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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

“direct translation” μονογενης θεος, part 2 (revised)

[revision: I have cleaned up some infelicities in the original post. ]

John 1:18  θεον ουδεις εωρακεν πωποτε· ⸂μονογενης θεος⸃ ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο. SBLGNT,   Michael W. Holmes ed.

The question again: What would a “direct translation” (E. A. Gutt et. al) of μονογενης θεος look like in American English as is it used by native speakers in 2011 on the streets of Seattle?

NASB “the only begotten God”
NIV1984 “God the One and Only”

To achieve a “direct translation” I would assume we need to use vocabulary from the target language (TL). I don’t think “only begotten God” qualifies as contemporary American English.  The word “begotten” is archaic. For this reason, I don’t seen how we can call the NASB “the only begotten God” direct translation.

The term μονογενης θεος was not in common use and was probably not a part of the vocabulary of the original audience. The author apparently assumed the term would be transparent for his target audience since the two words used to form the term were both in use. In other words, the somewhat shocking combination of μονογενης with θεος would trigger an inferential process for the audience leading to an adequate comprehension of the authors intent. The term μονογενης θεος appears to be a metaphor where the author assumed the inferential process would lead to a figurative reading by the original audience. Perhaps we are permitted to do the same with our target audience, coin a term out of two common words and employ this new term metaphorically.

Perhaps it is easier to talk about direct translation in terms of what it rules out. I would assume any rendering of μονογενης θεος which attempts to embed in the translated text an explanation however brief of what the term means would not qualify as “direct translation.” In other words an attempt to get a jump on the exegetical process in the target language is ruled out. The Nida-Chomsky waltz: source language surface structure, deep structure propositions, transformation to target language; this is not the method we want to use. NIV1984 “God the One and Only” looks to me like an attempt to explain the meaning of μονογενης θεος. It also unpacks the metaphor, which is something we would like to avoid[1].

To achieve the goals of direct translation the word(s) in the target language need to trigger an inferential process which employs a network of shared meaning within the cognitive framework of the target culture. These words will not bear the burden of explaining what the source text means. The source text didn’t do that for the original audience so a direct translation will not do that either.

[1] On unpacking metaphors see,  David K. H. Gray,. 2006. A study of the influence of new literary critical approaches on translation of the Old Testament with special reference to the story of Isaac's family. M.A., University of Gloucestershire. 80 p.

Kenneth A. McElhanon, From Simple Metaphors to Conceptual Blending: The Mapping of Analogical Concepts and the Praxis of Translation
Journal of Translation, Volume 2, Number 1 (2006)


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