Monday, September 12, 2011

The Pervasion of Prominence

One thing that we often take for granted in all our communication is a little something that we call prominence. Prominence literally permeates every little bit of communication, and it simultaneously happens on multiple levels. Prominence is to blame when we understand what the main point of a paragraph is, and who or what is being referred to primarily. It's to blame for some characters being in the background while others are brought to the front of the hearer's mind. It's essential for understanding what information is backgrounded while the exhortation is highlighted. Prominence does so much more and is absolutely essential in any communication.

Did you know that the Koine Greek language has different ways of indicating prominence than English? And English has different ways of indicating prominence than the Mibu language. And the Mibu language has totally different ways of indicating prominence than Greek. And round and round it goes. Each language has its own specific ways of clearly marking prominence. A mother tongue speaker has those 'patterns' of prominence embedded in their brains so they can follow it without even thinking about it. But as soon as we cross those linguistic lines, it's a whole 'nother ball game!

Look at the attached picture. What's so funny about it? What should be the main message is actually backgrounded. And the information that should be backgrounded carries the prominence. It's silly right? But this happens more often than you realize in translation (yes, even in our beloved English translations!).

That's why we as translators need to be aware of this whole issue of prominence. How are things made prominent in the Greek text that we're translating from? How is prominence handled in the language that we're translating into? Only as we get a better understanding of this issue can we translate God's word from one language into another in a way that truly communicates.

One example would be in the story of the prodigal son. In that story, in the Greek, the way the father is introduced sets him as the main character in the story (prominence) right from the very start of the story. The way everyone else is introduced in the story sets them in the background... even the now unduly famous 'prodigal son'. In addition, at the end of the story there is a teeny tiny little marker that has a big big job of developing the author's point. It happens to set the actions of the older brother next as bringing the author's point home (another kind of prominence). He wants his hearers to understand the comparison that's being made between them and the older brother. And, of course, all throughout the story there are these little peaks and valleys of prominence that would have had the original readers keeping their focus and emphasis in the right places, shading some information as background and others as carrying the story forward.

In a translation that sticks to the form of the original, like many of our English translations, these issues of prominence aren't carried through and we end up with a sort of 'flattened' text; often difficult to discern the author's single, God inspired intent. Or even (and this actually happens in the epistles), where backgrounded information takes the front seat and an exhortation gets lost; just like in our picture here.

So back to our example, when we translate this story into the Mibu language, we need to be aware of the ways that the Mibu language uses to show the main character as the main character and the ways that it keeps the other characters in the background. We also need to be aware of the forms the Mibu language uses to drive the point home. In the Mibu language, using these forms correctly will result in a text looks very different than the Greek form, but very intentionally carries the overall meaning much more closely to what the author originally intended.

No comments: