Flawed Book on Translation

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Sep 23, 2008.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    In this thread I intend to examine a very flawed book on translation, Word-for-Word Translating of The Received Texts, by H. D. Williams. Williams is a retired physician with a Ph. D. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist U. He says he is self-taught in the Biblical languages, so his Ph. D. did not require any Greek or Hebrew. In "About the Author" in the book, there is no M. A., M. Div. or Th. M. listed, so evidently in his Biblical studies Williams went straight from his Moody Bible Institute training to a Ph. D. In the book he does not claim to be a linguist or translator, though he says he has formal training in Latin, Spanish and French. However, he never uses his training in these languages in the book for illustrations, etc.

    Caveats:
    (1) Unless directly conversing with Williams, I will simply call him Williams. This is normal in scholarly articles, and doesn't indicate disrespect.
    (2) I am not attacking Williams personally. I have never met him, have read none of his other books, and we have not corresponded. I urge that no one else attack him personally.
    (3) In this thread I'm not going to discuss his theology, only his methodology and linguistics.
    (4) This thread is not about English versions. Please do not make it so. It is about translation methodology and linguistics.

    To Dr. Williams, if he reads this thread: You are not a linguist. You are not a Bible translator. Keep your theology and presuppositions, but find a Bible translator or even just a trained linguist to help you, and rewrite the book.
     
  2. John of Japan

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    First of all, Williams says some things in the book that would be very discouraging to a would-be Bible translator.

    On p. 8 he says that a translator should have 15 to 20 years of experience in a language before attempting a Bible translation. I disagree completely! By this statement Williams has criticized such brilliant missionary Bible translators of the past as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Henry Martyn, Henry Morrison, etc. Surely a young translator gifted by God and ministering in a language that needs a Bible can begin his work much sooner than this!

    On p. 238 he says that a translator "translating without many counselors and much help is a sure prescription for disaster." But the harvest is plenteous, the harvestors are few. I know from personal experience that on the field it is very difficult to find qualified helpers. If God leads someone to translate, he or she should begin immediately, and not wait for help. God will lead the right people to him, though chances are there will only be a few helpers.

    On p. 53 he says that perhaps a translation shouldn't be undertaken without adequate funds for a work with footnotes, etc. If that is true, very few translators would ever even get started. Young translator: if God gifts you and calls you, get started right away! He will supply the funding in His own time.

    On p. 58 he says that a Bible translation is "population specific," only for the believers in a country and not for the lost. This is an amazing statement, and surely Williams did not think it through. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring people to Christ, does He not? Gospels of John and Romans and other books ought to be printed for evangelism!

    I'm going to stop here for now, but surely you see what I consider the book to be discouraging to future translators.
     
  3. Mexdeaf

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    John,

    Interesting. I wonder what his motivation was in publishing such a book- other than to make a few shekels. Looking forward to the rest of the review.
     
  4. John of Japan

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    Hi, Mexdeaf.

    You know, I can't imagine his motivaton. It's like the old line from the cop movie, "A man's got to know his limitations." I hope the man figures out his limitations from the response to his book!

    I bought the book with eager expectations, since I love reading about translation theory and method, and I looked forward to adding it to my shelf of books on the subject. But I was very disappointed by his lack of expertise. And I'm embarassed for him as both a linguist and a fundamentalist.

    Tomorrow I hope to list some of his blunders in basic linguistics. I also plan later to show his blunders in Greek and in historical linguistics. Then I'll work on his errors in procedure and methodology as I get time.
     
  5. John of Japan

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    Basic linguistic blunders

    Williams makes basic blunders in linguistics throughout the book. I'm not talking about transformational grammar here, but stuff you are supposed to learn in high school English!

    On page 114 he says, “figures of speech such as a metaphor, synecdoche, metonym or proper names." Really? Just in case you don't trust my definition, here is a technical definition of a figure of speech: “figure of speech: In modern terminology, a metaphor or a simile (qq.v.). Often used instead of the term figure of rhetoric (q.v.)” (Dictionary of Linguistics, by Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor, p. 73).

    On page 123 he gets even more generous with his definition of a figure of speech: “There are many figures of speech in the Scriptures such as metaphors, synecdoches, similes, idioms, parables, etc.” This is an even bigger blunder, since now he is including idioms. Pei and Gaynor define idiom this way: "idiom: (1) Any expression peculiar to a language, conveying a distinct meaning, not necessarily explicable by, occasionally even contrary to, the general accepted grammatical rules.—(2) The idiom is a term denoting the general linguistic or grammatical character of a language" (Pei & Gaynor, p. 95).

    But hold on. According to Williams, you can then include a figure of speech under the category "allegory!" He writes on p. 128, “He means that some passages in Scripture are allegories such as parables, metaphors, symbols, etc.” None of these three things he lists are allegories! Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory.

