Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Irish Factor in the Translation Wars

Note: The U.S. Catholic bishops voted to adopt with numerous amendments the translation of the mass proposed by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. Amy Welborn explains the issues well. The NCR has a rather unfriendly editorial on the subject.

Let’s say you are a church bureaucrat. You don’t like the new international translation of the mass. You want to influence your bishop against it. What do you whisper in his ear?

First, you tell him that those meddlesome bureaucrats in Rome are trying to tell him and his fellow American bishops how to translate the mass. You could also tell him that it is that pope isolated in the Vatican that is the problem. But you better know your audience before trying any such risky tactics. Of course, if you have been managing your boss well, he would never think of you as a meddlesome bureaucrat.

Second, remind him of how mad the folks in the pews got when all the changes in the mass were made thirty five years ago. He will not want to repeat that again! Of course, couch it in terms of his pastoral concern for his flock. Don’t remind him that you (and maybe he) were on the side of the bureaucrats who made a hash of the original translation in the first place.

Third, and this is the ultimate winner, tell him that the new translation is “so very British!” The American hierarchy traditionally was dominated by the Irish and their descendants. Like the old political bosses, the sons of the old sod had the advantage of language in an immigrant church and they were excellent infighters in ecclesiastical politics. The odds are still good that any given bishop is at least partly of Irish descent. The one thing they all have in common is a dislike for the British.

Moreover the English have a way with their native language. Perhaps theirs is an unfair advantage, but that advantage is wont to create an unconscious inferiority among some Americans.

Consider these remarks about the new translation by the Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, Robert N. Lynch (a fine Irish name that): “The text is highly anglicized (that is to say, replete with words more likely heard spoken in England than the United States), somewhat wordy when compared to common parlance in the U.S., and also occasionally inconsistent in the application of the principles of translation.”

This is odd. From what I have seen of the new translation, there is nothing particularly British about it. True, it is not written in standard American bureaucratic English. Deo gratias! You do not know what I mean? Consider Bishop Lynch’s next two sentences: “We made some minor changes or amendments to the text, which other countries will not use, even if they are ultimately approved by the Holy See. But in answer to the question where will this text be used, the answer would not be inappropriate to say throughout the English-speaking world.” If this style is the alternative to “highly anglicized” English, I’ll take the latter. You can read all of the good bishop’s letter on the web.

Do tell me if I have done him any injustice.

[Originally posted 7-2-06, republished 7-20-06]

No comments: