Whose Mockingbird? A Parable for Bible Translators

Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty different languages. It may serve as a parable for Bible translators.

How? Let’s look at three ways. Then we’ll consider three excerpts from one translation.

First, the story of this book is a parable for Bible translators perhaps because it’s nearly equal to the Bible in its popularity. There’s a must-read sacredness to it for many. It’s nearly as popular as the Bible for many readers in the USA and more popular than the Bible for several more readers in the UK. Claudia D. Johnson cites the following:

Using 5000 respondents, the researchers [of the U.S. Book-of-the-Month-Club and the U.S. Library of Congress’s Center for the Book in 1991] found that one of the three books “most often cited as making a difference” in people’s lives was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (it was second only to the Bible).

And Michelle Pauli reports:

The Pulitzer prize-winning classic has topped a World Book Day poll conducted by the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) [of the U.K. in 2006], in which librarians around the country were asked the question, “Which book should every adult read before they die?”…. To Kill a Mockingbird heads… the librarians’ list: it is followed by the Bible.

Thus, the book is read in forty some different languages worldwide, and is in English translation considered nearly as worthy to read as the Bible in America and thought even more worthy, by most librarians polled, in Britain.

Second, the book is maybe a parable for Bible translators because its language is like the Bible’s. It’s full of Bible metaphors and biblish and biblicisms already. Like the Bible, To Kill A Mockingbird references the language of and passages in the Bible.

(For example, I just read again last night, “Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead.” There’s no explanation given for what this means, or where it comes from, just as when Luke 9:60 seems to give a quote from Matthew 8:22, perhaps from another source text even, then there’s no explanation for this riddle. And a few pages earlier there was this: “As a rule, a recess meant a general exodus, but today people weren’t moving. Even the Idlers who had failed to shame younger men from their seats had remained along the walls.” Did you catch those references? What’s an exodus and what’re the Idlers with a capital I? And why failed and why shame and how ironic and funny is it when one has failed to shame? to remain? the walls? Are these suggestions of the Hebrew Bible, some Aramaic, the Greek, late legal Latin?)

What I’m getting at in the parentheses above (in the question of biblical references) brings us to the third way To Kill A Mockingbird is a parable perhaps for Bible translators.

Third, then, to translate this novel is to position oneself outside its culture, and isn’t that important, as a parable, for Bible translators? Let me explain, and try to illustrate, this third point. The culture of To Kill A Mockingbird, as much as it speaks to EveryMan and to anybody, makes all readers today outsiders. Beyond “the South” in the United States just a few decades after the Civil War, it is very much a speaking out of the specific culture and subcultures of a little Alabama town. Most British librarians find this specific novel more important to read than the Bible, despite the fact that the book’s English is very not English at all. Nonetheless, the book is full of biblish like the difficult-to-read old English Bibles. Moreover, even American readers, those not from the South and even those from as south as South Alabama, are now some fifty years past this old English. Furthermore still, those reading the book in languages other than English of any kind are also not only linguistic but also cultural outsiders.

The moral of the parable is this: There is no shame in this outsiderness for readers or for translators. There is no effort to rid the book of its biblicisms or to upgrade it to natural English or to downgrade it to common English or to make it readable at any particular grade level. Part of the reasoning for leaving the English of the book alone may be that the book is largely written through the eyes of children who should, one might assume, speak a more common or less unnatural English. However, it turns out that a little rural girl speaks. She speaks, and thinks, in pretty sophisticated ways with quite challenging language. And there are high and low registers for her, and for several of the other characters.

So a translator is an outsider, and there’s no shame in that and no effort to make readers feel like they are reading something written just for and only to them. The story itself is a parable. And the book is safe enough already for readers. And the translator might find her own voice in it, safely. Harper Lee confronts sexism and racism and classism, and her readers borrow the eyes of a child, the ears of the child, her voices. There is injustice, and she speaks out. There is rape, some alleged rape, and she hears of it. There is a father who fails in the end, and she sees him through to the final page. I’m not giving too much away. Did I tell you she was a little girl? Most of us readers are not Miss “Scout” Jean Louise Finch from a small town called Maycomb where only men are lawyers and judges and jurors and only white men of a certain kind. None of us talks like her. Nor do we expect her to talk like us.

