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Saturday, February 26, 2011

... leaving Nida behind — part three

Reading on in K. A. McElhanon  From Word to Scenario[1], when a scenario in the SL culture has no counterpart in the TL culture, some translators will  swap out the scenario in source text with one from the target culture. This is a controversial procedure.  McElhanon gives an example from Lk 5:37[2]:    

Consider, for example, Lk 5:37. Jesus says, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” 

... the translators made a cultural adjustment that involved the whole scene in order to maintain the necessary coherence. A widespread Papua New Guinean method of cooking fresh vegetables is to pack the vegetables into a freshly cut bamboo tube. The tube is made from a 5 inches in diameter by 30-inches long section taken from a species of a large bamboo that has a thick wall with nodes about every twelve inches. All nodes but the bottom one are punched out, the food is packed in, and the open end is plugged with banana leaves. To cook it, a person places it on an open fire and turns it frequently. As the fire cooks the food, it dries out the bamboo which becomes brittle and is only useful thereafter as firewood. Thus the translation reads, “No one takes a used bamboo cooking tube, fills it with fresh vegetables, and places it on the fire. For if they do, the fire will consume the bamboo tube, the vegetables will be ruined, and the tube will be lost as well.”
The reductio ad absurdum of this approach was circulating among some people I knew who were working in East Africa roughly forty years ago. The story involved the biblical scenario of the sacrificial lamb being replaced by a sacrificial pig, e.g. the Pig of God John 1:29. Most obviously, the lamb was loaded with extensive inferential associations from religion of ancient Israel. The pig, as a unclean pagan sacrificial animal, was arguably the worst possible cultural substitution that could have been supplied. I have heard bible translation people vehemently deny that anyone working in their field would commit such an abomination. The story may be an old urban legend from Nairobi. I new a bunch of people who were working out of Nairobi. 

Someone might object that the lamb/pig substitution is not on the same order with the wineskins/bamboo substitution. The bamboo container for roasting vegetables being a completely different scenario from wine and wineskins. I somewhat agree. However, the lamb in the ancient Jewish culture invoked a highly complex religious scenario which was unique to the history of Israel. Anything involving a pig in a pagan culture would be a more or less total cultural substitution. The target culture might or might not have sacrificed pigs but the inferential associations with regard to the Exodus would have been missing.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005).

[2] ibid, p. 51.


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