Dynamic Equivalence re-visited

With the news of Eugene Nida’s passing, it’s worth revisiting the single biggest contribution of his thinking to the field of Bible translation.

Nida proposed that the basis of translation should be to replicate the meaning of the original and not necessarily the wording.

Dynamic equivalence (also known as functional equivalence) attempts to convey the thought expressed in a source text (if necessary, at the expense of literalness, original word order, the source text’s grammatical voice, etc.), while formal equivalence attempts to render the text word-for-word (if necessary, at the expense of natural expression in the target language). The two approaches represent emphasis, respectively, on readability and on literal fidelity to the source text. There is no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. Broadly, the two represent a spectrum of translation approaches. (Wikipedia Dynamic and formal equivalence)

The idea of translating “the thought” behind a text rather than something more literally reflecting the wording of the original has been controversial since the time Nida first proposed it — not helped by an unfortunate choice of name. Presumably the dynamic part refers to the fact that more natural sounding translations are more emotionally engaging. Witness the popularity of The Message. Nida, himself, moved toward a more neutral terminology in response to controversy, re-labeling his approach function equivalence.

To many of us in the linguistics business the uproar makes little sense. After all, simultaneous translators translate functional equivalents all the time. Ditto the translators who deal with government and business documents. Anyone who seriously attempted a formal equivalence translation in such contexts would be fired by the end of the day.

And ditto, BTW, literary translators. Where there are bilinguals around to judge, it’s the meaning of the text, not its form that is the bottom line in the translation business. Literary translators get bonus points if they can find ways to mimic the form without sacrificing the meaning.

Why, then, did Nida get all the flak?

In large part, I’d say, because functional equivalence is really, really hard to define. It’s a lot like obscenity was to Justice Potter Stewart.

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. (Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers (Les Amants), a French film about adultery and the rediscovery of love. 1964)

Too often what passes for functional equivalence (like, say, The Message) overshoots the mark — sometimes quite considerably. On the low end of intrusion into the text Peterson makes the Bible sound slangy, and that’s not what the Greek reads like. On the high end he reads a lot of his theology back into the text. (But then that’s nothing new for the English Bible translation game.)

The missing piece of what functional equivalence is supposed to be is something that every linguist absorbs as part of his (her) training, but which is never really made explicit. There is a difference between the meanings of the words individually and the only slightly more abstract meanings that people understand when phrases and sentences are made up of those words. Formal semanticists stand on their heads trying to account for such differences. Cognitivists delight in pointing out the difficult cases that the formalists’ theories can’t handle. But the operative expression here is “slightly more abstract”. Functional equivalents might be worded in dramatically different ways, but in context the meanings have to be very close — if not absolutely identical.

Here’s a example from a recent comic strip that will help highlight the difference between the thing said and the meaning intended.

Wanda (the mother) intended that Hammie (the son) take a bath, but she said it in such a way that it required more cooperation in the communicative exchange than Hammie was ready to give. Here’s how it works:

Taking a bath is a complex frame, in this case it consists primarily of an action chain.

1) One fills the tub with water (and assures that the various soaps and shampoos are readily available).
2) One undresses,
3) gets in the tub,
4) uses the soap and shampoo to get oneself clean,
5) rinses oneself off,
6) gets out of the tub,
7) dries oneself off, and
8) gets dressed again (presumably in clean clothes).

Generally, this action chain is referred to as a whole by saying take a bath. But that’s not the only way to accomplish that communicative end. Wanda referred to one step in the action chain — the most salient step — and assumed a cooperative listener would provide the rest of the action chain by inference.

As is often the case failures give us the most insight into the way language works in general. Relative to the amount of information actually communicated, the amount of information conveyed is small. An important part of knowing a language is knowing how speakers of that language refer to a particular knowledge complex. Normally such reference is made at phrase or even sentence level not word by word.

Let’s take a Biblical example.

Throughout Scripture there are references to people who acted without regard for their own safety for someone else’s benefit, or for some higher cause. There are several expressions used in the NT to express this notion, but there is a common English expression to refer to that class of scenario, it is the word risk. Risk is a relatively new word in English. We got it from the French around the end of the 17th century, but it has become the standard way to express this idea now. In fact, attempting to express this meaning without using the word risk, risks misunderstanding.

It’s worth noting that that fact was not lost on the RSV translation team, as shown by the differences between the 1946 RSV translations (continued in the 2001 ESV) and the 1611 KJV and the 1901 ASV.

