YET MORE Fun with Translation

This sentence sounds normal… common enough in a household with a teenage son, right?

And how do you think his mom would describe the young man’s speech she felt she had to rebuke… sassy? angry? saucy? maybe even uppity?

How about crunchy? or crispy? No? Okay, well, hold onto that thought…

Languages are fascinating in the different ways they express the same concepts. One way this is done is by idioms. An idiom’s meaning cannot be determined by simply adding up the meaning of the words used. There is an arbitrary and (unconsciously) agreed-upon meaning.

And after nearly 30 years, we’re still discovering new idioms in Palawano. Well, new to us, anyway! Some of these will help the translation of the New Testament to communicate clearly and with impact. The goal is not to use as many idioms as possible, but sometimes an idiom or figurative meaning is just what it takes to get the idea across with just the right punch (can you find the idiom in that sentence? See answer below…)

One of the steps in our translation procedure involves recording the passage. Donna reads the early draft to someone, section by section, and has them give it back. She records all this with her iPod. Actually she usually has to read individual verses first, then build up gradually to a whole paragraph. Once they give back a paragraph a time or two, she moves on to the next section. Later, I listen to the final recording, comparing it to the original draft. This two-step process takes quite a few hours per chapter for each of us, so we have to ask ourselves: Is it worth all the time and effort? The answer is an unqualified YES!

We don’t want them to memorize or simply parrot back what they heard word-for-word. That wouldn’t give us anything helpful. I already know what my original draft says! But the recorded version does not automatically become the new draft, either. Often they forget parts, or mix things up or get the meaning wrong. But even the mistakes are helpful, since they set off alarms and cause us to check why it wasn’t clearly understood!

So what kinds of things do I learn by listening to these recordings? Well, quite often they unconsciously correct my grammar if the original draft was incorrect. Sometimes they use a preferable alternative form, like a suffix on the verb that does a better job at getting the idea across. They connect things together more naturally, more clearly showing the logic of the argument. And many times, they will use a different word altogether. This makes me sit up and take notice. What that word the better choice? Should we use it? Or did they misunderstand and use an unacceptable substitute?

Some differences I notice are straightforward. So I make an executive decision to simply adopt the changes in the recorded version. Others are not so easy, so I mark them and discuss it with my Palawano translation helpers the next time they come to town.

And that brings us back to our sassy young man…

In processing the recordings of 1 Timothy, I was listening to 5:1 where the apostle Paul encourages Timothy not to “harshly rebuke” an older man, but to entreat him gently and with respect, the way you would speak to your father.

My original draft said not to speak in a meiseg manner, which would mean “angrily, harshly, fiercely” or “aggressively.” But in the recording, Donna’s helper repeatedly used a different word. He said that Timothy should not use crunchy or crispy speech in addressing his elders!

So I learned a new idiom, a figurative usage of mekras (crunchy). I had only heard the literal use before: for example, overcooked rice is mekras; so are crispy cookies. But apparently, the word can be used to refer to a type of speech. Interesting!

I’ll have to check this out with the other men in a few weeks, but it may be that the Palawano New Testament winds up forbidding Christians from using crispy words when exhorting an elder.

Who woulda thunk?

ANSWER: punch was used idiomatically above to mean ‘verbal impact’


About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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