Now, let’s get to the illustration from a translation. It’s an Indonesian language translation. We’ll just look at three passages from the book.

(One reason I’m reading the Indonesian translation is because for four years I studied this language on Java, in Jakarta. My formal teacher was Ibu Noto, but even my English literature class teacher was a Muslim too, and so was my English writing class teacher. I’m mentioning the religion of my language teachers for four years because to them the Qur’an is much more important than the Bible. And to them To Kill A Mockingbird is also much more important than the Bible. As I read the Indonesian translation of To Kill A Mockingbird, I imagine how Mrs. Noto, and Mr. Williams [an Islam convert], and Mrs. Dali might translate it. They live on an island of prebumi, bumiputra, pure-raced natives. They live in a post-colonial nation state, where the Indonesian alphabet has been purified from its old Dutch influences, where the Chinese written language is outlawed. They live, as Muslims, in the world’s largest nation of people of Islam. They know social and legal injustices, but they are outsiders to the book and to its language. The actual translator is Ibu Femmy Syahrani,

and here are some brief reviews of her work.)

Now, let’s look at those passages. Let’s look at the three places in her book where author Harper Lee used, respectively, the English words corncribs and translation and metaphors. These are words she only uses once in this the only novel she ever wrote. Then let’s see how Indonesian translator Femmy Syahrani renders the three passages and words.

corncribs : gudang jagung

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Mockingbird menyanyikan musik untuk kita nikmati, hanya itulah yang mereka lakukan. Mereka tidak memakan tanaman di kebun orang, tidak bersarang di gudang jagung, mereka tidak melakukan apa pun, kecuali menyanyi dengan tulus untuk kita. Karena itulah, membunuh mockingbird itu dosa.”

Notice here how corncribs are something not a big part of Harper Lee’s book. How many English readers today anywhere know what they are, or were? The Oxford English Dictionary lexicographers note that this is peculiarly “U.S.” English, with two definitions: “a. A crib or manger for corn. b. A ventilated building or granary, for storing Indian corn in the ear or cob.” Is this English “natural” or “common”? Should it be? Femmy Syahrani has “gudang jagung,” which is common and natural Indonesian for a “corn warehouse” or “corn storage building.”

The Indonesian translator does something else here. She leaves in transliterated Indonesian words the English name of the mockingbird. When it’s plural in English, she does not add the plural suffix in her Indonesian version because Indonesian grammar makes clear this is a generic plural, “each mockingbird / all mockingbirds.” What is gained is italicized attention to the importance of this titular and key word. What is lost is the mimicry of mockingbirds, how they translate the songs of other birds, how readers are drawn to the fact that the black man wrongly accused of raping a white man’s daughter is like a mockingbird, is killed sinfully, like a mockingbird. “Dosa” is the Indonesian word for sin, a common word in majority Islam and in minority Christianity in Indonesia. The translator forgoes the embodied metaphor of “sing their hearts out” and loses much by using natural non-metaphorical Indonesian instead: “menyanyi dengan tulus” which means they “sing with sincerity.”

translation : menjelaskan

Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding.

Aku dan Jem sudah terbiasa dengan diksi ayah kami yang lebih cocok diterapkan pada surat wasiat, dan kami bebas menyela Atticus kapan pun untuk memintanya menjelaskan kata-kata itu kalau ucapannya tak kami mengerti.

For Harper Lee’s metaphorical use of the technical word translation, Femmy Syahrani decides on something presumably more natural, apparently more common, and ostensibly clearer: “menjelaskan.” The word means “clarification” as in a given explanation. There is no reason at all, however, why this translator couldn’t use the Indonesian verb for “translation.” Is she hiding, minimizing her voice here?

metaphors : metafora

The second thing happened to Judge Taylor. Judge Taylor was not a Sunday-night churchgoer; Mrs. Taylor was. Judge Taylor savored his Sunday night hour alone in his big house, and church-time found him holed up in his study reading the writings of Bob Taylor (no kin, but the judge would have been proud to claim it). One Sunday night, lost in fruity metaphors and florid diction, Judge Taylor’s attention was wrenched from the page by an irritating scratching noise. “Hush,” he said to Ann Taylor, his fat nondescript dog.