ἀνθρώποις παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Acts 15:26)

‘Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’(KJV)
‘Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’(ASV)
‘men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (RSV)
‘men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (ESV)

οἵτινες ὑπὲρ τῆς ψυχῆς μου τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν (Rom 16:4)

‘… Who have for my life laid down their own necks, …’ (KJV)
‘… who for my life laid down their own necks; …’ (ASV)
‘… who risked their necks for my life, …’ (RSV)
‘… who risked their necks for my life, …’ (ESV)

ὅτι διὰ τὸ ἔργον Χριστοῦ μέχρι θανάτου ἤγγισεν, παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῇ ἵνα ἀναπληρώσῃ τὸ ὑμῶν ὑστέρημα τῆς πρός με λειτουργίας. (Phil. 2:30)

‘Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.’ (KJV)
‘because for the work of Christ he came nigh unto death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.’ (ASV)
‘for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me.’ (RSV)
‘For he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.’ (ESV)

The Greek expressions are like the indirect reference in the cartoon above, they refer to part of the scenario to express the meaning of the whole.

παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν  lit. ‘handing over his life’
τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν lit. ‘they have laid down their necks’
παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῇ lit. ‘making a throw with one’s life’

The difference between the indirect expressions in Koine and the direct expressions in the RSV demonstrates the proper application of functional equivalence. Between the time of the KJV (1611) and the RSV (1946) there was a shift in English usage making the word risk all but obligatory for referring to scenarios of risk.[1] That shift made expressions with risk the functional equivalent of the various Koine expressions.

That’s functional equivalence — née dynamic equivalence — properly understood.

[1] The ASV was behind the curve. Risk was already in wide use by the end of the 19th century.

76 Comments

  1. Posted August 30, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your post. You mentioned Peterson “reads a lot of this theology back into the text”. I’m interested in what you mean by that, could you give some examples?
    Thanks, Donna

  2. Posted August 30, 2011 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    taking a bath can also mean losing your shirt

    but thanks for the definitions. I am slogging my way through Venuti and I see that dynamic equivalence has more political baggage than the idea of ‘natural’ can bare. Sorry bear, lift up. Venuti makes clear that both naturalness and foreignness can impact the host language – whether they are done for good or not so good purposes (e.g. nationalism).

    What did I need today? I grew up with KJV, knew it has some problems, couldn’t stand the colloquial translations, so dug in myself – just to see how may decisions there are.

    Whatever my prejudices, I suspect DE works better with prose than poetry.

    I had a bath and lost my shirt in the psalms a – the whole thing is a cleansing experience (sometimes painful). Don’t know if I can wear my rags anymore.

  3. Posted August 30, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I’m on the dynamic side generally. My all around recommendation is the REB.

    That being said I get what the flak is about:

    1) The more important the document the more important the exact wording. For example the US constitution specific phrasal structure and word choice is assigned tremendous importance, and that is a document for which the debate history and positions are known and heavily propagated. It would be difficult to imagine that any translation of the US constitution could capture the nuances that lead to the debate over the 2nd amendment, or the full faith clause between states.

    2) Dynamic translation frequently do not attempt to capture meaning but rather capture primary meaning . The bible is a collection of diverse books from radically different cultures. Most people do not read books from radically different cultures ever. Students no longer read the great Greek and Latin poets as part of their education at all. They certainly don’t do so in a context where detailed understanding matters. Most people rarely read literary forms like poetry and deeply metaphorical works in their own languages and culture and would have difficulty. There are no good ways to translate many concepts from the bible because American English doesn’t have the same concepts. A translation that does not engage in transculturation would demand an extensive study bible just to be read and even if it were read it would still over the head of the vast majority of readers.

    Dynamic translations frequently aim to reduce the reading level of the bible, and certainly don’t aim for the reading level required for crossing cultural boundaries. So they
    a) Translate between cultures
    b) Change literary genre

    3) The bible is ambiguous but viewed as clear. Theologically there is a belief that the bible is perspicacious. Empirical what we see is a book consistent with a highly ambiguous and/or contradictory book. A translator usually akes the bible clear where it is not.

    4) Everyday speech doesn’t sound holy Mormons have a notion of “the language of prayer”, they use a “Jacobin English” as part of their own prayer life to elevate their own statements. Up until recently Catholics used Latin and and KJV still plays that role where it is used. Fundamentally holyness and easy understandability may conflict. This is why I generally recommend that liturgical and everyday bibles be separated.

    5) Continuing on this theme, clear understand of the bible makes inerrancy a very hard doctrine to support. The bible says the ridiculous, at least on the surface. The Genesis 1 creations story is about the creation of a flat earth floating on the deep ocean with a dome on which the stars are attached above which sits the water for rain. The first 3rd of the bible has sizes for battles, armies and populations that are indefensible. Quite simple the more clear the bible the less elevated it sounds. This is actually a special case of the cultural problem but a deep one.

