Stylistic equivalent translation

Posted: 21st August 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has posted a new series of posts comparing the opening verses of Psalm 1 from contemporary formal (ESV) and functional (NLT) translation approaches, as well as his own rendering, which he labels as a Stylistic Equivalent (SE) translation:

For summary sake, the following table presents the basic texts that John is working with:


1:1 Oh, the joys of those who do not

follow the advice of the wicked,

or stand around with sinners,

or join in with mockers.

1:2 But they delight in the law of the LORD,

meditating on it day and night.

1:1 Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

1:1 Happy the one

who has not walked

in advice of the wicked,

and has not stood

in the way of villains,

and has not sat

in the seat of scoffers,

1:2 rather, his pleasure is in יהוה’s instruction,

and he recites that instruction

day and night.

Stylistic Equivalency seems to be the latest iteration of a concept that’s been bandied about numerous times in blogdom – flavors of which were previously discussed here and elsewhere as “literary equivalency“, though ultimately I seem to recall that the LE term ended up being clarified as Dynamic Equivalancy executed at literary levels that hewed to those of the original texts, rather than the flat simplified texts that are currently representative of this approach.

John hedges his translation and commentary with the admission that “the ideal reader of an SE [translation is] someone who is thoroughly conversant with the parent text”, meaning the original Hebrew. The critical difference between LE and SE, as far as I understand it, is that the former would/could/should be fully presented in idiomatic English without recourse to understanding the Greek and Hebrew, while SE is essentially English for the person who knows the underlying Hebrew and Greek.

To that end, I wonder if SE is an idealized presentation of formal translation, just as LE was an idealized form of functional/dynamic translation, especially since the goal of formal translations like the NASB and ESV is to get the reader closer to the original languages.

It would be interesting to get more of John’s thoughts on how he views the differences and similarities of SE vs. formal translation.

  1. John Hobbins says:

    I didn’t intend to make a distinction between LE and SE translation technique. The fact is, in my own translation, I try to avoid weird word order and odd syntax (a typical DE concern) combined with an attention to preserving semantic detail and metaphor (typical FE strengths). In any case, I’m more interested in substance rather than labels. What about my translation? What does someone take away from it if (1) they don’t know Hebrew, (2) they don’t know Biblish, or (3) they don’t know the Bible pretty well already?

  2. Honestly, John – I thought your translation was perfectly readable (and understandable) as modern English for someone who is willing to think in word images as part of a “fuller intellectual engagement”, as you recently wrote, rather than woodenly read the literal words on the page.

    I really like your “walked:stood:sat” verb progression; it forces the reader to contrast the change in physical activity with the “rhetorical crescendo”, whereas the ESV and NLT flatten the verbs and lose the effect. Even worse the HCSB:

    1:1 How happy is the man
    who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
    or take the path of sinners,
    or join a group of mockers!
    1:2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
    and he meditates on it day and night.

    Finally, for the sheer sake of diversity, I’ll add another modern translation to the mix, that of Calvin Seerveld:

    1:1 That man or woman is a happy one
    who does not practice the clever thought habits of godless people,
    who does not go stand around the way sinners do,
    or sit down with mocking, scoffing company.
    1:2 That man or woman is a happy one
    whose pastime rather is the torah of the Lord,
    who ruminates on the torah of the Lord day and night.