Back in those high school classes, we used to recite little practice dialogues, like this one related to time.
¿Qué hora es?Son las ocho menos cuarto.
A very literal translation of that dialogue would be:
What hour is [it]?They are the eight minus [a] quarter.
While the Spanish is perfectly acceptable, the English is not so great. This is because Spanish has different idioms for time-telling than English. Put on your translator’s hat and think for a moment about how you would render that dialogue into good English.
While I think that the question “¿Qué hora es?” would almost universally be translated as “What time is it?” several options present themselves for the reply “Son las ocho menos cuarto.”
It is seven forty-five.It’s a quarter of eight.It’s quarter to eight.
Or, where I grew up:
In each case, the basic meaning of the reply is unchanged. How is a translator to choose among these possibilities? Context might be a guide. Formal writing has different requirements than informal speech. If the dialogue is spoken, who is the speaker? Would a BBC broadcaster reply in the same way as a Jersey Shore cast member?
One reason that we have so many English versions of the Bible is that there are so many ways a given word or phrase can be translated. Here, for comparison, is 2 Corinthians 5:16 in four translations. Each has something to commend it:
New King James Version
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
New International Version
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
New Revised Standard Version
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
Common English Bible
So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now.
Does one of these translations speak to you more clearly than the others? Is there another translation that you like better? If so, why?
The illustration is Salvador Dali's 1954 painting Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion. I chose it because Dali is Spanish and it's about time and...well...I just think it's cool, that's all.