Translating vs. Interpreting

Today I am watching the movie The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman (interpreter) and Sean Penn (Secret Service). One exchange between them involves a difference of translating and interpreting.

Nicole Kidman had overheard a threat to an African leader. Sean Penn thinks she is not being truthful about it. In their first conversation, they discuss what she heard, and then her opinion about the African leader. She claims that she believes in the UN and what it can achieve. Penn moves the conversation to her views. (The dialog is from memory)

Penn: “Do you want him gone?”

Kidman: “Yes, I want him gone.”

Penn: “So you want him dead.”

Kidman: “No, if I wanted him dead I would have said, ‘dead.’ I did not say ‘dead’ I said ‘gone.’ They are two different things.

Penn: “You want him gone, that means you want him dead.”

Kidman: “If I had wanted him dead, I would have said, ‘dead.’ I did not, I want him ‘gone.’”

Penn: “Now you are playing with words.”

Kidman: “No, I stated what I want to say. Gone, not dead.”

For someone used to living and working in the colloquial aspects of language, Sean Penn’s position seems “normal.” On the other hand, Kidman as a professional translator, Penn is not reflecting what she said and meant.

It makes me think about Bible translators and how this can be a real challenge. Do those who translate understand both aspects, the precision of what needs to be said, in the colloquial language of what is intended? Obviously, this is more than a Source language (i.e. Greek) vs. Target language (English).

The real issue is whether a specific translation into the Target language (English) reflects what an interpreter intends by translating on the fly. Is there a difference? In other words, does Nicole Kidman fit more into the philosophy of NAS and Sean Penn fit into the philosophy of GW or NLT? What’s ironic is the Kidman is the Interpreter but functions more as translator, whereas Penn is functioning as an interpreter. Both think they have it right. And confusion reigns.

Don’t really have any answers, but the dialog was so pertinent to this point of translating and interpreting regarding Biblical texts.


Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

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