Hal kedua terjadi pada Hakim Taylor. Hakim Taylor tidak ke gereja pada Minggu malam; Mrs. Taylor yang hadir. Hakim Taylor menikmati waktu Minggu malam sendirian di rumahnya yang besar, dan pada waktu kebaktian dia bersembunyi di ruang kerjanya membaca tulisan Bob Taylor (bukan saudara, tetapi sang hakim tentu bangga andai bisa mengaku saudara). Pada suatu Minggu malam, tenggelam dalam metafora berbuah dan diksi berbunga, perhatian Hakim Taylor terenggut dari lembar kertas oleh suara garukan yang mengganggu. “Sst,” katanya kepada Ann Taylor, anjing kampungnya yang gemuk.

Harper Lee’s readers catch on the to fact that this Christian is also a Judge who neglects his churchgoing. Astute readers also get that instead of being a good Christian, this judge, he reads the works of his namesake, a politician and rhetorician, full of slick rhetoric in at least two senses, the works of one “Bob” Robert Love Taylor. Femmy Syahrani’s Indonesian readers are not likely to get any of that. What is offered them, nonetheless, is that Mrs. Taylor is an American, not an Indonesian Ibu Taylor. She goes to church.

The dog is named Ann Taylor. Again, the astute readers in English would get her namesake, the English poet for children. And it’s funny that she’s fat, but even more so that she’s a “nondescript dog” poking fun again at the poetry perhaps. The Indonesian readers have no idea that she’s anything but fat, and a dog with an English name, not a nondescript one, but a kampung dog, a common village dog. Is this the translator’s voice?

So we come to the phrase “lost in fruity metaphors and florid diction.” For the English reader, this cannot be a good thing. It’s the Judge’s own reward, or punishment, for staying home from church.  “Fruity” is not sophisticated (and “metaphors” stand from the Greek root as something literary and rhetorical).  For the Indonesian reader, there is an eloquence that seems either, well, eloquent or mocking of eloquence: “tenggelam dalam metafora berbuah dan diksi berbunga.” It goes something like, “drowning under metaphors fruitful and diction flowerful.” At least, there is an attempt, a good one, at mimicking the silliness here; and the Indonesian adds an alliteration with syntactic flair.  (“Metafora” again retains the Greek root, in transliteration, without explanation; it’s surely literary and rhetorical even in Indonesian; it’s somehow a direct equivalent of Harper Lee’s English which is somehow a direct equivalent of some ancient Greek’s Greek.)  The fun, of course, is the fruit and flora as buah dan bunga.

So What? What’s the punchline, the point, the moral of the fable?

Well, that’s quite enough for now. Besides I’m out of time again. There’s much to consider when translating central words like “Mockingbird” that have such metaphorical import to a story. There’s a lot to take in when thinking about an author’s lonely words, pregnant with meaning. There’s a good bit to ponder when making choices to render such critical phrases that point to the translator’s own processes. Parables take processing, so perhaps this is a fair one for that, even a fair one for Bible translators.


29 responses to “Whose Mockingbird? A Parable for Bible Translators

  1. Your posts have inspired me to read and reread some books on translation theory. Here are the books on my reading list (I’m halfway through the list, an hope to finish in a week):

    John Biguenet & Rainer Schulte, Craft of Translation (Chicago 1989) [anthology]

    Reuben Brower, On Translation (Harvard 1959)

    Edwin Honig, The Poet’s Other Voice (Massachusetts 1985) [anthology of interviews with translators]

    Jeremy Munday, Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications (Routledge 2001)

    Jed Rascula & Steve McCaffery, Imagining Language (MIT 2001) [anthology]

    Rainer Schulte & John Biguenet, Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida (Chicago 1992) [anthology]

    Lawrence Venuti, The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (Routledge 1998)

    Lawrence Venuti, The Translation Studies Reader (Routledge 2000) [anthology]

    Daniel Weissbort & Astradur Eysteinsson, Translation: Theory and Practice: A Historical Reader (Harvard 2006) [anthology]

    I would certainly welcome any comments on any of these nine books — I will say that translation theory (and some advanced or experimental translations) make the translation discussions I am used to seeing on BBB seem rather naive.

