Translation Day 3: Crying and crying out

9 Days of Translation Checking

Today is Day 3 of this celebration of those last 9 fruitful days of checking the Onnele translations of Luke out in the village last month.

In Luke 4:33-34a the NET Bible reads…

Now in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene!”

One of the fun things about translating this verse was trying to include the dramatic vocalization at the beginning of the quotation. In Greek, it’s ‘Ἔα!’ and Louw and Nida describe it this way:

…an exclamatory particle indicating surprise, indignation, or anger… If another language does not have a fully satisfactory particle expressing surprise, indignation, or anger, it is probably best to leave this particle untranslated, as, for example, in a number of translations into English which make no attempt to introduce a corresponding emotive particle.

It’s true that a great many English versions do not include anything for this angry shout (including KJV, NRSV, REB, NASB, NKJV, NLT, and NCV). Other versions use ‘Ah!’ (ASV, RSV, TEV), ‘Ha!’ (NIV, NAB, NET, ESV), ‘Hi!’ (Phillips), ‘Oh, no!’ (GW, ISV), ‘Hey’ (CEV), ‘Eh!’ (Darby), and ‘Ho!’ (Message).

Phillips here is a curiosity. The demonic voice speaking through the man is clearly expressing some kind of anger or rejection of Jesus, so a simple ‘Hi!’ just won’t do. Interestingly, the first Romei-Barera Onnele attempt at expressing this emotive shout was the phonetically spelled equivalent of the English greeting: ‘Hai!’ However, this was intended to reflect the kind of shout that Onnele speakers give when they are angry or displeased with another person’s behavior. It was not meant to reproduce the English greeting (which is actually used occasionally in Papua New Guinea). The potential confusion with that greeting was the probable reason why the Romei-Barera Onnele translators decided to follow their cousins in the Goiniri Onnele and Wolwale Onnele translations and finally put ‘Ai!’ without the ‘h’.

But the more interesting problem that came up in this verse had to do with the sequence of events that occurs in the narrative before this quotation. An earlier draft of the Romei-Barera Onnele translation read like this (literal English back translation follows)…

Mana wongke e yakle nu nainene mow kori e Juda, opola faifaile fa konralo wu. Wu wiri ka yangke mi kero wamo yire nanrona, “Hai! Yesus e Nasaret…”

A man was with those who were at the worship house of the Jews, a bad spirit often really came down on him. He cried and made big strong talk he said, “Hai! Jesus of Nazareth…”

At first I thought that the Onnele word wiri could be used for both ‘crying’ (with tears) and the sort of shouting that in English can be expressed with ‘cry out’. But I asked about this translation because it appeared that there was a sequence of two or three actions in the translation to express the one action of “crying out with a loud voice.” The translators answered that yes, first he cried (with tears), then he shouted out strong, and then he said the words that followed in the translation.

Oops! Evidentally, when the translators looked at English versions to help them understand the meaning of this verse, they didn’t understand the English idiom ‘cried out’ and concluded that something was missing from their translation.

Looking back, this problem actually exists in the source text that was used for all 11 languages in our translation project. Perhaps it’s not a problem for all 11 translations, since the particular words used in another language may actually give the right sense. But now I can write a translation note about this so each of the 11 translation teams can check their translations and change it if necessary.

This is why we do a careful exegetical check of the source text that we use for these multiple translations. If we miss something, that error gets duplicated 11 times! On the other hand, different people are checking these translations, and when we find ways to improve the translation, those improvements also get shared and can often be duplicated for all the others.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the story of the Gadarene demoniac in Luke 8:30 and why it was so confusing when the demon told Jesus his name was ‘Legion’. Do you know what ‘legion’ means in English?

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