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Gramps,

I am questioning the use of certain English terms the Church has introduced in areas where members speak another language. An example of that is the word “garment” which we, speakers of Spanish, use. “Vestidura” is the term used in Exodus 28:4. 1Nephi 4:19 uses “garments” which was translated as “ropa” (clothing) in Spanish. In my opinion, there is no need to introduce foreign terms (barbarisms) when a language has an appropriate word to use. Thanks in advance for your reply.

Norma

 

Answer

 

Norma,

Thank you for asking about how the message of the gospel translates into other languages.  You are absolutely correct that the introduction of foreign words into a language, when a translated word is adequate, is unnecessary. But sometimes the nuances of a particular word, whether connotative or denotative, is just incorrect.  In fact, most words of the gospel do not translate very easily.  That is why we have the differences in the interpretations of the Bible that we have today.

To truly understand both languages AND understand the subtle differences in meanings of every word that can be translated is no small feat.  This difficulty is multiplied when the words used also signify gospel-specific concepts which may not be fully understood by translators throughout the centuries.  The example you give is representative of all these difficulties in translation.

The word “garment” was as commonly used as the word “clothing” in English until recent decades.  The difference used to be that “clothing” was more often used to describe what a person was wearing.  Today the word is used to describe the article of clothing itself rather than the wearing of it.  So a better translation would be prenda.  To use it to refer to the temple garment would simply be incorrect.  Remember, that which we call “garments” are in reality “The Garment of the Holy Priesthood”.  To apply the term prenda would be, in my mind, disrespectful.

Vestidura has multiple meanings and connotations. As used in Exodus, it specifically referred to the outer religious investiture of a priest performing his ceremonial functions.  The word “investiture” or “vestments” is actually a better translation to English than garment.  But “garment” was appropriate at the time the King James Bible was written. And vestidura is the appropriate Spanish word for that context.

Then we also have to deal with changing definitions and meaning over time.  In Joseph’s time, the word “garment” was just as common and neutral a word as clothing.  But it was the preferred scriptural word.  And there was no better word available in English to describe the “garment of the Holy Priesthood”.  Today it is a less used word and has an air of unfamiliarity to it that helps us remember it is something special.  Prenda may have a very similar effect.  But it simply isn’t the same as “garment” of the Holy Priesthood.  Many countries don’t even use this word.  While this provides the unfamiliarity aspect as we have in English, it doesn’t have the Biblical history behind it.  So, even that word is not correct.

This also brings us to the comparisons in usage of these words in various Spanish speaking countries where the usage may be different.  Can we really translate a word such as this to satisfy all the different meanings in all the countries where Spanish is spoken? I mean, I don’t know what language they speak in England.  But it isn’t English.

The word used in 1 Ne 4:19 was appropriately translated as “ropa” because it referred to simple clothing, not the temple garment.  But to translate the temple garment as ropa would simply be wrong.  The feeling simply isn’t there.  How would you differentiate that from the outer temple clothing we wear?  We could call that “vestments” or vestidura I suppose.  But that also invokes unintended meanings since both “vestments” and vestidura tend to refer to the outer clothing.  The differing words differentiate the clothing Nephi took from Laban as opposed to a notion that Nephi took Laban’s temple garments from him – this would be a very different meaning.

The Church recognizes these difficulties and endeavors to use accomplished translators who are well versed in language and gospel concepts to address the usage of terms such as this.  I’d ask you to look at the experience of Brother Eduardo Balderas and Elder Antoine Ivins in their efforts to translate various church manuals.  It is a task that such translators take very seriously and with much prayer.  Often this will result in translations that are quite agreeable to most parties.  Other times, it results in the use of barbarisms (aka transliterations in this case).  Have you ever wondered why Liahona was not simply translated as “compass” or why Deseret was not simply translated as “honey bee”?

It is important to remember that when we’re translating unusual concepts from one language to another, having to take into account all the linguistic subtleties is not only difficult; it is often a matter of opinion.  And I thank you for sharing yours.

 

Gramps

 

 

 

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