Bible Review 4:4, August 1988

Problems of Translations

Concern for the text versus concern for the reader

By Harvey Minkoff

The object of translating seems simple enough: to transfer meaning from one language to another. For public notices, traffic signs and other everyday needs, this is not difficult. But for literature—even such pseudo-literature as political speeches—meaning lies in the interplay of what the author intended to say, what the text actually contains, how style and cultural setting are used and how the audience interprets all this.

When the President of the United States announces to the world that “It’s third down and 20 on arms control” or “Khomeini isn’t Marcus Welby,” how is this supposed to be translated so that it will have the same meaning to an audience in France or China, neither of which knows anything about football or American television?

In attempting a translation of this presidential language from English to French or Chinese, should we be trying to transfer the text or the audience reaction from one language into another? In other words, where does meaning lie—in the words of the text or in the audience reaction to the text?

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