Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is Translating Understanding?

In first year (or even later) Greek courses it is often assumed that if you can translate a Greek phrase or sentence into English, then you understand what the Greek sentence means. This, however, is simply not the case. Just because someone can provide an English gloss for each word in the Greek text does not mean that they understand all (or even most) that is going on in the orignal text. Mois├ęs Silva in a chapter discussing the detailed debate over the use of the Greek verbal tenses, A Response to Fanning and Porter on Verbal Aspect, reminds us of this fact.
We have traditionally assumed that learning Greek means being able to translate, but that is really mixing apples and oranges. If you want to become proficient in Italian, you go to Italy, hear and imitate the spoken language even as you learn to read it, and never once produce a written English translation of anything. Of course, since Greek is an ancient language, we are virtually obligated to rely on translation, but it remains true that being able to translate is a very distinct skill from learning a language (p. 76). 
This is a reminder that just because a person can provide English "equivalence" to different Greek words, does not mean they understand the original text. After all, if all it took to understand the orignal Greek text were English glosses, then by simply looking at an English Bible (or Greek-English interlinear) a person would understand the Greek text. And, as should be apparent, this is simply not the case!

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