    6) Dynamic translation, and really retranslation at all, is associated with missionary religions / sects. For example in America the 4th great awakening where Evangelicals moved tens of millions out of mainline denominations into evangelical churches. Generally non missionary religions can allow their biblical culture to be quite sophisticated and the barriers to understanding to be high since they can employ considerable education. Missionary cultures create opposition.

    7) Dynamic translations empower the laity at the expense of church leadership. Particularly since they often come from rival sources.

    8) New translations often exist to clarify theologies. This applies to all translations but since the only major new theology associated with a formal translation is new-calvinism/ESV this is still mostly associated with dynamic translations. The best way to see this is read a dynamic translation from a church you don’t belong to. The ClearWord is my favorite example for Evangelicals.

    9) America is undergoing a left/right culture war. We simply aren’t united on what is good. So all these cultural decisions are taking place in the context of a divided politics.

    10) Churches are semi-connected which maximizes criticism. That is to say 2 random churches in the US don’t generally belong to the same hierarchy, in fact quite likely nowadays at least one won’t belong to a hierarchy at all. But there is some level of connection, Americans don’t see themselves as living in a world of 200+ totally distinct religions. So the para-church organizations that create translations and the churches and individuals that buy translations can be influenced by each other’s statements. Criticism of translation works as a way to discuss theology across church boundaries.

    And I could keep going but I’ll stop at 10 for now.

  4. Nemo
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    “Where there are bilinguals around to judge, it’s the
    meaning of the text, not its form that is the bottom
    line in the translation business.”

    There’s a false dichotomy here, between form and meaning. Because form is meaningful.

    > Why, then, did Nida get all the flak?

    Because it was painfully obvious to the “bilinguals” in this case (biblical scholars) that his theory could not deliver the equivalence it promised. Certain linguists continue to be fascinated by the theory. But its failure has always been obvious to theologicans and biblical scholars.

  5. Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    Nemo, could you give us an example or two that illustrate your point that “form is meaningful”?

  6. Posted August 31, 2011 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    CD,

    I really like your comment because, as usual, you draw the discussion of Bible translation into the larger arena of religious and cultural politics, in the good and bad senses of those terms. Those are questions that are dear to my heart, and they were to Nida in all sorts of ways. The impact of Nida (an American Baptist, a faith tradition which has contributed to the common good of Christianity in almost inverse proportion to its numerical strength – on modern evangelical Christianity and beyond can hardly be overestimated. Nida was the keynote speaker of Urbana (of InterVarsity fame) in 1951 and 1961 and was instrumental in encouraging a number of then young people to offer up their lives as a living sacrifice in the name of Jesus Christ (I choose my diction carefully: see below).

    On the other hand, I vehemently disagree with many of your assertions, and feel you overlook key aspects and key components of the religious and political scene. The only reason I will not pursue the issues here is that dust and pillows and worse would fill the air very quickly, and our BBB hosts would not be amused. If you want, we can talk about these matters on my blog.

    Rich,

    Thank you for a delightful post as usual. The examples you choose are of great interest, in particular, from my point of view, because of a phenomenon that merits careful study: the creation of concordance in the work of translation across passages that in the source text are relatively disparate.

    You know me by now. I read the New Testament through the lens of the Old and the Old through the lens of the New and I consider it essential that a translation of the Bible bring out those connections as far as possible.

    I am interested in concordance in a way that some literary translators are, but you are not.

    Moreover, very few modern translators of the Bible have expressions and turns of phrases and metaphors typical of biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in their RAM, which means I have few informed conversation partners
    with whom to hash out the issues.

    Excuse me then, if I re-examine your examples on that basis, rather on the basis of the ways in which translations like RSV and ESV – and Nida in his Good News Bible! – were revising KJV rather than beginning all over again with the sources and with source language. After all, the tendency of virtually all modern English translations to revise KJV rather than translate afresh is the main reason why those same translations have “risk” across the three passages you cite.

    My starting point would be any of a number of *OT* passages. Here is one which ought to put one on the edge of one’s seat if the goal is to translate Acts 15:25 canonically; a part of Daniel 3:28 (part of 3:95 for those of us who read our Old Testament in the Septuagint: Prots don’t know what they are missing by not reading Daniel in the Old Greek or Theodotion; I honestly don’t think Prots have much chance of understanding vast stretches of metalepsis in the diction of the NT if they don’t).

    In honor of your love and my love of simultaneous translation, here is a simultaneous translation of the relevant Aramaic.

    They flouted the king’s own command and offered up (lit., gave) their bodies to be burned because they would not serve and would not bow down to any god but their own god.

