Yahoo reveals the problems of inclusive language in bible translation (accidently).

gender neutral2An article published in Yahoo news last week (and the comments made by Yahoo’s readers) may shed more light on one of the biggest controversies in bible translation than most academic papers on this topic have so far been able to do. There has been a raging debate regarding the use of inclusive language (i.e. language that doesn’t identify gender) in bible translation for almost two decades. Some bible translations, like the TNIV, have adopted many of the same kinds of language choices that Washington state has now adopted, choices like replacing “mankind” with “humankind.” Similar choices have been made in translations like the NLT, NIV 2011, NIVI, CEB, etc… Translators of these versions suggest that “gendered language” is no longer understood by the general public and “inclusive language” must be used if we expect the general public to understand the bibles they read. At the time I read this article, there were nearly eight thousand comments on this yahoo news article made by those who represent a good cross section of the general public and hardly a comment could be found in support of the language changes being foisted on the people of Washington state. Rather than having bible translators tell us how the general public understands “gendered language,” maybe it is time for these bible translators to stop and listen to the opinions of the general public themselves.

Here is the article from Yahoo news:

Washington state gets rid of sexist language

In Washington state, the word “freshman” is out. And “first-year student” is in. In total, 40,000 words have been changed as part of an effort to rid state statutes of gender-biased language.The bill, signed into law earlier in the year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, went into effect this week.

And it was no small task. “This was a much larger effort than I had envisioned. Mankind means man and woman,” Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle told Reuters.

“Fisherman” is now a “fisher.” “Penmanship” is called “handwriting.” And “manhole cover” is, well, still “manhole cover.” Some words don’t have an easy replacement.

Others do: “His” is now “his and hers.” “Clergyman” is now “clergy.” “Journeyman plumber” is now “journey-level plumber,” according to the Daily Mail.

According to Reuters, Washington is the fourth state to officially remove gender-biased language from the law. Others are Florida, North Carolina and Illinois. Nine other states are considering similar gender-neutral laws.

“Words matter,” Liz Watson, a National Women’s Law Center senior adviser, told Reuters. “This is important in changing hearts and minds.”

France recently officially banned the term “mademoiselle” from official documents. The Gallic term means “miss,” and French officials contended it forced women to acknowledge their marital status.

The French also bid adieu to “maiden name,” which they dismissed as “archaic.” They should know: Paris only recently got rid of a law that banned women from wearing pants.

And here is a representative sample of the comments to this article.

“This is a blatant and ridiculous violation of free speech, no matter how you spin it, guess we as Americans are losing both our freedom gradually, and our minds as well.”

“Oh man this is stupid!”

“This state just gets dumber by the day but my husband doesn’t want to move. I regret ever changing my residency to Washington State. Next they’ll come back and say that I cannot be called a wo-man just as most people here say humankind rather than mankind. It is beyond annoying and I am ready to go. This political correctness #$%$ is getting annoying”

“Are they on drugs? The price of gas is going up, unemployment at an all time high , 2 wars going on and a third on the way and this is how they spent their time. A scene from Nero and the fall of Rome”

“What a sad country we have become..Europe is laughing even harder”

“”freshman is out, first year student is in.” whew! it’s been a long hard struggle for justice. finally i’ll be able to sleep tonight”

“Didn’t Orwell predict in “1984” that language would eventually be used as a method of control by a repressive government? “Hate speech” “first year students” etc. etc. etc. When will the state publish the first “NewSpeak” dictionary? Big Brother is watching…and listening too.”

“How freaking stupid can you get? Damned PC BS is gonna sink the language to an abysmal depth!”

“What idiocy! So mankind is now just kind, I suppose?”

“The bill, signed into law earlier in the year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, went into effect this week. Are they also going to rewrite the dictionary?”

“hmm… I never knew that penmanship was a gender specific word”

“What do we call manikins now? Stiff wooden person? That describes the people who come up with this political correct garbage.”

Next time you hear someone argue for the necessity of “inclusive language” in bible translation, it would be good to remember how the largely un-churched public reacts to attempts to force them to use “inclusive language” in everyday life.

 

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Comments

  1. Don L. says:

    This doesn’t show the weakness of inclusive language — only the use of inclusive language that people don’t use. It shows the weakness of prescriptive linguistics over descriptive linguistics.