    • You’ve given us a great list, and I’ll try to work through these translation theory books too. Can we add George Steiner’s After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation? One caution then; all these theorists here are men, and that lends itself perhaps to a blind bias of supposed objectivity. How about we also read and re-read Sherry Simon’s Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission and Naomi Seidman’s Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation and Lydia Liu’s Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity: China, 1900-1937 (which is not only about translation theory, of course) and Luise Von Flotow-Evans’ Translation and Gender: Translating in the “era of Feminism” and Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi’s Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice and, perhaps more comprehensive of broad issues and more generally focused, Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha’s Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies?

      the translation discussions I am used to seeing on BBB seem rather naive

      I’d say the problem at BBB is the rather reductive conflict of the “either/ or” binary “natural language” v. “literal.” In one post, the ESV is hit rather hard for its literal approach. See http://betterbibles.com/2008/11/22/esv-4-by-mark-strauss/. “the portion of their cup” of Psalm 11:6 is called “nonsensical.” But this, of course, ignores the allusions to such a cup in Isaiah 51:17,22 and in Mark 14:36, Matt 26:39, and Luke 22:42. I bring this cup up because To Kill A Mockingbird has this direct allusion to these verses. That bit in Harper Lee’s novel is this: “Let this cup pass from you, eh?” The Indonesian translation I’ve been reading seems to think this bit is “nonsense”; the Indonesian translation is “Tapi bukankah kau bisa menolaknya?” This makes sense not literally (sense without allusion to either the Hebrew Bible or Jesus’s reference to it) but makes sense only as something decoding the ostensibly intended meaning, something like “But you aren’t able to reject it?”

  2. One caution then; all these theorists here are men, and that lends itself perhaps to a blind bias of supposed objectivity.

    I’m calling you on this Kurk. You’re as dirty as sexist as the rest of them. Here are some books you haven’t read and yet you think it’s more than likely that they’re filled with some form of “blind bias of supposed objectivity” just because the authors are men.

    Furthermore, even the first edited volume has a female contributor. I didn’t both checking the rest.

    • Dear Dannii,
      First, 3 quick disclaimers: 1) You must know I don’t have a monopoly on blindspots or hypocrisy; 2) You’re calling me “dirty” but please note my words: “perhaps” (not your “more than likely”) and my phrase “work through” (not your “haven’t read” because in fact I have read many of these books already) and my “caution” about the “theorists” (yes, you said “authors” and I really should have made clear I meant “all these book editors or single authors here are men”); 3) You’re saying “just because the authors are men.” But let’s be very, very clear about this together. It’s not “because the authors and editors are men” that we must suspect them of sexism, perhaps. Rather, it’s when men tend to promote men and tend to silence women that we need to read with caution.

      Second, I’m surprised you care so, that you bother. (Oh scratch that; you said you “didn’t bother”).

      But since you note the sole 1 female contributor in the male edited volume (by John Biguenet & Rainer Schulte), let’s mention who she is: Margaret Sayers Peden. John Biguenet & Rainer Schulte’s other 8 contributors are all male; Biguenet & Schulte are both males.

      The male editor Edwin Honig has for his contributors 11 males, 0 females.

      The male editors Jed Rasula & Steve McCaffery have for contributors 125 males, 6 females. The 6 are few enough for us to bother with: Gertrude Stein, Edna Sanders, Zora Neale Hurston, Helene Smith, Madeline Gins, and Beth Learn.

      The male editors Rainer Schulte & John Biguenet have for contributors 21 males, 0 females.

      The male editor Lawrence Venuti has for his contributors 23 males, 5 females. The 5 are few enough for us to bother with: Katherina Rice, Shoshana Blum-Kulka, Lori Chamberlain, Annie Brisset, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

      The male editors Daniel Weissbort & Astradur Eysteinsson have for subjects some 50 males, 9 females. Let’s bother naming all 9: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Laura Bohannan, Anne Dacier, Constance Garnett, Mary Snell-Hornby, Cecilia (with Louis) Zukofsky, Susan Bassnett, Eva Hoffman, and Suzanne Jill Levine. And of the 70 chapters or so, the male editors have 68 chapters authored by males, while they allow 2 entire chapters to be authored by 2 different women: 1 chapter is Jenefer Coates’ on Vladimir Nabokov; the other 1 chapter is Jane Stevenson’s, which is specifically on females and is entitled “Women Translators from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries.”

