Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anthony Esolen defends English against bad Bible translations

Every issue of First Things magazine I receive confirms once again that it is simply the best journal of its kind anywhere. In the new June/July issue, the inimitable Anthony Esolen takes on the issue of bad Bible translations in his article "A Bumping Boxcar Language." He addresses the New American Bible (NAB), which has plagued Catholics in a similar way the New International Version (NIV) has Protestants:
The bland, Scripture-muffling, colorless, odorless, gaseous paraphrase American Catholics have had for forty years often was not a translation at all, nor even a paraphrase into English. It was a paraphrase into Nabbish, the secrete official language of the New American Bible.
The principles of "Nabbish," says Esolen, are 1) Prefer the "general to the specific, the abstract to the concrete, the vague to the abstract"; 2) Prefer "the neuter, the indefinite, and the impersonal"; and 3) Prefer "the office memoradum to the poem." His examples suit his argument perfectly. All you have to do is sit through a reading of the 23rd Psalm in a mass to see how these translations have sucked the life out of the language.

Esolen doesn't attempt to isolate what is causing this, but I stand by my hypothesis that because Bible translators are culled almost exclusively from the ranks of "Bible experts" and not people with any exceptional facility with English, as I have observed elsewhere. (Also here)


Lee said...

I read this and your previous article on the subject of the NIV, Martin, and I can't quite shake the notion that you're rendering aesthetic judgments here.

Lee said...

> ...takes on the issue of bad Bible translations

Sounds like aethetic judgments.