    There is only one book on linguistics mentioned in the bibliography, but that one is apparently not in the library of Williams, but of Phil Stringer, who writes two chapters. Stringer says on p. 149, "Hebrew, Greek and English are polysemic languages. Polysemic languages are often humorous to people with non polysemic languages (see Russian comedian Yakov Smirnov’s famous comedy skit ‘The Door Is Ajar’)." The truth is, Russian is polysemic. All languages are polysemic. Pei and Gaynor say that polysemy is "The possession of several different meanings" (op. cit., 172).

    Strangely, the book has a glossary at the beginning instead of the end, as most books do. But never mind that. I could spend a lot of time on the glossary, but I'll mention just one definition. He says about "phoneme," "a speech sound that distinguishes one word from another." This is a clumsy definition. A phoneme might be described as a building block of sound in a language. It may have no meaning unless you combine it with other phonemes, thus Williams' mistake.

    I'm out of time. I could list more of Williams' mistakes in basic linguistics, but my point has been made.

    Oh, wait. I have to include this one. Williams also appears to know little about verbs. In one of his criteria for translating in the last chapter, he tells how to translate passive verbs into languages that do not have passives (p. 236). However, the possibility he gives for avoiding the passive, “May you be strengthened,” is in itself a passive!
     
    #5 John of Japan, Sep 24, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 24, 2008
  6. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Williams and Semantics

    Let’s consider slightly more advanced linguistics—but still linguistic concepts that a beginning college class in linguistics would include. In particular, Williams seems not to understand what semantics is. He is consistently negative against semantics (pp. 14, 18, 24, 80, etc.). At one point he accuses dynamic equivalence of substituting “semantics for precision” (p. 106). If he is opposing some particular dynamic equivalence idea of semantics such as semantic domains he should say so, but he doesn’t quote Nida or any other dynamic equivalence advocate in his opposition to semantics.

    At any rate, maybe because of his lack of linguistic training Williams seems to be mixing up the colloquial idea of semantics with the linguistic concept. In the popular usage of the word, semantics is quibbling about the meaning of the word, like this: Pastor A: “I’m talking about the assembly, not the church.” Pastor B: “Aw, that’s just semantics.”

    However, in linguistics, semantics is just defined as “The study of meaning” (An Introduction to Transformational Grammar, by Diane D. Bornstein, 1984, p. 245). And here’s the thing: Leonard Bloomfield gives the exact same definition in his classic book Language (p. 513) from 1933, right about when Eugene Nida was a freshman in college and long before he developed dynamic equivalence. So it doesn’t matter whether it is modern or classical linguistics, semantics is just the study of meaning.

    When I examine the ways “cool” is used in English, I am doing semantics. When I compare the way the Taoists use chi (“breath”) in Chinese with the way it is used in the Chinese Bible, I am doing semantics. When I study the range of meaning of gi (righteousness) in the Japanese language and the compounds it occurs in, I am doing semantics. It is a useful and necessary tool for Bible translation, not some kind of dynamic equivalence roundabout method. In fact, I believe that searching for the meanings of words is not only Biblical (Dan. 8:15, 1 Cor. 14:1), it is vital (Neh. 8:8).
     
  7. Askjo

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    Hi JOJ, do you defend him?
     
  8. John of Japan

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    I have consistently opposed Nida's theories here on the BB and elsewhere. And I am for word-for-word translating, and am translating myself from the TR. That is why Williams' book is so sad and disturbing to me. A golden opportunity to stand up for the right methods has been marred by a poorly done book full of mistakes.
     
  9. Rippon

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    I thought you were more in favor of the optimal equivalence model.I thought you have acknowledged that word-for-word is problematic and unrealistic.Attempts at word-for-word are found in interlinears;not real translations.
     
  10. John of Japan

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    Williams shows no knowledge of historical linguistics (also called diachronic linguistics), which is the study of how languages develop and change over time. He writes on p. 16: “Consider Japan since World War II! An accurately translated and taught Bible in Japan would not have to change from generation to generation as the culture changed. Man and his culture must change by the Words of God, and not change the translated Words of God for the culture. Previously, Roman and Japanese emperors were worshipped as gods. If translated passages of Scripture had been changed to adapt them to those cultures in order to not offend, they would be of no use today. God’s Words are timeless, and only accurate and faithful translations will preserve that timelessness” (p. 16).