      Let’s make no mistake that any of these male only editors (or the other male only authors) Theophrastus listed are “dirty.” But we may want to work through their books with some caution lest there perhaps might be a predominance of male perspectives.

      PS What do you think of the additional books listed, Dannii? What of my suggestion that one of the male only BBB editor’s calling the ESV Psalm 11:6 “nonsensical” is a tad reductive? Oh yeah, and what of my post “Whose Mockingbird”?

      • Dannii Willis

        But let’s be very, very clear about this together. It’s not “because the authors and editors are men” that we must suspect them of sexism, perhaps. Rather, it’s when men tend to promote men and tend to silence women that we need to read with caution.

        If that’s what you mean then you must really be more careful with what you say because I can’t see how you meant it with what you did say.

        So: what evidence do you have that these editors were working to silence women?

      • Fair enough, Dannii. I’ll try always to be more careful. Please also try yourself to read more closely. And understand that my hedging words such as “perhaps” are usually on purpose, but my typos n such r not. I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll always appreciate your questions. Are you saying “these editors were working to silence women”? I’m not. I’m saying that they have promoted men (have not tended to promote women), that their selection processes, regardless of their expressed or stated intentions, is a de facto silencing. Now, if we were to talk about To Kill A Mockingbird together (which I would also like), then we might protest to say that black men and that women (well, a white woman) did have a voice in the courtroom. Both the black man accused of rape and the white woman accusing him did get to testify. But would you agree that because their lawyers, the judge, their jurors, and the other witnesses in the case (notably the father of the accuser who had his motives for the accusation) were all white and were all men that the black man and that white woman were in some way not able to speak out justly? Would you agree that the court of all males, all white males, in some way silenced the black man and the white woman? This is “evidence” that really does not count in their courtroom.

      • Dannii Willis

        Thank you for continuing in what I am interpreting as mostly cordialness despite my impassioned responses.

        I’m sorry, but I cannot help but read your hedging words as weasel words instead. To throw open the suggestion of injustice with a noncommitted comment in an unrelated discussion? People only do that if they think there’s some truth to it. Perhaps you’re hoping we’ll all come to realise it ourselves by ourselves. I don’t know.

        Are you saying “these editors were working to silence women”? I’m not. I’m saying that they have promoted men (have not tended to promote women), that their selection processes, regardless of their expressed or stated intentions, is a de facto silencing.

        True. But they’ve also tended to promote adults. They’ve (probably) also tended to not promote intersex people. My suspicion is that they’ve tended to not promote people who have grown up watching the simpsons but have promoted people who’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird. There are a billion ways to categorise people. Who cares!

        No, the only way I can see your comments as being relevant is if you’re suggesting that the editors are promoting men for being men and not promoting women for being women. If that is true it is a disgusting injustice. But where is your evidence (from their selection processes or otherwise) that they have been promoting men for being men and not promoting women for being women?

        I saw the same logic in regard to the biblioblogger gender gap, for example: http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-are-we-going-to-do-about-blogger.html
        The statistics show a gender gap. We all know that. But they do not prove injustice. Please, do work on the evidence that proves these injustices. But to turn an imbalance into an injustice without evidence is itself an injustice. That is what I want you to stop doing.

      • my impassioned responses…. Who cares!

        Is that a question? Who indeed.

        But where is your evidence (from their selection processes or otherwise) that they have been promoting men for being men and not promoting women for being women? …. Please, do work on the evidence that proves these injustices. But to turn an imbalance into an injustice without evidence is itself an injustice. That is what I want you to stop doing.

        Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? Remember the work on evidence?

        “I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family.” ….

        “There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads–they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”

        “Doesn’t make it right,” said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. “You just can’t convict a man on evidence like that–you can’t.”

