all ready for the committee.
     
  2. annsni

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    Wait - no casseroles??????
     
  3. Mexdeaf

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    And- no doughnuts??
     
  4. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    What, you guys think I'm made of money? I only have so much yen to throw around you know. The chocolate alone runs me 300 yen! I do have a yen for a casserole or donuts--but you can't buy donuts with just one yen (badaboom)!
    [​IMG]

    More later.
     
  5. BobinKy

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    So tell us more about these translation committee (TC) meetings.

    How often do you have them?
    How long do they last?
    How do you make decisions on difficult passages?
    Etc.

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]



    ...Bob
     
  6. Mexdeaf

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    Paper, rock, scissors. ;)
     
  7. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    We meet once a week. On Fridays I work on the translation all morning, then pick up Uncle Miya at 2:15. If others are coming they meet us at the church. I then take Uncle Miya home about 5:00 or so. Some of that time is spent on a translation into Japanese Uncle Miya is making of an old time CIM missionary's experiences when the Communists took over China.

    We end up spending about 2 1/2 hours on actual translation work. I've learned that our brains begin to "ossify" about that time, and we tend to make mistakes. I read that Hudson Taylor worked on a particular NT translation into a Chinese dialect about 10 hours a day. He eventually had to quit and leave it up to another missionary. Translation work is mentally very tiring.
    Well, like Mexdeaf said, scissors-paper-rock! :thumbs:

    Seriously, though. I described some of this in my thread, "How a Translator Determines Meaning," but later in this thread I'll discuss the same thing from the viewpoint of a committee.

    To put it simply, in matters of Japanese nuance I defer to Uncle Miya, and in matters of Greek nuance he defers to me. We've got a great partnership going. If others are there I will poll every member of the committee for their input. I have found that the rawest first term missionary, still studying the language, may have a valuable insight.

    Some committees take a vote, wherein it takes a 3/4 or 2/3 majority to decide the final meeting. But I think a tactful chairman can make a final determination even without a vote if everyone is humble and mutually respectful.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    In November 1994 I was teaching Greek and various other subjects (including Synoptics, which knowledge was to help much in translation work) at a Bible school down in Tokyo. It was that year I was first involved in a NT translation committee when a close friend ask me to join their effort to translate the Gospel of John.

    The first time they met they realized that none among them had enough Greek knowledge for the nuances of the project. So they voted to ask me to join them, since no one else of our group in the Kanto Plain had the necessary knowledge. So the chairman, my friend, called me and asked me to join. It sounded like a great opportunity, so I immediately said yes, on the grounds that this would be a serious effort. The committee notes read: "Missionary John Himes consents to join us as long as there is an honest commitment by others."

    Besides me, the committee included my friend Missionary C, Missionary F, Japanese pastor S and Japanese church planter M. Each of us had our skills. I was the goto guy for Greek. C was the chairman, our leader, and an excellent Japanese linguist. S and M were our national partners, so of course they were in charge of style and semantic nuance in the target language. Missionary F was only so so in Japanese at that time, but a whiz in other areas, so he was our secretary. And indeed, sometimes he was able to give suggestions on the renderings. I have found that even a novice in the language can sometimes provide input from a fresh angle.

    Some translation committees also include a financial officer. This was not needed in our case for the simple reason that we had no money! Unless an effort is backed by a publisher or a Bible society, money will not be an issue until late in the project. A financial officer may have the duties of: buying equipment, buying software, reimbursing travel costs (we all paid our own), working with the printer, etc.
     
    #8 John of Japan, Feb 5, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2011
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    As long as I have mentioned the financial officer, let me discuss a couple of others. (The titles and duties will vary with the committee.)

    The secretary has a vital job. He keeps notes on attendance and memberships of course, but in a Bible translation committee he has an extra job that other types of committees don't have. He is responsible for the files that constitute the translation. He has the latest file of John 3, he knows how many times it's been proof read, he knows who to send it to next for revision. He knows that translator Jones uses an Apple Mac but translator Smith prefers Windows XP. He knows what software is needed for the project. He knows that John is almost finished, but translator Jones needs to start reviewing Matthew. In short, he's the man with the files, and it will be his fault if the computer crashes and the files aren't backed up!

    I fulfill some of these duties in our effort, but in a Japanese translation there is one more important job, for which God has sent us a wonderful sectretary in the form of Missionary S, who lives and works up here on our island. All Japanese Bibles put ふりがな (furigana) ruby marks over or next to the Chinese characters.

    Ruby marks tell how the word should be pronounced, and this is vital for Japanese, especially if the reader is young and has not finished his education. Again, some missionaries don't know how to read all of the characters. Furthermore, sometimes the same characters are read several different ways in Japanese, whereas in Chinese the same character will only have one reading. Such readers are helped greatly by the furigana, and Missionary S has the huge job of electronic typesetting and putting these marks into the document. His computer is also the final repository for the final draft. So he has the latest editions of John and Romans, both of which are having the final draft corrected currently.

    As Missionary S goes through this process, he often writes me about how a Chinese character should be read, and once in awhile about a mistake a proof reader missed. His help is invaluable.
     
