By T. David Gordon, 1985.
While not everyone who drives an automobile needs to understand the theory behind the internal combustion engine, someone does need to know this theory. I may be able to drive my Pontiac without any knowledge of internal combustion engines, until the Pontiac breaks down. Then, I must find someone (presumably a mechanic) who does in fact know enough theory to get the Pontiac running again. The same is true of translation theory. It is not necessary for everyone to know translation theory, nor is it even necessary for pastors and teachers to know everything about translation theory. It is necessary for pastors and teachers in the American church at the end of the twentieth century to know something about translation theory, for two reasons. First, it will affect the way we interpret the Bible for our people. If we are completely unaware of translation theory, we may unwittingly mislead our brothers and sisters in our interpretation. Second, there are so many English translations available, that no contemporary pastor will be able to escape the inevitable questions about which translations are superior. It is not my intention to provide anything like an exhaustive approach to either translation theory or semantic theory (relax, I'll define this word later). Rather, I intend to discuss briefly the more important observations, which may be useful to the pastoral ministry. 1. Communication has three parties.
Translation theory shares a number of concerns with what is commonly called communication theory. Perhaps the most important observation which the communication theorists have produced for translators is the recognition that every act of communication has three dimensions: Speaker (or author), Message, and Audience. The more we can know about the original author, the actual message produced by that author, and the original audience, the better acquainted we will be with that particular act of communication. An awareness of this tri-partite character of communication can be very useful for interpreters. Assuming that an act of communication is right now taking place, as you read what I wrote, there are three dimensions to this particular act of communication: myself, and what I am intending to communicate; the actual words which are on this page; and what you understand me to be saying. When the three dimensions converge, the communication has been efficient. If we know, perhaps from another source, what an individual author's circumstances are, this may help us understand the actual message produced. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letters from Prison" are better understood by someone who knows the circumstances under which they were written rather than by someone who is oblivious to mid-20th century American history. If we know information about the author's audience, this may also help us to understand the message itself. John Kennedy's famous, "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech is better understood if one understands the apprehensions which many West German citizens had about American foreign policy during the early 1960s (and, knowing the audience was German may help explain why he did not speak this sentence in English!). Recognizing that in addition to the message itself, there are the two other components of author and audience, the interpreter attempts to uncover as much information as possible about the author and audience. This is why biblical scholars spend so much time attempting to locate the circumstances of a given epistle; they are trying to discover information about author and audience, which will help complete the understanding of the particular act of communication represented by the message. At this point, an important warning needs to be expressed. For students of literature whose original audience and author are not present (i.e., dead), we only have direct access to one of the three parties in the communicative process: the message itself. Whereas we would be...
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