        “You couldn’t, but they could and did. The older you grow the more of it you’ll see. The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”

      • Dannii Willis

        My apologised, the blog post I just linked to is not really an example of what I’m talking about. Here’s one that is: http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2010/04/women-writer-bans-but-where-you-can.html

  3. * didn’t bother checking the rest.

  4. I would certainly welcome any comments on any of these nine books — I will say that translation theory (and some advanced or experimental translations) make the translation discussions I am used to seeing on BBB seem rather naive.

    Would you mind explaining more in what way the BBB discussions seem naive? I’ve said before that I’d appreciate having more people from a translation background contribute as I think the majority instead come from a linguistics or theology background (though many have a practical if not theoretical background in translation.) How can we take it a step higher than naive?

  5. Yes, many of the anthologies include substantial historical material, and sadly, there were few women working in translation theory before the 1970s.

    Of the books JKG suggests, I have already read Seidman’s; I feel it is, as we have discussed, fundamentally flawed. I did consider buying Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha’s Encylopedia, but Routledge has not yet released the 2009 edition in paperback (they do have the 1998 edition in paperback) and the $332 (Amazon price) for the hardcover is not something I can justify.

    Have you read Baker-Saldanha? Tell me what you think of it.

    Dannii — let me finish my reading list and then collect my thoughts and I can tell you why I think the discussion on BBB is sometimes naive. I do think you have a good point about the lack of linguistics backgrounds.

    • Let me just warn that we must not single out Naomi Seidman’s book as “fundamentally flawed.” Most of the others I listed should be grouped with it. I’d say Harper Lee’s novel is as fundamentally flawed (and maybe for many of the same reasons). Some of Lee’s early critics said as much about her, or her book. Ha! Yes, it’s sad that few women were published on translation theory before the 1970s; few women were published in linguistics, in theology, in philosophy, in rhetoric, then. One woman, a linguist, Cheryl Glenn, also became a historian, a rhetoric scholar, and with that motley background has helped launch forward not only the recovery of women in the history of rhetoric but also a recovery of the methods of doing research.

      Let me say a bit more about linguistic backgrounds, then come forward with what I think of Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha’s Encylopedia.

      One SIL linguist, a man and a white man whose name I need not mention (because why would it matter?), sent me The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora, edited by Hugh R. Page Jr., Randall C. Bailey, Valerie Bridgeman, Stacy Davis, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, Madipoane Masenya, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, Rodney S. Sadler Jr., none of whom is a real Bible translating linguist but each of whom (along with the various contributors) is more theological, but not theological with reference to the dominant culture theology (i.e., either Western-Euro-American Christian or, to the real point of their volume, Jewish). I read it with great interest, and reviewed it in a series of blogposts some time ago. The minority theoretical perspectives (yes, some from women, some explicitly “feminist” or more marginally “womanist”) get to some very eye-opening, rather generally neglected understandings of translation. The contributors to the book theorize the neglect. This is some like how novelist Gayl Jones, with her Corregidora, performs some of the neglect. It’s not exactly unlike how David Rosenberg, with his Book of J (as Her Book), suggests that there’s a neglected resistance to the “patriarchy” right within the Hebrew scriptures themselves. (As for many SIL linguists, and those at BBB, there’s a general turn in the majority towards Pragmatics, specifically to what is called “Relevance Theory,” as first articulated by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, Communication scientists. Incidentally, one of my graduate degrees is in linguistics, with some teachers and researchers of Wycliffe/ SIL back before the state university where we were separated “church” and “state,” and I’ve watched the shift from Nida to Pike back to Nida with Sperber & Wilson and Gutt, have recently talked for some time with a leading teacher of RT within SIL about the Theory. I wonder, Theophrastus, if you’d disagree with what Seidman says about Nida. I’m mainly wanting to suggest that “linguistics background” means so many different things, and Bible translating linguists now are not so interested, with respect to translation theory, in linguistics as much as they are with Communications studies. Let me also just add that I’m working on a research project at my university with one of our leading Communications scholars; it is very very different work than linguistics work is.) On a more humorous cautionary note, I’ll just quote Umberto Eco, on his experience with linguists in Experiences in Translation (page 5):

      It seems to me that studying translation is like studying bilingualism. Any study on bilingualism is primarily performed by observing the behaviour of a child exposed to two languages, and only continuous daily observation yields sufficient data on the development of a double linguistic competence. Now, some linguists have said that such observation is possible only if (i) one is a linguist, (ii) working with bilingual children, and (iii) prepared to follow their linguistic behaviour on a day-to-day basis from the earliest stages. This means that a reliable study on bilingualism could be made only by a parent who is a linguist married to a foreigner (preferably one interested in linguistic matters).