    Until World War 2, almost all written documents (letters, official documents, books, etc.) were written in classical Japanese, which has different word endings, verb forms and sometimes even different grammar than colloquial Japanese. So the first Japanese translation, the Motoyaku (“Original Translation,” based on the KJV but not in print for almost 100 years) was in classical Japanese as was its revision, the Bungoyaku (“Classical Translation,” based on Nestle’s Greek text in the NT). This might be compared to the English of Chaucer in our language in its difficulty. It wasn’t until after WW2 that the first Bible came out in colloquial Japanese. However, the Kogoyaku (“Colloquial Translation”) which came out in 1956 was based on modern Hebrew and Greek texts, which would not be acceptable to Williams. Every translation since then has been based on modern Hebrew and Greek texts, thus my effort to translate into Japanese from the TR. So, Williams is dead wrong on his analysis of the Japanese language. There is no Bible in Japan for the ages. There is no Japanese Bible which needs no revision and never has been.

    There is a similar situation in China. The first Chinese translation of the Bible was by Joshua Marshman in 1922, followed closely by that of Robert Morrison in 1823. Both were in the Wenli dialect. This dialect was also a classical language, used by the scholars and not understandable by the common man. It has not been in use since the 19th century. I could spend a lot more time on this subject, but surely these examples are sufficient. And it’s time for evangelism.
     
  11. John of Japan

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    "Word-for-word" is a broad term normally used for literal translation methods. It is basically the same as Nida's term "formal equivalence." I don't have time to elaborate right now.
     
  12. Jim1999

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    I did study Greek and Hebrew, but wouldn't consider myself proficient in either. I did, however, land myself in trouble everytime I tried to determine a meaning by translating one word, even in English (English in England compare with English in America).

    I think this is where we might get a lot of problematic doctrines when we lean on a single word translation.

    Somehow, I don't think John actually meant one-word translations.

    I do agree that if missionaries waited to fully understand all the nuances of translating, there would be a host of lost souls still waiting to hear the gospel in their language.

    I did preach sermons in French in Quebec with form school French. It surely wasn't perfect, but at least I made the effort. one church member caught me after the service and said, "We do hunderstand Henglish, you know!" Thankfully he smiled afterwords. I got better as time went on, but still many flaws.

    Cheers,

    Jim
     
  13. John of Japan

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    Right, Jim. Word-for-word translating doesn't mean one word in the target language for each single word in the source language. It means doing your best to find a target language equivalent for every word in the source language. The equivalent may be one word or several, depending on the semantics of the target language. And sometimes one word in the target language catches all the meaning of several in the source language.
    Amen! Some missionary translations have been all time classics, like those by Henry Martyn in Persian or Adoniram Judson in Burmese. Others have been poorly done. But if a "people group" has no Bible in their language at all, they are extremely grateful for any of the Word of God, no matter how poorly done or in need of revision. I've read missionary stories about this as I'm sure you have.
    Boy, do I know that feeling! Like the time I gave an illustration about being in a cave, only I said I was in a badger! :laugh:
     
  14. John of Japan

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    To be fair to Williams, he gets this right. Several times in his book he mentions how it is important to use the syntax of the target language rather than trying to translate the syntax of the source language. An interlinear ignores the syntax of the target language, as does also to a degree an overly literal translation like Young's Literal Translation.

    For those who are now confused, here is the definition of syntax:
    “Syntax: The study and rules of the relation of words to one another as expressions of ideas and as parts of the structures of sentences; the study and science of sentence construction” (Dictionary of Linguistics, by Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor, p. 211).
     
  15. John of Japan

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    Original language errors

    Now I'd like to point out some errors made by Williams in the original languages. He says that he is self taught in Greek and Hebrew. Well and good. I admire someone who works hard enough to develop expertise in an area through self study. Unfortunately, Williams shows no expertise in even first year Hebrew or Greek. I’ll quote from two recent intermediate Greek grammars (my Greek basic grammars are really old!) and a basic Hebrew grammar.

    In a footnote on page 69, Williams writes, “Greek gegraptai is the perfect tense indication something was present in the past, is still present, and will be present in the future. The Hebrew perfect sense of katab, 'it is written,' is similar.”

    Williams is wrong on both counts, as any first year Greek or Hebrew grammar or grammarian could have told him. First of all, consider the Greek perfect. It actually portrays a kind of action rather than a state of being, and normally gives no indication of the future state or result of the action.

    According to Daniel Wallace, "The force of the perfect tense is simply that it describes an event that, completed in the past (we are speaking of the perfect indicative here), has results existing in the present time" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 573). Again, according to David Alan Black, "The perfect tense describes an action as completed at the time of writing or speaking. While dealing with the past to some extent, the perfect tense is primarily concerned with present time. An action has occurred in the past whose results are still apparent" (It's Still Greek to Me, p. 107-108).

