My first conscious encounter with translation was the Bible.
As a child, I was given a copy of the so-called “King James Version” (KJV) of the Bible. It was meant as a keepsake, but the archaic English was almost impossible to understand. (Incidentally, for years, I believed that King James had translated it himself, but of course that is not the case. I also thought that it reflected the English used in 1611, but I later learnt that a) the language used in the KJV was already considered archaic in 1611, this was a deliberate stylistic choice, and b) the version most widely circulated in the 20th century is a revised text from 1769 that differs from the 1611 version in around 24,000 places.)
Later, when I started attending Bible study groups as a teenager, my teacher bought me a New International Version (NIV), a modern re-translation, published in 1978. This version didn’t pose any linguistic hurdles, so the only challenge was interpreting the text, understanding the intention of the writer and the lessons being taught. It contained copious footnotes, many of which were translation notes, indicating where there were doubts or discrepancies in understanding the original text, which the general reader may be blissfully oblivious to. Friends jokingly referred to it as the “Nearly Infallible Version”.
Certain members of my study group used the KJV, revering it as the “official translation”. Still others, used the New KJV (published in 1982), and updated version of the KJV considered to be a more accurate translation. A few friends were studying ancient Greek to get “closer” to the original text, believing this was a path to better understanding, i.e., circumventing the translator, their biases and the limits of English to render words that were “untranslatable”.
Some churches I visited relied on the Good New Bible (1966/1976), which uses contemporary English and is easy to read. However, most of my friends called it a “paraphrase” and considered it substandard, despite its huge popularity.
During this time, I grew conscious of the possibility of a multitude of translations of a text – so called “literal” versus “paraphrased” translations, versions intended to convey the meaning of the original words, versions aiming to reflect the style of the original and versions designed to be more accessible to the reader. I was also exposed to a range of opinions concerning the value, accuracy or authenticity of different translations. My experiences of engagement with differing translations, using them to study and to teach, and grappling with the purpose and value of them, have certainly influenced my outlook and methods as a translator.