In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function… We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
— C. S. Lewis
In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over
and the preposition demands an object.
— Nancy Mairs
… the dominant fact of communication … the life-need of the ego to reach out and comprehend, in the two vital senses of ‘understanding’ and ‘containment,’ another human being.
What if translators of the Bible are literally “like missionaries for Truth”?
But what if the Bible is like a question for rhetoric? What if it’s like an entire Greek parable for wordplay (like, Matt. 13:3b-9)? Or like precision for creativity? Or “como aqua para chocolate”? Or like “Like Water for Chocolate” for “Como agua para chocolate“? Or even like “wrong” for “stupid“?
You tell me if I sound stupid, or wrong. I do not want to disparage missionaries or missionary-like Bible translators. I don’t want to hijack their blogposts. They are friends, and generally speaking they are very friendly. It’s what they do with language and what they don’t allow others so easily to do with language that I’d like to talk about openly, nonetheless. I’m hoping my rhetorical questions here (in English, sometimes Spanish) begin to illustrate.
Aren’t similes like structures for translation? So if a translator (or the translator’s expert linguist) knows better what an author writes than the author herself, what then? Linguist Joel Hoffman says of Laura Esquivel and her Tita that she’s really, precisely, literally, merely, and simply “At the Boiling Point” with her title and her quotation “como agua para chocolate.” We’re coming back to Hoffman again because he’s like Wayne Leman, like Rich Rhodes, in his approach. Hoffman doesn’t give any personal regard to any of the translators who’ve come before him (and yet, as I’ve already tried to show, Hoffman himself also resorts — has to resort — to the very same translation he disparages them for). This is like very abstract Truth for Hoffman. And Truth is not so personal, not like a simile for translation. It cannot be like surface structure for deep meaning, not for Hoffman anyway.
Shall we move on, and move forward? Please write here in comments if you’d like to hear of others who have translated Esquivel’s Spanish proverb (long before it was hers so famously) as “like water for chocolate.” I just want to quote the obvious ones Hoffman overlooks in his abstracting like a missionary for Truth. Thomas Christensen and Carol Christensen are the translators for Esquivel. The former gives quite a statement of possibilities for translation. He even talks about the sort of translation Hoffman has called for, and what motivates it so profoundly, like missionaries for Truth. For example, Thomas Christensen says this:
The notion of “equivalence” in translation is imprecise and falls upon the translator to determine as a personal judgment. . . . If, [for example], one subscribes to the view of transformational linguists such as Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker that there is a universal language instinct, of which each particular language is a kind of fractal manifestation, then the translator would pay less attention to surface detail, viewing translation as an alembic reduction of the original to the deep level of universal language, followed by its transmutation into the target language.
What Thomas Christensen says Chomsky and Pinker do is like what Hoffman says he himself does. This kind of reduction is precisely like what Rich Rhodes confesses he himself also does. (Yes, I know. I really do know. Chomsky and Pinker differ and argue about their differences. And now comparing Hoffman and Rhodes and those two more famous linguists and missionaries for Truth, it’s almost too much. Missionary linguists are constantly distancing themselves from Eugene Nida, especially now from Kenneth L. Pike, or from Ernst-August Gutt, when necessary. And they, likewise, are quick to note how it’s the indigenous native language users now who are the real translators of the Bible more and more, so the missionaries wash their hands of being like missionaries for Truth. Please follow here what Thomas Christensen is saying: The notion of “equivalence” in translation is imprecise and falls upon the translator to determine as a personal judgment.) So Hoffman, like Chomsky, like Pinker, says “More generally, translation consists of two parts: decoding the original language (Hebrew, in our case), and finding a translation in a new language (English, for us) that does the same thing as the original.” And Rhodes, like Leman, like Hoffman, says things like, “But I continue to maintain that it’s a mistake to think that there is much word play in the NT. It’s the window dressing not the meat.” Hoffman’s going deep under the surface of Spanish, of Hebrew, of English — like code to be decoded for recoding. Rhodes is thinking, like, equally-reductive precision for meat. Isn’t what they are saying is that languages are like window dressing for Truth?
Now, shall we come back to me? What? Why? Who now? I’m a nobody in Bible translation. I’m just a Missionary Kid, not a true missionary for Truth (like my father was). And to one blogger at Better Bibles Blog, my unwise comments make it “sound like certain types of rhetorical questions are some inalienable human right.” Like I’m denying Wayne Leman’s truth that “Some languages, unlike English, do not have rhetorical questions.” Which is like denying that a rhetorical question for English is precisely like an “emphatic statement” in “some languages, unlike English.” Which is just like a missionary kid for people who like similes in any language. Is that like “como misioneros para Verdad”?