    The NIV 2011, for example, formed a committee that used Collins Bank of English, a data-base of 4.4 billion words, to study inclusive language usage. The committee found that “ancestors” is almost always preferred to “fathers” and “forefathers,” which was used almost exclusively to the founders of the nation. Yet, the prescriptive linguistics of the Colorado Springs Guidelines insists that “Fathers” should not be changed to “ancestors” (B3).

    So again, the problem is not with inclusive language. The problem is with prescriptive linguistics, whether for inclusive-language, for for masculine language.

    1. Mike Tisdell says:

      I personally think the Colorado Springs Guidelines were a huge mistake. Dobson and (surprisingly) Sproul displayed considerable ignorance about bible translation and knowledge of the original languages when they (and others) drafted those standards. Standards for bible translation should be drafted primarily by those who can actually read the biblical languages and understand the issues involved and I think it was the height of arrogance for standards like these to be drafted primarily by those who have no experience in bible translation. That being said, I have significant concerns about how the CBT has handled this issue. In many ways, they have not demonstrated the integrity that I would expect from a bible translation organization. Here are some of my concerns:

      1) Many of the same arguments about inclusive language were made in support of the TNIV (also a project of the CBT) that are being made in support of the NIV 2011; many of those arguments, like their justification for substituting “humankind” for “mankind,” were later proven to be inaccurate. The CBT has a long history of trying to push the envelope on the inclusive language issue and that history is something that must be considered when evaluating the arguments presented by the CBT.

      2) Even in the NIV 2011 (which does include some corrections to the TNIV) there are still a hand full of verses, like Acts 6:3, that use inclusive language in places where it is doubtful that the author intended them to be inclusive.

      3) Whether it was right or wrong, the CBT did agree to not change the text of the NIV. Publishing their inclusive language changes under the name TNIV, I believe, was a valid way to honor that agreement. However, when that effort failed, republishing a slightly modified version of the TNIV under the NIV name and then revoking the publishing rights of the NIV 1984 was, in my opinion, a significant violation of that agreement and was entirely unethical. In my opinion, the CBT chose to capitalize on the name recognition of the NIV in order to push an agenda that they couldn’t get the public to accept under any other name. Unfortunately, many people do not even realize that the NIV they purchase today is not the same as the NIV they had purchased in the past.

      4) There are a number of places in the NIV 2011 translation that have nothing to do with “inclusive language” that are still very troubling. One example is the translation of Mt. 5:32 that reads more like a commentary then a translation. There is a considerable amount of scholarly debate on the meaning of this verse and, while I happen to agree with the meaning that the NIV 2011 translators have imposed on this verse, I do not believe it is the job of the translator to resolve these kinds of textual questions for their readers. A “study bible” might give this kind of explanation in the included commentary but the text of Scripture should never be changed in a way that deliberately gives weight to one perspective over other equally valid alternatives. In this particular case, I believe the TNIV translation was superior to the update NIV.

      1. Don L. says:

        Hi Mike,

        I think your concerns about the NIV on individual verses are rather minor in the whole scheme of things. Even the Colorado Springs-compliant ESV footnotes Acts 6:3 with “Or brothers and sisters.”

        When all is said and done, the NIV2011, in terms of its gender-language use, is far better than the NIV1984, the TNIV, and the ESV. Wouldn’t you agree?

        1. Mike Tisdell says:

          While I believe that the vast majority of inclusive language choices made in the NIV 2011 are “accurate,” I do believe that most of them are unnecessary. So, no I do not see the NIV 2011 as an improvement over the NIV1984 or the ESV. In many of these cases, the inclusive masculine is still easily understood by the vast majority of English speakers. Also, I am also not very thrilled with the use of plural pronouns in contexts that are singular. I do recognize that this is rapidly becoming an accepted practice in English but I don’t think it is an improvement. While I do understand that someday this change may become so engrained in our language that it will be required, I do not believe that day has already come. I do believe NIV 2011 is an improvement over the TNIV because it backs away from some choices that pushed the envelope even farther. Additionally, while there are only a handful of questionable verses related to questions about the use of “inclusive language,” I think those verses reveal a lot about the theological perspectives of the translators and how far they are willing to push the envelope on this issue. I am very uncomfortable when a translator chooses to resolve questions that are unresolved in the text itself whether they are related to gender or something else.

