Bible text

I came across a bit of paper the other day, which I had squirrelled away a few years ago due to its amusement value. On it are instructions, or perhaps rather a sales pitch, for a certain device. The language is beautifully and hopelessly silly. I’ll leave you to work out what the object is as you read.

Product characteristics:

  1. This product is a new science and technology product and made with high and new science and technology. It can illuminate only placing it in rhythm.
  2. No need any power no environmental pollution. Low noise and health. Comparing with common torch it can be several times on lift.
  3. Constantly using this health torch, it can benefit to your palm, arm and shoulder stretching and blood circulation, so as to let your hands relax and brain clever, hand and brain coordinate and promote your brain memory and health composition.

So now you know. Can you see what it is yet?

Translation is a wonderful thing. To take words in one language, whether that is French or Phoenician, and to convert that into words that mean the same but in an entirely different language is a wonderful skill. It is also essential to our world, and has been for thousands of years. Businesses rely on it; historians would be lost without it. But it is also full of potential pitfalls. Translation can all too easily become mistranslation.

That piece above was presumably mistranslated right at the beginning. Sometimes, though, words get translated well but culture conspires to make the translation bad over time.

Recently I attended a church course, and when it came to questions a lady asked what the Holy Ghost is. The minister prefaced his answer by saying that modern translations of the Bible use the phrase Holy Spirit. “Ah”, she said “but I only use the original Bible”. Of course, she doesn’t use the original, she uses a translation, possibly the Authorised (King James) version of 1611. The text of this is so familiar (at least to those over a certain age) that it is thought of as original, but like all translations the words selected were subject to the culture of the day. The culture (with its words) has shifted around them.

The phrase Holy Ghost is a good case. For those whose image of ghosts has been formed while reading ghost stories or Harry Potter, or watching Scooby Doo, the revelation in chapter one of Matthew in the King James version of the Bible that Mary has conceived Jesus by the Holy Ghost must be disconcerting. Similarly the instruction that we should baptise people in the name of the Holy Ghost as well as the Father and the Son. You can’t even begin to understand these verses while you are using the word “ghost” – it has become lost in translation.

Some refuse to change their language – the language of the King James Bible is beautiful, and if a term like Holy Ghost is confusing then people should just try harder to understand. But if you want to communicate, rather than miscommunicate, then you need to re-translate yourself from time to time.



About the author: Writer of DramatisDei, dramatist and dreamer.

One comment

  1. Ah – language. Isn’t it a lovely thing? Being of “a certain age” I grew up with the King James version of the bible. I find modern translations difficult. Besides the loss of poetic language, what you know is always easier. I understand the King James version – it’s what I know. Other translations leave me struggling to work out what the translator means. It will be the same for others, too, who have grown up with a different translation. And I can’t begin to understand how complicated this all must be for an ESL person dealing with the bible in English for the first time.
    To call the KJV a bad translation is simplistic and incorrect. It’s no longer culturally relevant, it would seem, but, when it was translated 400 years ago it was perfectly all right.

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