    Again, Williams is wrong concerning the Hebrew perfect. "The perfect (used in the sense of Lat. perfectus, 'carried through to the end, finished') denotes action that is completed and over with, or a state achieved and complete. It generally corresponds to English past tenses and is conventionally rendered by the English past, though the precise nuance depends on the context" (Introduction by Hebrew, by Moshe Greenberg, pp. 45-46.)

    This is not advanced stuff, folks. It’s basic. On Tuesday maybe I’ll have time to show another basic error or two Williams makes.
     
  16. John of Japan

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    The "Examples"

    Chapter 10 on translating examples was very disappointing. Williams gives seven examples purporting to teach how to translate in his VPT (Verbal Plenary Translation) method. I say purporting, because four of the seven examples are not about how to translate at all, but are showing that translations from modern critical texts omit words included in the TR. In other words, four of the seven examples are about textual criticism, not how to translate. One of the other three examples has objections by Williams to both a textual criticism problem and a translation problem, so I'm trying to be fair and not include it with the examples strictly from textual criticism.

    What makes this so disappointing and strange is that in Chapter 3 Williams had already set forth that translation must be from the Received Texts. In fact, even the name of the book teaches that. So it is superfluous to give examples of how modern versions add words, when the fledgling translator is eagerly waiting for examples of how to translate.

    Example 1 is about Matt. 6:13, and objects to the omission of the longer ending to the Lord's Prayer, and I agree. However, then Williams again demonstrates his lack of knowledge of Greek by objecting to the possible translation of tou ponhrou as "the evil one" instead of "evil." The possibility of "the evil one" is from the substantive use of the adjective when an article is added as in this case. This is taught in all, repeat all first year grammars of NT Greek. Now at a minimum Williams should have admitted the grammatical possibility of "the evil one." But more than that, since Williams objects to the addition of "one," he should have discussed why the definite article should not be translated in his methodology, which is word-for-word.

    As BB readers should know from previous posts by me, the Bible itself shows that oftentimes there is more than one possibility in a translation, as can be seen by comparing how Mark and Luke translate the Aramaic phrase Talitha cumi. Williams, not being a linguist, has not figured this out.

    Example 4 is on Micah 5:2, and I agree with Williams here--who since he apparently has no competence in Hebrew has given the conclusions of D. A. Waite.

    Hopefully tomorrow I can discuss Example 6, the only other one which actually discusses a difference in translation as opposed to a difference in texts.
     
  17. John of Japan

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    To continue disussing Ch. 10, in Example 6, on John 5:24 Williams believes that only one translation for the Greek word logoV is permissible, “word.” He even goes so far as to say, “The ‘logos’ refers to Words of Scripture, not a message” (p. 220), in spite of the fact that it is singular in this verse, not plural like “words.” Thus Williams disobeys his own translation method. Actually, logoV is known to have a very wide range of meaning. In fact, the KJV translates it as “sayings” four times in Rev. 22:6-10, as well as “sayings” or “saying” in many other verses; “account” in 1 Peter 4:5; “rumor” in Luke 7:17; “communications” in Luke 24:17; “treatise” in Acts 1:1; “matter” in Acts 8:21, etc. in Acts 5:24 the KJV translates the phrase hkousan touV logouV toutouV as they “heard these things,” which is similar to what Williams is criticizing in this example. Thus, the translators of the KJV felt freedom to translate logoV as they saw indicated in the context. The fact is, even our English word “word” can mean a message, such as in, “And now a word from our sponsor.” But Williams doesn’t seem to realize this.

    By the way, it is no accident that most of these examples come from the writings of Luke, the Greek. As is commonly recognized, and I too have seen in my translation work, his Greek is sophisticated and educated. Thus it is evident that a first century Greek would recognize a wide range of meaning for logoV.

    I also want to notice something else in Williams’ comments on this verse. He says, “The manuscript evidence is not readily available” (p. 219). Actually, the manuscript evidence doesn’t exist! He gives the verse in the TR, and then he gives the transliterated verse (why he doesn’t give this in Greek characters like he does the TR, I don’t know) in the Nestle’s 27 Greek NT, and they are exactly the same! And if Williams knew how to read the apparatus in a Greek NT he would have known this. No matter which Greek NT you use, the verse will be the same. There are no textual problems here.
     
  18. John of Japan

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    In an interesting coincidence, there is a BB thread right now in which terrell describes taking a few courses at Lousiana Baptist U., through which Williams got his Ph. D. Discern for yourself the level of rigour for this degree: http://www.baptistboard.com/showthread.php?t=53462
     
  19. Rippon

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    Didn't your grandfather get an honorary degree from Lousiana Baptist Theological Seminary in 1937?
     
  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Nope. LBU was founded in 1972 as a distance education institution, and their seminary wasn't founded until 1998. In 1937 the Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary gave him a D. D. :type:
     

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