          Regarding other translation issues, I see the NIV 2011 as a mixed back. There are choices, like the translation of “sarx” as “flesh,” that I believe were a move in the right direction. However there are also a number of other choices, like the example I gave from Matthew that move in the wrong direction. For me, the heart of the issue is the question about whether their translation resolves theological questions for its readers that are largely unresolved among scholars who are studying the original texts; to put it another way, how hard have they tried to avoid sectarian biases in their translation? On this question the new NIV 2011 seems to me to be a very mixed bag i.e. they have fixed some issues where there has been a significant amount of past criticism but they have introduced other new issues that violate the very same principles. I do recognize that it isn’t always possible to produce a translation that is neutral on these kinds of questions but I do believe that it should be a much bigger goal than it apparently was to the translators of the NIV 2011.

          The last issue I have with the NIV 2011, as I stated previously, has nothing to do with the translation itself. The NIV 2011 is really an update to the TNIV, not the NIV; its text is far closer to the text of the TNIV than it is to the NIV. The only reason that the NIV name was chosen was because of its name recognition. While I do not believe that the agreement made by the CBT in regards to the use of the name “NIV” was the wisest or smartest way to handle the issues when the inclusive language debate first exploded, I do think they should have honored that agreement after they made it. They way that the NIV 2011 publication has been handled i.e. adopting the NIV name and revoking all publishing rights to the NIV 1984 seems very heavy handed and unethical to me.

  2. Don L. says:

    You wrote that you don’t see the NIV2011 as an improvement over the NIV1984. But NIV1984 doesn’t even follow the gender-inclusivism that the Colorado Springs guidelines allows. Is “ancestors” not an improvement over “forefathers”? Is “people” for anthropoi not an improvement over “men”? Surely the NIV2011 is an improvement on these. After all, a Bible Translation should seek to be clear, accurate, but also natural, right?

    Your wrote:
    while there are only a handful of questionable verses related to questions about the use of “inclusive language,” I think those verses reveal a lot about the theological perspectives of the translators and how far they are willing to push the envelope on this issue.

    What theological perspectives of the translators are you referring to? The chair and vice-chair of the CBT are both complementarians. Douglas Moo even wrote a prominent article in CBMW’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    1. Mike Tisdell says:

      You wrote: But NIV1984 doesn’t even follow the gender-inclusivism that the Colorado Springs guidelines allows. Is “ancestors” not an improvement over “forefathers”? Is “people” for anthropoi not an improvement over “men”? Surely the NIV2011 is an improvement on these. After all, a Bible Translation should seek to be clear, accurate, but also natural, right?

      I also wrote that I think the Colorado Springs guidelines were a mistake. My personal take is that “ancestors” or “forefathers” are about equal terms. If I were evaluating a translation today, neither term would raise concerns as I believe both terms are still well understood by the general public. I do think that “people” for “anthropoi” is often an improvement because I do believe that there is legitimately some loss of the inclusive masculine in this instance; however, context is CRITICAL in making this determination. The question for me isn’t whether there are any improvements in the NIV 2011, I truly believe that some choices that were made were improvements. One of the most controversial changes in the NIV 2011 is the change made to 1 Ti. 2:12 and it is a change that I believe was a long needed improvement because I believe it more accurately reflects the long history of bible translations than does the rendering in the NIV 1984. However, the real question is whether these improvements out weigh the negatives introduced in the NIV 2011, and I do not believe that the improvements in the NIV 2011 outweigh the negatives introduced in that version.

      Your wrote: What theological perspectives of the translators are you referring to? The chair and vice-chair of the CBT are both complementarians. Douglas Moo even wrote a prominent article in CBMW’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

      A number of those on the CBT committee are very well known advocates for an egalitarian position. For example, Gordon Fee was heavily involved in producing the book “Discovering Biblical Equality” (a book that I have read). To suggest that the input of those who are strongly egalitarian did not influence the CBT decisions on gender related translation issues seems to me to be quite imaginative. I think that the NIV 2011 translation of Mt. 5:32 gives some insight into the influence that each committee member brings i.e. this verse reflects an argument that has been presented by Instone-Brewer for many years now. He was recently added to the CBT and now the NIV 2011 translation amends this verse according to Instone-Brewer’s perspective. That seem to me to be much more than a coincidence. Instone Brewer also argues for an egalitarian position as well. Yes, I do believe that a translator’s theological perspectives do influence their translation and there is much more freedom to express those biases as one moves towards a more functional equivalent translation methodology as has been done in the NIV 2011.