    The Aramaic uses a common workhorse verb in the operative expression – let’s call it GIVE – that is impossible to map one-to-one from one language to the next. By the way, there is no “to be burned” in the Aramaic, but when one simultaneously translates GIVE as “give up” or more idiomatically as “offer up,” an explanatory phrase become necessary following.

    Now, even if you don’t have any Hebrew or Aramaic in your bones, you will appreciate, Rich, OG Daniel 3:95 (Theodotion is similar, if a bit more literal):

    τὴν γὰρ προσταγὴν τοῦ βασιλέως ἠθέτησαν καὶ παρέδωκαν τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν εἰς ἐμπυρισμόν, ἵνα μὴ λατρεύσωσι μηδὲ προσκυνήσωσι θεῷ ἑτέρῳ ἀλλ̓ ἢ τῷ θεῷ αὐτῶν,
    Septuaginta: Stuttgart : Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1996, c1979, S. Da 3:28 [sic]

    So GIVE in the biblish Greek of the New Testament became, specifically in “martyr” texts, paradidomai. This verb and its complements “speak” in a poignant way in the New Testament, precisely in “martyrdom” texts. The semantic centrifuge is almost inevitably lost in translation. Verbal concordance cannot always be maintained across languages but that is also a defect in this case, because the concordance is *also on the level of thought.* Let’s be honest here.

    And here the Good News Bible shines, Jesus shines, whereas ESV fails miserably. GNB, Nida’s great gift to Christianity, reads as follows across the relevant passages:

    τὴν γὰρ προσταγὴν τοῦ βασιλέως ἠθέτησαν καὶ παρέδωκαν τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν, ἵνα μὴ λατρεύσωσι μηδὲ προσκυνήσωσι θεῷ ἑτέρῳ ἀλλ̓ ἢ τῷ θεῷ αὐτῶν [trying to be helpful here for my non-Aramaist friends] ->

    They [Shadrach and company] disobeyed my orders and risked their lives rather than bow down and worship any god except their own. (from Dan 3:28)

    ἀνθρώποις παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ->

    [Paul and Barnabas] who have risked their lives in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 15:26)

    On the one hand, some of us, myself included, find GNB’s fast and loose attitude to the diction of the source texts unacceptable – how dare GNB, for example, eliminate the reference to “the name” of our Lord Jesus Christ in Acts; how dare GNB eliminate the use of the third person in Daniel, so typical of court register, with the king speaking about himself in the third person, now leveled, and misleadingly, into the language of the common man – but note the concordance in key concept by use of “risk one’s life” in both instances, not to mention the other two passages you quote, all of which are joined at the hip in terms of theological locus (witness, martyrdom) and deep semantic structure.

    This is DE at its best, and we all owe Nida a huge debt of gratitude for that reason.

    Note how ESV fails across these passages:

    and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Dan 3:28)

    men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:26)

    I’m sorry: translation FAIL. But I am applying a criterion that is important to a subset of literary translators, and those like me (CD’s favorite opponents) who regard the Bible as verbally inspired – not to people who think the thoughts but not the words of Scripture matter. The criterion I apply is of course irrelevant to simultaneous translators, who are not employed anyway to translated “constitutional” texts, the genre to which the Bible belongs.

    On a side note, note how TNIV, NIV 2011, and ESV correctly translate anthropois with “men” in Acts 15:26. But GNB is also correct, so long as one believes that Acts was written in everyday Greek (I don’t), since “men” in everyday English is otiose in a context of this kind.

  7. Posted August 31, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    A further note.

    Someone who thinks the thoughts but not the words of Scripture – or translates as if she thought so – might want to re-examine her assumptions and rethink some of the basic findings of linguistics, beginning with de Saussure.

    Precisely because words do not have meanings, but meanings have words, the words matter, very very much. In them resides the “added value.”

  8. Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    Hi Rich,

    Did Eugene Nida really retreat from using Dynamic and move forward to using Functional as a more “neutral” and less political term?

    Here, he’s quoted in his own words, where he uses the two terms somewhat interchangably, as he’s defining pretty well what he means:

    http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/08/dynamic-un-equivalence-nida-v-pike.html

  9. Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    Seems the trackback to BBBB posts are censored? I do see you have BBBB on the blogroll, however. If you’ll allow this comment, I just want to link to a place where anyone who wants to may discuss off-topic or marginally-relevant things. For example, I’ve mentioned gender neutrality as a formal equivalence translation or is it a functional equivalence translation of the first phrase of Acts 15:26 —

    http://betterbetterbibles.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/dynamic-equivalence-re-visited/

  10. Rich Rhodes
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Donna,

    A really clear example theology informing translation in The Message is found in 2 Cor 3, where Peterson uses the term government to translate διακονία. The Greek word refers to fulfillment of duty or taking care of the needs of others, i.e., service. The Law of Moses was seen as a duty to be fulfilled, hence, a διακονία. To call it government based on association with the notion of law, given the implications that entails, is re-writing Scripture according to a particular theology — one that I personally find very troubling. (Note that he gets διακονία pretty much right in Acts 6:1.) If Paul really meant law, like laws that govern, he’d have used the word νόμος, like he did elsewhere.

