Nothing is happening

Paul Kroeger was consulting with a church-sponsored translation project. Their language had been used in church for over 100 years. The mother tongue translators were all well-educated professional people, including one ordained priest, and all were fluent in speaking, reading and writing their own language.

However, a number of translation errors crept in, often based on lack of linguistic awareness. For example, the language has no suffixes on the verb to indicate tense, but does have a separate particle marking completive aspect. Several members of the committee insisted on inserting this particle in the translation everywhere the English text used a past tense - English attached some­thing to the verb, so they should too! 

The result was something like “David had gone down to visit his brothers. He had gone into battle with Goliath, he had defeated him and had cut off his head. The end.” Every event in the narrative was marked as background infor­ma­tion; there were no main-line events, and so nothing ever really happened in the story!

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