Proposed Uses for the Lexham Discourse Resources for SIL Philippines Training

Ron and Donna Schumacher, Translation Coordinators, SIL Philippines

Scope of This Review

Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament Bundle (6 Vols.)Steve Runge, the developer of this program, has asked for a review of the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament and the accompanying Lexham High Definition New Testament: ESV Edition (LDGNT/HDNT) from the perspective of translators and trainers with extensive field experience. As Co-Translation Coordinators of SIL Philippines who are very much involved in training and mentoring translators and translation consultants, and who have become increasingly interested in incorporating features of discourse in our training programs, this review was an intriguing opportunity.

The SIL Philippines’ Need for This Resource

For some time now, we have encouraged translators to make a concerted effort to understand the discourse patterns of the receptor language in which they are working. This includes mother-tongue translators, for whom a comprehensive knowledge of the patterns of their own language can by no means be taken for granted. In recent years SIL Philippines has invited Dr. Stephen Levinsohn and Dr. Carla Bartsch to hold discourse seminars. Many have benefitted from these training opportunities and some of these have applied what they have learned to improve the quality of their translations. Having seen the value of discourse study in Philippine languages, the SIL Philippines Translation Department has instituted a requirement of a significant amount of receptor language discourse study for translation consultant trainees.

However, it is only recently that we have included elements of discourse study of Greek and Hebrew in our training sessions. It’s not that we need to be convinced of the value of this kind of study, but up to this point we have had few trainers who have felt competent in the original languages of scriptures, and we had little in the way of resources to use for training sessions.

The seminars that Dr. Levinsohn has conducted in the Philippines and the materials from him that are now available have been a great help in this regard, but we realize that for various reasons the number of translators and consultants who have been able to benefit from his instruction is limited. Also, we have come to realize that due to time constraints and competing interests, few translators and consultants are going to be able to internalize all the principles he has taught, and take the time and effort to analyze every portion of scripture they are working on from a comprehensive discourse perspective.

We have been hoping for additional resources to come along that would allow translators and consultants to take advantage of the insights of discourse linguistics applied to Greek and Hebrew, and to be able to use the scholarly work of those trained to make competent analyses. After examining the resources found in the LDGNT/HDNT software, we believe that this tool can be a great help for our colleagues in the Philippines and, no doubt, elsewhere in the world of Bible translation.

Overview of the Resource

The CDs that came to us are from LOGOS software. The programs installed easily and were incorporated nicely into the Libronix system that we have been using. We found four resources that comprise this set of helps:

  1. The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament (LDGNT)
    This takes the form of a Greek interlinear with four lines: 1) The Greek, with icons that trigger pop-up annotations, 2) the base form of each Greek word, 3) a grammatical tag for each Greek word, and 4) an English gloss for each Greek word. Clauses are set off in various levels of indentations to indicate prominence features.
  2. The Lexham High Definition New Testament: ESV Edition (HDNT)
    This is the ESV translation with many of the same annotations as in the LDGNT but displayed with somewhat less linguistic terminology. The ESV text is set off in the same prominence display format as in the LDGNT. Windows containing these two resources can be displayed side-by-side and synchronized.
  3. The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament: Introduction
    This file contains an introductory rationale for the system of referencing Greek discourse used in this program. The main part of this file consists of an outline of the discourse categories featured in this resource, with a description and helpful examples for each category.
  4. The Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament: Glossary
    This file lists the outline and a brief description of each category given in #3 above.

(The developer of this software, Steve Runge, maintains an internet blog called “NT Discourse”.)

Potential Uses for this Resource by Bible Translators

The following are ways that we as trainers of translators would anticipate using these resources if they were to become available to Bible translators and consultants in the Philippines:

  1. One of the first steps in the exegetical process is to get the big picture of the portion to be translated. A preliminary glance at the HDNT (ESV with annotations and prominence formatting) and a more comprehensive study of the LDGNT (Greek interlinear with annotations and prominence formatting) would give the translator a good understanding of the basic structure of the pericope, allowing a wiser, more focused concentration on further exegetical research.
  2. In the actual translation drafting process, the HDNT/LDGNT is one of the resources that the translator could have open to ensure that the major discourse emphases are kept in mind. These should then be correlated with the translator’s knowledge of the receptor language (RL) discourse patterns so that the appropriate RL adjustments can be made.
  3. During the translation phase we have called the RSV check (checking for accuracy), the HDNT could be used instead, since the ESV is basically a re-translation of the RSV anyhow, and the added benefit of the discourse annotations would be a bonus.
  4. The consultants who do the final translation check or give advice during the translation process can also use the HDNT/LDGNT resources in their evaluation of translators’ work. Just last week I was able to clarify an exegetical issue in Mark for a translator by referring to the prominence markings given in the displays.
  5. As a training tool for many of the most important discourse features of New Testament Greek, the Introduction to the LDGNT contains an outline and description of the highlighting devices and word-order features. The descriptions are given in clear terminology without a lot of linguistic jargon, and the examples given are very helpful, especially when one also looks it up in context in the HDNT/LDGNT.
  6. In our experience as translation consultants, we find that translators too often simply copy the section headings of whatever version they may be following. By examining the clues found in the prominence formatting and annotations, they will be able to make better decisions on how to indicate thematicity to the readers.

On a personal note, I (Ron) have enjoyed using the HDNT/LDGNT for my own Bible study. I often find myself automatically opening it because I sense that I can more easily determine the theme and major emphases of a section that way.

In summary, we see great potential for the use of the Lexham Discourse system.

Possible Unresolved Issues

Having examined all the advantages, a number of issues still remain unresolved in our minds concerning the use of this resource:

  1. Will translators, particularly mother-tongue translators, really be able to use the HDNT/LDGNT without notes? We are looking forward to the time when exegetical notes would be available, elucidating, in context, the significance of each discourse feature and how it contributes to the overall theme. The developer has indicated a desire to do this but may need encouragement that his efforts in this regard would be time profitably spent.
  2. Will the HDNT/LDGNT displays be seen as a shortcut to obviate translators’ making the effort to study the discourse of the original languages for themselves so that they actually understand it? We hope that translators will still desire to be committed to studying all the discourse features that will be helpful to them, including whatever is available from Dr. Levinsohn and others who are applying discourse principles to Bible translation. A further aid to discourse study, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis by Steve Runge is due to be published soon.
  3. Does HDNT/LDGNT cover all the discourse features translators need to know? It is our understanding that this software package has been designed with pastors and Bible teachers in mind. We think it has good application for translators too, but there are some aspects of discourse that we don’t see addressed here. For example, connectives and other cohesive devices, participant reference, boundary criteria (the current work seems bound to the ESV editorial decisions), narrative plot analysis, and known and unknown information. This is not a criticism of the Lexham Discourse system; it is a plea to translators and consultants to commit themselves to understand which resources are available for each aspect of analysis and to use each appropriately.

© 2008. Used by permission.