      Baker and Saldanha’s Encylopedia is spectacular. Of course, it’s an encyclopedia, but Lynnell Zogbo has a wonderfully comprehensive entry (for such a work) on “Bible, Jewish, and Christian” translation, with sections giving “a history of Bible translation” and outlining the major “translation theory and approaches” (reviewing missionary theorists such as Nida and mentioning Pike) and getting to issues of “gender” and “language.” Louise von Flotow writes the larger entry on “Gender and sexuality.” Gabriela Sandalha writes the general entry on “Linguistic approaches.” Frances R. Jones writes the entry on “Literary translation.” James St. Andre writes the important “History” entry. Myriam Salama-Carr writes the entry on the “Interpretive Approach” and Rainier Gruttman writes the entry on “Multilingualism.” There’s an entry on the “Qur’an (Koran)” by Hassan Mustapha, and another on the “Arabic tradition” by Mona Baker and Sameh Fekry Hanna. For that matter, after the 84 general subject entries of part one, there are some 33 entries on various individual ethnic and cultural “Histories and Traditions” comprising part two of the whole volume. The contributors give short bibliographies for further (primary) research and bring up translation theorists and practitioners (i.e., real people not just their ideas) to consider more; for example, Eco is mentioned in “Advertising,” “Equivalence,” “Semiotics,” and the “Romanian tradition.” (You might try a university library for the Encyclopedia, and ILL for the latest edition. Google books lets you in on a good bit of the 2009 ed., that then “new, extensively revised and extended [second] edition to reflect the concerns and priorities of a much enlarged and better established community of scholars [than the first ed had, a community of scholars not all a part of or … ] dominated by the theoretical paradigms that originated in the West and that are oblivious to the rich and substantially different experiences of translation outside Europe and North America.”)

    • I did consider buying Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha’s Encylopedia, but … the $332 (Amazon price) for the hardcover is not something I can justify.

      For anyone who has a Kindle or the free iPhone App for Kindle, there is a bit more affordable “Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Second Edition [Kindle Edition]” for the “Kindle Price: [of] $40.23 & includes wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet.” Click here. Otherwise, there’s the university library.

      And if you want only a sample, then amazon gives away for free (with some nifty hyperlinks) the Introductions to the first and the second editions with the full entries on “Adaptation” (by Georges L. Bastin), “Advertising” (by Ira Torresi), “Asylum” (by Moira Inghilleri), “Audiovisual translation” (by Luis Perez Gonzalez), “Bible, Jewish and Christian” (by Lynell Zogbo), and “Censorship” (by Francesca Billiani). (If you have neither Kindle nor its iPhone app, then google books does allow some searching through the entire encyclopedia; and the publisher does give away a free digital version of all the front matter and end matter.)

  6. The statistics show a gender gap. We all know that. But they do not prove injustice. Please, do work on the evidence that proves these injustices. But to turn an imbalance into an injustice without evidence is itself an injustice. That is what I want you to stop doing.

    Why on earth should Kurk stop doing that? Few enough bloggers are standing up for women as it is. But here is your evidence.

    Only a few bloggers in the bibliosphere take a dogmatic approach for the subordination of women. Only a few take a definite stand for the functional equality of women. Most bibliobloggers are adamant that both the functional equality of women, and the subordination of women, are equally acceptable viewpoints.

    Therefore, most bibliobloggers condone the subordination of women. They actively discourage women from arguing unequivocally for their own functional equality.

    I can’t even compose a civil sentence to communicate what I think about this anymore. My response lies somewhere between a primal scream and laughing yoga. Especially now that yoga has been labeled demonic, I think that will do very well as a metaphor for my opinion on this topic. In case laughing yoga is not communicating well, my opinion in plain English is that the subordination of women is an injustice.

