Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Failed Greetings

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ."

That sounds simple enough to translate, right? But it's worth noting that this little sentence found within the first two verses of Ephesians poses some difficult problems. The words by themselves aren't that difficult. Key terms such as 'peace' and 'grace' have already been ironed out. So what's the problem? The problem is that where Paul's purpose was to express a God oriented well wishing in the context of a greeting, it actually comes across in the Mibu translation as though he is already starting to teach or exhort. While I'm sure that Paul did want them to know about grace and peace, he certainly wasn't expounding on the ideas or even exhorting them to do anything here. It was simply a well wishing as part of a greeting. As it is now, this is not a faithful rendition of the text into the Mibu language.

Stepping back and looking at it some more, it's clear that the problem has to do with the whole of these first two verses which form the opening of the letter. You see, each language has it's own patterns and structures for communicating ideas. The Greek language had a certain pattern which clearly indicated the opening of a letter, with greetings, introductions, well wishings, etc. Well the Mibu language will have a different pattern for the same ideas to be communicated just as clearly. In the Mibu language, this will look very very different than the pattern for the same in Greek. Our job is to get these ideas restructured in a way that comes across the same way in the Mibu language that it did in Greek.

Add to the problem the fact that currently there IS NO standard letter writing genre in Mibu! It was only recently that the Mibus began to read and write in their own language. Patterns for letter openings and greetings are only just beginning to emerge. For now, we're mostly shooting in the dark here. With each attempt at translating a letter opening, and each process of checking and refining, the 'standard' gets better and better, communicating more and more clearly and effectively. Sesi and I have to 'invent' the right form to make this work! Since last week's first check for comprehension, we've revisited the section with this in mind and have what seems like the best letter opening yet, which further checking will either affirm or contradict.

Once this form takes the right shape and the letter opening and greeting come across clearly for what they're supposed to be, then the pieces within, such as, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ," will be easier to iron out so that rather than come across as an abrupt jump into teaching, it will fit in the context more appropriately as the well wishing God inspired it to be.

We find it possible to translate all the words accurately, yet put them together in a way such that the author's purpose fades into ambiguity. Yet the purpose is fundamental to every successful communication. As you can see in the above example, we find that often it's not just finding the equivalents of words and phrases and ideas, but presenting them in such a way that the purpose is kept clear that presents the biggest challenge in translation.

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