Overliteralness and Mother-Tongue Translators

Cahill, Michael; Keith Benn
One barrier to quality in Bible translation is a tendency for translators to translate literally from their primary source text. This is a hazard for any translator, but has particular relevance in the case of Mother-Tongue Translators (MTTs) with minimal training, who are bearing an increasingly larger role in new Bible translations around the globe. In this article, we first examine the problem of overliteralness, observing cases of RL structural adherence to the SL in direct speech, ungrammatical sentences, mistranslation of rhetorical questions, use of idioms, and neglect of discourse factors, etc. The problem of overliteralness extends to information and emotional impact implicit in the SL that is not made explicit in the RL. Reasons for overliteralness include the natural intuitiveness of translating literally, respect for the Word of God (they don’t want to change it), and MTTs’ unawareness of their own language patterns. Since translation consultants are not always familiar with the receptor language, these types of mistakes may escape notice in the checking process. Nonetheless, many MTTs do excellent translation work. We present two major factors that help MTTs avoid overliteralness. Through training and mentoring, they need to absorb the translation principle that gives them “permission” to not be literal. Next, deliberate study of structures of their own language is key, especially contrasting it with structures of the primary source language. Cases where these types of activities are already being done will be presented, and more are encouraged.
Content Language:
target language
source language
rhetorical question
mother-tongue translators
literal translation
implied information
implicit information
figurative language
Subject Languages:
Nature of Work:
pages 49-61
Entry Number:
43 393