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Topic: Translating historical presents (3 Posts)

Message: Translating historical presents
Hi folks, Let's not get into translating every Greek present tense with an English present tense. We have to remember that grammatical tense-forms do not carry the same semantic value (meaning) across languages. If you look at some grammars you'll see that the Greek present tense is often used in narratives to describe past actions (perhaps adding a hint of vividness). The construction is sometimes called the "historic present." This is such a common use of the present tense in Greek that no-one would be confused and think the actions were taking place in the writer's present. So when we translate into English (which doesn't use the present tense this way in written literature) we have to use past-tense verbs in order to convey the sense of the Greek.
Message: Re: Translating historical presents
There is always a risk of incorrectly interpreting the meaning and therefore rendering an incorrect tense in English. Certainly rendering the Greek present tense consistently as the present tense in English would cause the rendering to sound very foreign to English, but since the manuscripts are indeed foreign it may be good if the reader is aware of it and also aware of the way it sounded originally. In other words I believe the best way would be to render as consistently as possible such that the English reader can understand unambiguously the original meaning, whether or not the resulting translation is stilted or strange. In many cases this is not possible, and using multiple ways of translating the same word is necessary, but I believe tense is not one of these. For a good example, when the Greek present tense consistently translated as the English present tense or present continuous tense when the former is impossible (debatable), it would convey to the reader precisely what normal translations cannot, because the reader would be aware of Greek writing style and therefore would not conclude that it only refers to the present time. As evidence that English readers are capable of learning to understand such writings styles, consider "behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" They clearly understand that "takes away" in the present tense is used without connotation of time. I believe that in this way translation can be a much more precise and accurate process, at least from Greek to English, because they are grammatically very similar and English has a wide-enough vocabulary.
Message: Re: Translating historical presents
I find that rendering present tense when it seems otherwise out of place does, even today, have the effect of making the passage more vivid. So why not do it, unless it just makes no sense to read? That's my point of view.