  10. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    In the 21st century another member, or perhaps partner is a better word, is needed in a Bible translation effort, and that might be called the Internet Liaison. A missionary friend who is not actually helping in the translation is very interested in the work. He has volunteered to start a website once we have books of the Bible completed and ready to publish on the Internet. I don't have the skills for that myself, so I am very grateful for Missionary M and his plans in this area.​
     
  11. John of Japan

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    The chairman has the most difficult job. He may or may not be the best linguist. He may be appointed by a Bible society or other backer, or he may be simply in the right place at the right time. But it is up to him to lead.

    Duties of the chairman may include: overseeing the choice or election of members, making sure translators get the proper files, preparing the venue, etc. But his most important and difficult job is chairing the meetings. He has to make sure a group of brilliant people both get along and accomplish the task! He may have to sooth the wounded, make sure the least member gets his or her say, act as go-between between feuding members, etc.

    All of these things are difficult and may give the chairman himself wounds of the heart. But the goal is worth it. The thought of the Word of God being someday printed in the target language for God's people, and the dream of people being saved and growing in the Lord through the new Bible or NT are sufficient for him to endure hardship, treat the wounds and keep on keeping on!
     
  12. John of Japan

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    Another duty of the chairman may actually be to ask someone to resign the committee, if the committee has so decided. There is no room on a Bible translation committee for squabbling. Here is part of a document put out by the first committee I was on:

    In a previous thread I once mentioned briefly such a case: http://www.baptistboard.com/showthread.php?t=2506

    This particular Japanese translator was fluent in English but did not know Greek. In spite of that he was very opinionated on every single passage, and so had to be asked to resign from the committee. He was a good man and had a burden for the work, he was just very opinionated!

    I recall he came up to me at the annual second hand sale held at the MK school, and began regaling me about how he thought John 3:16 should be handled. His version had cut totally loose from the Greek at a couple of places, but I listened politely and smiled.

    Years later just before he died from complications from diabetes, I met his wife at the same sale. She had bought an easy chair for him, but had come by train and needed help to transport it. She asked us to take the chair to him, and we had a good time of fellowship. He talked with love and respect about his father, a missionary to Manchuria during WW2. The missionary had been thrown in prison by the Kenpeitai secret police often enough that he would always say hi when he walked by their office!
     
  13. John of Japan

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    The chairman is also usually the one to handle applicants, people who want to join the effort. In the big time translation efforts, people are invited by the publishing company or the Bible society. So Joe Jones who learned Greek in his spare time and loves arguing on the Internet is probably not going to get on the committee for the Big New Bible Translation (BNBT) in English (sponsored by Major Christian Publ. Co.) no matter how many letters he writes! No, instead they'll invite Charlie Scholar, Ph. D. in Greek and a prof at a major seminary.

    However, in a missionary translation effort it is usually the chairman or leader of the effort who processes such things. So he may get quite a few applicants even without advertising. Other committee members may suggest someone, or a potential translator may contact the chairman or other members. Now, while all such applicants should be handled with grace and tact, I think they can be divided into three categories: the could be, might be and wannabe.

    First of all, the could be is the best possibility. He or she has real language skills, and maybe even has experience in translating. He may be a national Christian or another missionary or just an interested party, but the chairman will certainly consider this applicant, and may make a place for them on the committee. Just recently one of our translators asked me about having Pastor T, a Japanese pastor, be a style editor. I immediately agreed since I've known the man for almost 40 years, and know he will be an excellent addition to the effort.
     
    #13 John of Japan, Feb 13, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2011
  14. John of Japan

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    Secondly, we have the “might be.” This person may be qualified to be a translator. He may be a good linguist either in the original languages or the target language. But for some reason he just doesn’t fit the bill. It may be that he doesn't agree with the committee's choice of original text, or translation philosophy. It may be that he's just too busy with ministry and family.

    What I do with the "might be" translator is give him a task. It may be the revision of a couple of chapters of a book that is still in the first draft. It may be research about a particular term in the target language that we want to use. Whatever the task, how the "might be" translator handles it will determine whether or not they will be recommended to the committee.

    I remember one young man who wanted to help. He seemed eager and may have been qualified in Japanese, I wasn't sure. To test him I gave him a Japanese term we were using to research. He gave a half-hearted effort, then never followed up. In essence I let him disqualify himself in this way. If a man has what it takes to be a translator, if he is being led of God, we will know by whether or not he gives due diligence to the task. Translation is a hard discipline, and takes much work. If a person is not willing to work hard at the task, we can't use him.
     
  15. John of Japan

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    Finally, we have the "wannabe." Just as in popular culture, this is someone who wants to be a translator but just doesn't have what it takes. Bible translating sounds glamorous to him, and he wants to be involved just for the excitement, but he just doesn't have the language skills.

    Eugene Nida told about one such person who wrote saying, "I would be so glad to help in the translating of the Bible, and so if you would send me a dictionary and a grammar of some of these primitive languages, I would be happy to dedicate my spare time to the translation of the New Testament" (God's Word in Man's Language, 1952, p. 57). This man was obviously clueless about the knowledge, skills and work it takes to translate the NT--a classic wannabe.

