Translating Genesis: figures of speech

Figures of speech are used in many kinds of texts, including legal texts. The late Justice Scalia saw “speech” and “press” in the First Amendment as “a sort of synecdoche” (p. 38 here ). And several phrases in the Constitution, including “necessary and proper” and “cruel and unusual” are best seen as instances of hendiadys . Figures of speech are also pervasive in the Book of Genesis. This is the sixth post in a series on “Genesis 1–11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators.” Here, I’ll discuss some figures of speech in these chapters and how they affect the decisions of a translator. First, there are several instances of synecdoche and merismus. In synecdoche, a part stands for the whole. A variant of synecdoche is merismus, in which there are two contrasting parts, often polar opposites, that stand for the whole (e.g., “the heavens and the earth,” “day and night”). I’ll give one example that affects translation. As discussed in an earlier post , in Genesis 1:11 most translations have “vegetation,” but this one has the more specific and more exact “green shoots.” Recognizing the figure of speech synecdoche, a translator can let the specificity of […]

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