  11. Rich Rhodes
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    Nemo,

    Do you really believe that Biblical scholars have native competence in Biblical languages?

    Being able to read fluently is still miles away from native competence.

    For example, one of my fellow deans here at Berkeley is a leading classical Greek scholar. He teaches Greek composition. (The students have to show competence in production.) He can pick up any piece of ancient Greek and read it instantly at sight, including stelae that an archeologist has just dug up. (I doubt there are many Biblical scholars with that degree of competence.) I have often tried to use him as a I would any native informant, and he just doesn’t have the kinds of intuitions native speakers have. (He’s not the only high end classical Greek scholar I’ve tried this on, BTW.)

    It’s just not the same. They don’t have what native speakers have. The part of Greek they have the least intuitive sense about is the thing that John calls the “added value” of words. (Linguists call it the framing.)

    There are techniques I use as a linguist to get at the framing (and sometimes even a misunderstood reference). (Give me a big enough corpus, and I can tell you all sorts of subtle stuff.) I was delighted to discover that when I ask this Greek scholar the probing kinds of questions linguists ask, he goes and uses EXACTLY my techniques, i.e., what a linguist does in a language he/she doesn’t know natively.

    That said, I agree. There is meaning in form. Cognitivists (especially construction grammarians) have been arguing this for years. It’s just not the kind of meaning you think.

    The case used to agrue for this point is the English caused motion construction. In short, if you specify a theme (a thing that moves) and a path (or part of a path) and the action you refer to can be sensibly construed as causing the motion implied by the existence of that theme and path, then that motion will be understood. (OK, I know that’s pretty abstract here are the examples generally cited.)

    He sneezed the napkin off the table.

    In this case we don’t want to say that sneeze is a transitive verb, instead we want to say the form VERB OBJ PATH can be used in English to imply caused motion. A more indirect example is:

    They laughed him off the stage.

    Such meaningful constructions exist in Koine as well. For example, the use of a adjective referring to an ethnicity used as a feminine noun is construed to mean the country or area in which those people live, hence, η Ιουδαια, Judea. (Cf. the reference to Judea in Matt. 2:6 with tht in Mstt. 2:1). Presumably η ETHNONYM-ADJ-FEM is short for η ETHNONYM-ADJ-FEM γη.

    But the key point to remember about the relation of meaning to form is that it is as arbitrary as the relation of sound to meaning. The meanings language A encodes in form, may well be only encoded in words in language B, and vice versa.

    There isn’t any universal meaning to particular forms.

  12. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Kurk wrote:

    I’ve mentioned gender neutrality as a formal equivalence translation or is it a functional equivalence translation of the first phrase of Acts 15:26

    (I finally found what you were referring to, Kurk. It was difficult to find in your BBBB comment on the BBB post which you posted partially to BBBB. I suggest that if you ask your questions here on BBB, it would be easier for BBB bloggers to respond to.)

    Anyway, I have been thinking about your question. I understand you to favor a gender-neutral translation of anthropois in Acts 15:26. My understanding of the lexical meaning of anthropos and its plural is that the lexical meaning is ‘person’ or ‘human,’ as you stated. So, then, if you preserve that lexical meaning in Acts 15:26, even though the referents to anthropois are male adults (Paul and Barnabas), you would be following formal equivalence translation. Functional equivalence, I think, would recognize that the referent in Greek, as so often in English, determines what gender word or pronoun is used to refer to that referent. In this case, I think it is more natural English to refer to the two “persons” Paul and Barnabas as “men.” There is no theological significance to this kind of functional equivalent translation as “men”; it says nothing about the role of women. There just weren’t any women in this particular scene, unlike other scenes where there are women (and then they must *not* be left out). It’s just trying to follow the natural patterns of English usage.

    I say this as one who strongly supports gender-accurate translation. For example, I believe that the original translation of adelphoi in Rom. 12:1 most likely referred to a mixed group of females and males. I then consider it misleading (and probably inaccurate) to translate functionally as “men” for that group. “Men” today, in such a context, is not understood to include women. The more accurate formal equivalent translation of adelphoi in the context of Rom. 12:1 (especially note how many women Paul includes in his greetings which follow at the end of the book) is English “siblings”. But English translators have concluded that “siblings” is not so commonly used as “brothers and sisters”, which I’m fine with also. Either way would be, in my understanding, a formal equivalent translation of the *lexical* meaning of adelphoi in Rom. 12:1.