    In my own experience, one of our translators was contacted by a man who works here in Japan as a contractor for the US military. I asked if he knew Greek or Japanese. Nope, no language skills. So I told him that if he wanted to contribute financially, he could send the money to an account at our mission board. Nope, he didn't believe in financial support to anything but the local church. We contacted a pastor in the area and learned more. Ironically, the man ran a Bible study in his home and felt it was a church.

    The man was persistent, I'll give him that. It seems he had a Japanese man in his Bible study who had been a professional translator. He had actually translated some of John, 'twas said. I asked for examples of the work, but none were forthcoming. Essentially, what happened was that the wannabe and his Japanese friend disqualified themselves by the complete lack of skills in the American, and the complete lack of results in the Japanese. Just a little patience and tact was required for it all to come to a conclusion.
     
  16. John of Japan

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    So, we've gotten the committee assembled. We're sitting down to translate the fist book. Some start with Mark, since it is one of the easiest to translate. Others start with John with the idea of using it for evangelism. John’s vocabulary and grammar are comparatively simply, but he deals with some incredibly deep subjects, so it can be difficult.

    I did read about one committee working in the language of a small African people group that only wanted to publish Daniel and Revelation (Fascinated by Languages, Eugene Nida, p. 80). The Bible society rejected that of course! Again, a translation committee in South America wanted to start with Amos, I think it was, because that was the book they thought would most foment revolution as per liberation theology!

    If there is a sponsor for a missionary translation, it is most likely a Bible society or mission board. There is of course the United Bible Societies, which sponsors many translations around the globe. Wycliffe and New Tribes are the main mission boards for tribal translations, but I don't know how much they sponsor efforts financially.

    Anyway, the committee sits down and begins to translate. They will use a first draft text of the book translated either by the founder of the committee (in our case) or by a translator given that chapter as his assignment. Some committees (like the original KJV) committee have assignments given by the sponsors of the project. Others decide among themselves who should translate what chapter or book.

    There are many areas in which the discussion will take place, among them: the meaning of the words in the original, the syntax (grammatical structure of the sentence) of the original and how to get it into the target language, the meaning of the word chosen in the target language, whether or not the syntax of the translated sentence matches that of the original, and the style of the text in the target language.
     
  17. John of Japan

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    First let's look at how a committee decides the meaning of the word in the original. Obviously committee members who do not know Greek need to depend on those who do. However, those who do not know Greek are still linguists, and can have good input, especially as they deal more and more with the original language.

    In our case, when we struggle over a word I'll show Uncle Miya a mid-level lexicon such as the Fribergs' Analytical Lexicon. My BAGD is too complicated and Strong's and Thayer's are too old and unreliable, but the Anlex gives clear and plain definitions, up-to-date with the latest data from the papyri . On occasion we'll also consult my little Greek-Japanese lexicon, but Uncle Miya's English is quite good enough for the Anlex.

    Next we'll look at how the word is used throughout the Greek NT. Oftentimes this will give a clue to help us understand the meaning. And of course we will look especially at how the word is used in the particular context we are translating.

    After the Greek reader/chairman is convinced that the committee understands the meaning of the original in context, we'll consider what word to choose in the target language.
     
  18. nate

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    Interesting info, thank you for sharing!
     
  19. John of Japan

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    Glad you're enjoying it. :wavey:
     
  20. John of Japan

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    After determining the meaning in the original Greek, and sometimes as we determine the meaning in the original, comes the task of choosing the best equivalent for it in the target language. At this point the national helper or partner (partner in my case) becomes the authority. He or she knows the language far better than even a missionary who has lived in the country for decades.

    For this task the most important tool is the mind and memory of the national partner. If he is a good linguist, he may come up with a good word right away. The lead translator must have enough ability in the target language to recognize the rightness or wrongness of the word suggested by the national partner.

    In Japanese and Chinese, a good knowledge of the Chinese characters helps here. When I don't know the actual word, simply the sound of the word calls up a character in my head, and I'm able to sense the meaning of a compound word. This is interesting in the linguistic sense because it indicates (contra Wittgenstein, Nida and other theorists) that a word can retain a core meaning over thousands of years, since most Chinese characters go back to 800-1000 BC. I can look at a Chinese document from 2000 years ago and sometimes make out the meaning because of this.

    Note this quote from MK, linguist and ambassador Reishauer:

    To continue, we do keep a good electronic Japanese-English, English-Japanese dictionary on hand, but we don't lean on that. Dictionaries can be so wrong! The human brain is much better at determining core meanings, meanings in context, general usage (in society), etc. But the dictionary may steer us right when we have brain block and just can't think of a good word.

    Research may be needed for difficult words. We may do this by looking at other translations, or even by doing an Internet search. The Internet can be a good guide to the current usage of a word in the target language, provided the researcher is careful and remembers that many people on the Internet don't use words well! So the best sources for research in current usage are news websites and the like.

    After considering all the options and coming up with a good word, we realize that our choice may be overruled by the style editors. It may be too colloquial, it may be out of date, it may be inappropriate in some other way. But a wise translation committee listens carefully to the suggestions of the style editors.
     

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