Linguistik online 23, 2/05

Textwahrheit und Übersetzen
Beobachtungen an neueren Bibelübersetzungen

Radegundis Stolze



Recently many new German bible translations have appeared. The article first presents a comparison of paragraphs from ten different translations, with examples taken from the New Testament. This shows some basic trends. On the one hand, the objective of bible translation is Christian education, edification and worship usage. On the other hand, some translations focus on the cultural information, easy readability and inclusive language. Such orientation accepts purposeful adaptation and thus modifies the original text. And there are a few translations that constitute the product of an individual interpretation of the text, and its presentation in a literary form.
The discussion of these translation trends is complemented by a critique of the prominent focus on the language rather than on the message, and the question of a text's truth and a translator's linguistic awareness is raised. The traditional translation criticism distinguishing between literal and target-oriented translation, and even cultural adaptation, is integrated here by a discussion of the procedural, functional, objectivistic and ethical implications of the new bible translations.
One feature of all recent projects of bible translation seems to be a pedagogical concern. Authors think that they need to guide readers in their interpretation, because those may be unable to understand the very old, strange and often opaque text; or they might misunderstand it and thus miss the true message; or they should learn something about the historic culture; and last but not least, traditional patriarchal attitudes promoted by Christianity should be overcome with a new text. The idea is that people's thinking can be directed by language.
Thus the question is raised, whether a translation should also be an interpretation. In a critical view of the interpretive translation, this article presents the hermeneutic approach to translation. This implies a well-informed openness as an attitude towards the original message, rather than a method. The focus is neither on language structure nor on the addressees, but on the text's message. This includes the problem of understanding a written text, what is never a matter of fact. The text's theological exegesis is a prerequisite for the translation, but the value of that translation is not only based on that. Translation aims at a faithful representation of the message and opens the direction of a text, but the individual interpretation is always done by the readers themselves.
When the translator as a reader identifies himself with the message, s/he will cognitively produce formulations apt to give resonance to this message. The translator becomes a co-author of that text, and just as for the original author, one will never totally govern the readers' understanding. The translator's voice will be more convincing, when only one person is responsible for the text production, different from the team works in various official projects of bible translation. Even if the bible as such is a composition of many different books and pieces of texts, these manifold voices may be better noted by one translator alone, rather than by many contributors, each of whom as a specialist only translates one book. Finally, the stylistic shape of the target text is decisive. The bible translator should have an excellent knowledge of the target language, in order to present various nuances. Translating is not an information about an original text, it represents that original message in another language.


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