    All this illustrates, I suggest, that any English Bible translation team that refers to the Greek lexicons as they translate (and most do) must be very careful how they use the lexicons. And they must determine if the lexicons are giving the core lexical meanings of the words. The meanings need to be expressed using words most commonly used today by English speakers, since English words often have different meanings today from what they had in the past.

    It’s not true that adelphoi in Rom. 12:1 “literally” means ‘brothers’. When that is footnoted, as it is in some gender-accurate (or gender-neutral) translations, it is an inaccurate usage of the word “literal,” committing a kind of etymological fallacy where it is assumed that the meaning of the singular of a word will be “literally” copied to its plural in all contexts. But that is not how a number of Greek words work (nor gendered words in many languages around the world, and not just in masculine/feminine gender systems but in other gender systems as well, such as animate/inanimate). It is easy to point out many examples where grammatical gender of Greek words does not match biological gender of the referents. Fortunately, some of those who have opposed so-called gender-neutral English Bible translation have recognized this basic fact of Greek, that many grammatically masculine plural referents (and even some singular ones) are biologically gender-neutral. So, really, the debate is about *interpretation* of which passages are gender-neutral and which refer only to masculine referents.

    Well, I’m preaching to the choir in this case, but at least I tried to answer your question about formal equivalent and functional equivalent is used in Acts. 15:26.

  13. Nemo
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    “Do you really believe that Biblical scholars have native competence in Biblical languages”

    I know very well that biblical scholars do not have that. But who does? Theoretical linguists? There are no native speakers of ancient Hebrew and Hellenistic Greek. That’s why you need biblical scholars, who are willing to spend their lives studying ancient socio-religious situations and poring over ancient texts, trying to understand them correctly. Everything depends upon that.

    “There isn’t any universal meaning to particular forms.”

    I didn’t say there was any universal meaning to particular forms. I said that form is meaningful. And of course you admit that. What then is the purpose of trying to set “form” over against “meaning”? Everything in language has form. There is no such thing as a formless “meaning” flitting about somewhere outside of the form. The meaning belongs to the form. If you propose to transfer meaning between languages it must of course involve a transFORMation. But meaning will be lost if the forms are not truly equivalent — and they are often not.

    That’s why translation between related languages is so much easier. The grammatical forms are actually related, genealogically, and their meanings largely correspond to one another. But where there is a great divergence of formal features between languages, adequate translation is often frustrated.

  14. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    In this case, I think it is more natural English to refer to the two “persons” Paul and Barnabas as “men.” There is no theological significance to this kind of functional equivalent translation as “men”; it says nothing about the role of women. There just weren’t any women in this particular scene, unlike other scenes where there are women (and then they must *not* be left out). It’s just trying to follow the natural patterns of English usage.

    So, really, the debate is about *interpretation* of which passages are gender-neutral and which refer only to masculine referents….

    Well, I’m preaching to the choir in this case, but at least I tried to answer your question about formal equivalent and functional equivalent is used in Acts. 15:26.

    Thank you very much, Wayne. I appreciate your being so thoughtful and for taking so much care to explain clearly. Hope you won’t mind my repeating things you’ve written in my brief response. You’ve convinced me that “people” for “anthropois” ἀνθρώποις is a formal equivalent translation. It’s the one that Ann Nyland makes here. But most other translations choose “men,” as their dynamic or functional equivalent, for the reasons you specify.

    So, questions:

    How far can the translator go in choosing to specify? Yes, Paul and Barnabas are men. Can the translator explain naturally that these two are also “believing men”? Or that they are “missionary men”? Or that they are “Jesus following men”? Why stop with specifying (in natural English) just the gender of these individuals? Or if gender is so okay as the specification, why not also emphasize that they are “heterosexual men”? The latter is a serious question. The translator is interpreting what’s natural in English and what is to be communicated in the message of Luke’s Acts here.

    On the other hand, what if Luke, by his Greek word, is specifying that these two people are humans, as is Jesus, who is also mentioned by name in this very same clause. In contrast, not a few words earlier, Luke has James directly quoting the LXX translation of the prophets in which there’s the specific difference given between “people” and “the LORD” and his “name.” If Luke is not, by his Greek, rather subtly establishing that Jesus is both “the LORD” and is also one of the “humans,” then I’m not sure I’m reading his Greek well. But even the ESV has this for verse 15:17 –

    that the remnant of mankind [ἀνθρώποις] may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,

    And then, not a few words later, Luke brings in an explicit mention of someone neither a male, a man, nor even a human person of the class of “mankind”; he brings in the Holy Spirit. And then a little later, Luke twice explains how these two humans, Paul and Silas, are preaching the word of “the LORD,” whom, in this context means Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and YHWH, whom the prophets had written of, literally, formally equivalently, HaShem, “by name.”

