Thursday, September 1, 2011
Listening to the Sound of His Master's Voice...
In 1898, three years after Nipper’s death, Francis painted a picture of Nipper listening intently to a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. On February 11, 1899, Francis filed an application for copyright of his painting “Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph.” Thinking the Edison-Bell Company located in New Jersey, USA, might find it useful, he presented it to James E. Hough, who promptly said, “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.” On May 31, 1899, Francis went to the Maiden Lane offices of The Gramophone Company with the intention of borrowing a brass horn to replace the original black horn on the painting. Manager, William Barry Owen suggested that if the artist replaced the entire machine with a Berliner disc gramophone, the Company would buy the painting. A modified form of the painting became the successful trademark of Victor and HMV records, HMV music stores, and RCA. The trademark itself was registered by Berliner on July 10, 1900.
Ahhhh, I digress. The point of this being that how it sounds matters and this is true when applied to Scripture. I read of the appearance of the Common English Bible and found this on its website: The Common English Bible is not simply a revision or update of an existing translation. It is a bold new translation designed to meet the needs of Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A key goal of the translation team is to make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for over half of all English readers. [aka that about the third grade reading level] You can compare its translation with others familiar to you by clicking here.
Now I do not know what you think of such "readable" translations but I am not so keen on them. Readable to whom? Readable by whom? Readable for whom? It appears to me that the plethora of translations has not lead to easy reading but loads of confusion. I spend half my time trying to explain to folks why the version they are using says it one way and another version says it differently, etc... We often find it impossible to get to the point of the passage until we have resolved such differences. In addition, there is a vast difference between how something reads in your mind off the page and how it sounds to the ear. Such "readable" translations often sound bland, wooden, and stilted when read out loud. Furthermore, some passages have a liturgical identity that is only muddled and confused by these so called "readable" versions. For example, we have adopted certain texts and given them liturgical identity in spoken word and song -- in such way that they are fully identified with their use.
When I think of Psalm 95, I sing it in the version used in the Venite of Matins. When I think of the Magnificat, it is the sung text used in Vespers and Evening Prayer that I "hear" in mind. We have grown accustomed to these texts and it is difficult to rip them out of their liturgical context and replaced them with "readable" versions. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves...." Or "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord..." Or "Return to the Lord Your God, for He is gracious and merciful..." Or "Create in me a clean heart, O God..." There are more examples that space to list them all.
Scripture is not just some book. Scripture is the sound of our Master's voice. It is not just how we hear it but how we have heard and how it sounds. Its form is recognizable and familiar (as well as its content). Why do folk get so upset with tinkering with the language of the Our Father or using a different version of Psalm 23 at the funeral? Because we have adopted these texts and this Scripture is liturgical language as well as the words of the Bible. So we must be rather careful about translations and I, for one, do not think that all our attention to "readable" translations is all it is cut out to be.
CEV: If we claim, “ We don’t have any sin, ” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong... OR The LORD is my shepherd.I lack nothing.He lets me rest in grassy meadows;he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. . . Not yet there in my book...
This just in from another source:
But beyond altering the translation to fit the sensitivities du jour, the CEB in general maims well-known expressions and sayings and renders Biblical language pedestrian to such a degree that Scripture becomes indistinguishable from ordinary speech. Pathos is drained utterly out of the text. This willingness to cater to society’s informality is a more subtle concession than the adoption of studied academic non-offensiveness, and it cannot as hastily be dismissed as a transparent ideological machination.
The fundamental problem is that the translators of the CEB seem to believe Christianity should submit to all stylistic demands of the culture it finds itself in, even if those demands leave it shorn of much of its complexity, elegance, and history, if not its core truths. In charity, this is a debate over means. Does effective conveyance of the Gospel—even to our highly democratic society—really require the kind of bland prose found in the CEB? Can such a stripped-down language hope to stand apart from a world of text messages and formulaic business-talk? The answer, I think, is no.
So far: No 2 Yes 0