Fun with mistranslation

If you are sitting there contemplating Sunday’s preaching task and wondering whether your message ever really gets across, why not distract yourself with a little help from the babel fish? Those who remember Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy will doubtless remember the babel fish. This curious creature feeds on the sounds around about it. When inserted into a human ear it excretes those sounds in the language appropriate to the hearer’s brain.

A visit to the Lost in Translation website will give you pretty much the same experience. You insert a phrase in English, press the button to “babelize” it, and your phrase is then translated into and out of English via several machine translations…until it is barely recognisable. Those of you who felt that people’s faces last Sunday betrayed a degree of confusion over your carefully honed words cannot help but be reassured. At least your message wasn’t this muddled…or was it?

Anyone care to hazard a guess as to which phrase of Jesus’ ended up as “they must still be tolerated”? [Clue: think Nicodemus]

Most of us preach from a Bible which has already made the journey from Hebrew and Greek into a modern English translation. Some of us even do it from a translation so dynamic that it is more like a paraphrase. By the time we then put the translated paraphrased Word into our own words it may have been through not one but several babel fish! Eugene Peterson, the brilliantly gifted man behind The Message, says that in it he was simply writing down what he had done for years in the pulpit by expressing the Bible in the ‘language of the parking lot’. That’s all very well, but if we then do the same exercise starting with his words, we make a long and convoluted journey from the original text.

At what point does translation in the pulpit become babelization, I wonder? More to follow on this…

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