    So, that Paul and Barnabas are men (not women) may be natural English, as the translator determines that. However, Luke’s contrasts in his Greek seem much more strongly to suggest that he’s emphasizing the humanity (not the divinity) of the individuals. They speak the word of “the Lord” (who is not human, except perhaps by including Luke’s Jesus also); and, always, it’s “the name” of “the Lord,” not a human (man’s) name that is key here.

    What do you think?

  15. Ernst Wendland
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    As always, I appreciated what Rich Rhodes had to say in his blog, most recently, “Dynamic equivalence re-visited.” His reference to secular and literary translators is important (they assume that the content and function of a text have priority over its form), as is his emphasis on a cognitive linguistic approach to the task. This conceptual “frames of reference” model would appear to be most appropriate to use when describing communication in general and translation in particular—that is, reproducing one text and its cognitive contextual framework within another, to the extent possible under the circumstances. In other words, a complete, all-encompassing translation is essentially impossible; one can accomplish only selected degrees of formal, semantic, and/or functional (pragmatic) re-presentation, or correspondence, in the TL, depending on the previously established translation brief and Skopos (job commission and primary purpose in view of the intended audience).

    I would just like to add a few comments on the term “equivalence,” FWTW:

    First of all, concerning the initial definition from Wikipedia: “Dynamic equivalence (also known as functional equivalence)…” This is a common perception, and de Waard & Nida essentially say as much at the beginning of their book, From One Language to Another: Functional Equivalence in Bible Translating (1986): “The substitution of ‘functional equivalence’ is not designed to suggest anything essentially different from what was earlier designated by the phrase ‘dynamic equivalence’” (p. 7). As the authors develop this book, however, they show that in fact they do mean something rather different. “It is hoped, therefore, that the use of the expression ‘functional equivalence’ may serve to highlight the communicative functions of translating and to avoid misunderstanding” (p. 8). This functional emphasis was, in fact, the focus of The Theory and Practice of Translation (Nida & Taber, 1969), as revealed in the well known definition: “Translating consists in reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source-language message, first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style [form] . . . it is functional equivalence which is required, whether on the level of content or on the level of style” (pp. 12-13, emphasis added). Why did the “misunderstanding” arise then? Perhaps it was due mainly to the introduction of the expression “dynamic equivalence” to describe their approach (instead of retaining “functional equivalence”)—the former being “defined in terms of the degree to which the receptors of the message in the receptor language respond to it in substantially the same manner as the receptors in the source message” (TAPOT, p. 24). But alas, how can such “responsive” equivalence be perceived and measured? That assumed goal has rightly generated all sorts of indiscriminate practice and consequent negative criticism.

    In the later book then, de Waard and Nida seek to put the emphasis back on functional equivalence with respect to the textual level of translation: “An expression in any language consists of a set of forms which serve to signal meaning on various levels: lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical. The translator must seek to employ a functionally equivalent set of forms which in so far as possible will match the meaning of the original source-language text” (p. 36). They delineate eight such functions: expressive, informative, imperative (the only three noted in TAPOT), cognitive, interpersonal, performative, emotive, and aesthetic (p. 25). In From One Language… special attention is devoted to “rhetorical” functions and their related processes: “To accomplish the rhetorical functions of wholeness, aesthetic appeal, impact, appropriateness, coherence, progression-cohesion, focus, and emphasis, various rhetorical processes are employed. The principal ones are: (1) repetition, (2) compactness, (3) connectives, (4) rhythm, (5) shifts in expectancies (primarily order, syntactic structures, and semantic content), and (6) the exploitation of similarities and contrasts in the selection and arrangement of the elements of a discourse” (p. 86). Clearly there is a much greater recognition of the meaning of forms here, both on the lower as well as the higher levels of discourse structure.

    These insights have then been further corrected, refined, and developed (expanded upon) by the followers of Nida in subsequent publications, for example, Bible Translation: Frames of Reference (T. Wilt, ed., 2003). In other words, there is more to be said and read about “functional equivalence” in relation to Bible translation nowadays than solely in the writings of the late, great Eugene A. Nida.

  16. Nemo
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    “Nemo, could you give us an example or two that illustrate your point that ‘form is meaningful’?”