    As far as discussions on the BBB, I would extrapolate to the entire bibliosphere – not enough new ideas out there. In any case, there are really only two translations that are truly significant in western Christianity since the Vulgate. That is Pagnini’s Latin for the Hebrew Bible and Erasmus Latin paraphrase of the NT. I don’t have a searchable text for either so it requires a lot of time to research these properly. I am hoping to book another week at U. of T. in March to work on these.

    Anyhow, I have no right to complain because I am not contributing anything at the moment.

    • Sue, while I know I should learn a lot from you about your position, this isn’t the right time or place for that.

      All I’ll say is that even if you’re right that most bibliobloggers actively discourage women from arguing for their own equality (something which I don’t think you have demonstrated to be the case) that does not explain why women are not writing biblioblogs about other topics. Surely it cannot be the case that the only topic women want to blog about is the role of women in the house and church. We can’t blame this gender gap on male bloggers suppressing female bloggers from writing about equality.

    • I am not contributing anything at the moment.

      Thanks Sue. Many of us miss your blogging on a consistent basis, but you do contribute much in many ways. As you said elsewhere, Why do we have to stay the same (or even always to say the same thing or to blog the same ways all the time or to blog at all in order to say anything)?

  7. Kurk, did you ever read Siegel’s Solo in the New Order? I remember reading it when it came out. It is all about the interaction between High Javanese, Low Javanese, and Indonesian. The idea of an entire population speaking second languages was simply stunning to me; and the politics of Suharto were horrible and fascinating at the same time.

    It was one of the most memorable books that I read in 1986 (I read quite a bit, so this is no mean compliment!). I read it in a single sitting. It is remains my favorite ethnographic/linguistic book of all time.

    • Theophrastus,
      You always bring to our attention so much! I never cease to be amazed at how much you read, the breath and the depth! So excited now to find James T. Siegel’s book. Is “Solo” a play on the Javanese town turned big city? It’s a remarkable place and culturally distinct especially for visitors. When you were reading this your favorite ethnographic/linguist book of all time, I’m afraid I was busy being a linguist, doing ethnographic linguistic work. Can’t wait to read Solo in the New Order. Thank you!

  8. that does not explain why women are not writing biblioblogs about other topics. Surely it cannot be the case that the only topic women want to blog about is the role of women in the house and church. We can’t blame this gender gap on male bloggers suppressing female bloggers from writing about equality.

    Aha. I knew you could move me from laughing yoga to primal scream. I blogged only one third of the time on gender issues. In fact, some of the livliest and most companionable times in the bibliosphere were when I joined in some of the blogging rounds on a wide variety of topics. But it did not take more than a very few men, those who made it their mission to invent nasty stories about my pro abortion platform, or the essential similarity between feminism and Stalinism, and somehow, I don’t know why, but somehow, it felt like sh!t

    • Yes, sorry, that came out wrong! Of course women, and men, can and will blog on more than one topic. I do not think that women are single-issue people! What did I mean? Hmm. Let’s try this again.

      Surely it cannot be the case that almost all women want to at some time blog about the role of women in the house and church. The “Bibliosphere” is huge. People write about languages, religious texts, history, current events, theology, devotionally. There’s an infinite number of book reviews on all of these topics and more. And most blogs are somewhat narrow in what they cover. Especially if it’s a semi-professional blog where you’re expected to write within your qualifications.

      Is it possible that nearly all female bloggers have written about equality issues at least once and received such a hostile backlash that they stop blogging altogether? Yes. But I’m sceptical. I think the source(s) of the gender gap must be elsewhere.

  9. Surely it cannot be the case that almost all women want to at some time blog about the role of women in the house and church.

    I would have to say that most female bloggers at some time, blog about the “role” of women in the home and church. Most women writing in the field of biblical studies have a view on the “role” of women.

    In additon to that – there is the sense of community. Some bloggers just blog, but others blog as members of a community. But it is hard to feel part of a community, when your functional equality is considered a throwaway, something that should not be defended.

  10. It just isn’t fun to be in an environment where one’s equality is not defended. It’s that simple.

  11. Thanks. I really appreciate that. Now you understand why I quit the BBB.

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