Tag Archives: translation theory

Lessons from Software Engineering for Bible Translation

493_4018 Scaffolding
(Jos, Nigeria)

Some time I may get round to writing a paper on some cross-disciplinary lessons that Bible translators can learn from Software Engineering. (This is essentially trying to integrate my former and current career paths.)

My attention was caught by a slightly overblown headline on favourite irreverent geeky news site The Register: Most developers have never seen a successful project. Let me intersperse some quotes with some comments on how I see this relating to difficulties we face in the Bible translation world:

Most software professionals have never seen a successful software development project, continuous delivery evangelist Dave Farley said, and have “built careers on doing the wrong thing”.

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Word for word

Here’s a half-formed thought for translation people.

It probably gradually dawns on us all that the way the English Bible normally uses ‘word’ is not the usual way that we use it in English. It’s generally used as a translation for λογος or ρημα or אֹמֶר or דָּבָר.
The problem is that the most common use of ‘word’ in English is to represent something separated by spaces, when printed. That is, this sentence has seven words. A word is a noun, pronoun, demonstrative, verb, adjective, adverb or something else. However, context makes it clear that this is not the meaning ‘word’ has in the Bible.

Rather than being grammatically described, ‘word’ in the Bible is just something said (or thought). Message, speech, saying, communication, thought… would do that sort of job. What I haven’t done yet is look through to see if indeed there is any (clear) instance in the Bible of ‘word’ referring to what we would normally call ‘word’ in English.

There are of course figurative and rarer senses of the word ‘word’, such as a report/news etc. But it has occurred to me that if we understand Biblish ‘word’ to mean what we understand in English by ‘message’ then ‘word for word’ translation is essentially conveying the same ‘message’ by different ‘words’. Literally then, word for word translation is ‘dynamic equivalent’ or ‘thought for thought’. How’s that for something that messes with Bible translation controversies?

Many holes in this, no doubt, but I was feeling like letting the cat out of the bag and setting it among pigeons.



(ps. and yes, I know, I haven’t finished my post on why ‘essentially literal’ literally means photocopying the originals and is therefore essentially nonsense when applied to translation)