    Consider, for example, the way in which Greek syntax expresses emphasis. At the beginning of a sentence a word has more emphasis in Greek. The emphasis on that word, which is part of the meaning of the sentence, is expressed by the order of the words. This kind of emphasis can be expressed with vocal stress naturally enough in English, but in written English we have a problem. The emphasis might perhaps be expressed by an inversion of the normal word order in English. For example: “A husband, I do not have” (ἄνδρα οὐκ ἔχω, John 4:17). Here it’s not only the word order but also the pause indicated by the comma that imparts emphasis, but it’s rather stilted, isn’t it? Certainly not a normal way of talking. It has a sort of poetic character which the Greek does not have. But it’s either this, or resort to underlining or italics. The trouble with using underlining or italics is, it often overemphasizes. Here we are trying to put across the meaning of the form of the Greek sentence. Translating the individual words themselves is not a problem at all. But conveying the meaning of the syntactic form is quite a problem, if we are not allowed to do unusual things with the English. There are many things in the Hebrew and Greek that can be indicated by unusual constructions, words, and even outright borrowings from original text, if the readers of the version are willing to bear with the unusual, or if they accept help from explanatory marginal notes. Ideally they would accept whatever it takes. But a “dynamic equivalence” approach that demands complete naturalness in the receptor language really limits our options.

  17. Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Nemo ended:

    But a “dynamic equivalence” approach that demands complete naturalness in the receptor language really limits our options.

    First, Nemo, thank you for answering my question. I understand now what you were saying.

    Now, your last sentence is based on a misunderstanding of dynamic equivalence. Each aspect of meaning of the original text that you illustrated in your comment, such as emphasis through change in word order, can be very nicely preserved through dynamic equivalent translation. What will often be different is that the form used to express that meaning will be a different form from that of the original. And that is necessary for the translation to be accurate.

    Briefly, let’s say a translator wants to preserve the emphasis of something in the original text that is expressed by placing what is to be emphasized at the beginning of the sentence. The question the translator must ask, then, is: How does the translation language express that same emphasis? If the translator uses the proper form in the translation language to express emphasis, the result is a translation that is more accurate than one that matches forms between languages. Matching forms is not accurate translation since forms do not have the same meanings in different languages, not even forms that communicate emphasis, contrast, or other aspects of meaning which may not be communicated by single words.

    Using the proper forms of a translation language to match the meaning of an original text is dynamic equivalence. One result of a DE approach to translation is that the translation is natural for its users. But that is not the primary purpose of DE. Accuracy always trumps all other purposes. And DE allows translators to communicate the meaning of an original text more accurately than formal equivalence, since language forms do not communicate the same meanings from one language to another.

  18. Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Kurk concluded:

    What do you think?

    I stand by my original answer. It is based on how English works. We can think of all kinds of things (and your amazing brain does and did) that antecedence and cohesion relationships *might* include. But we’re talking about how to translate anthropois and it seems to me that the English translation is limited to a set that includes “people,” “persons”, “humans”, “human beings”, and, when it is true in context, “men.” Not in the set would be more specific descriptions of the two people such as “tentmaker”, “deacon”, “curly-haired one,” “senior missionary,” etc. since these words are two specific for anthropois which is a more general word.

    You’re right, that Luke emphasizes humanity rather than gender. But that doesn’t change the fact that the two humans, Paul and Barnabas, were men (although I don’t think their gender was at all in focus here, and translating with English “men” doesn’t put it in focus). In Acts. 15:26 it is more natural in English in the cohesion/antecedence relation of anthropois to its referents to say that they were “men” rather than “humans” or “persons” or “people”. Doing so does not detract from the fact that these men were also humans and that Luke emphasized humanity in Luke (and, I assume, in Acts). If Paul’s missionary companions had been Priscilla and Aquila instead of Barnabas, it would, obviously, be improper English to translate anthropois in Acts 15:26 as “men,” had Luke used anthropois to refer back to the missionary trio.

  19. Posted August 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    But a “dynamic equivalence” approach that demands complete naturalness in the receptor language really limits our options.

    I think your example is a good one but perhaps you aren’t being dynamic enough. I mentioned before the Russian strategy for dynamic which is to create a highly literal formal translation and then have an author from the same genre create an independent work.

    In english we might accomplish the same sort of emphasis by word choice: “I’m single” vs. “I’m a spinster”. The spinster has the same sort of effect. And the poetic “A husband, I do not have” is not so bad if the original is poetic. If the situation is conversational “No, No… I do not have a husband”

    The problem with many dynamic translations of the bible is that the translators are often petrified of taking a stand towards the work like they would with other works.

  20. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Rich,

    Your example of the Message translation 2 Cor 3 seems to me to be less an example of troubling theology being read back into the text, than understanding the word as part of it’s co-text and creatively expressing that meaning in English. When I read it, I see it as a metaphor referring to the law of Moses. The word “government” to me also does has connotations of duties which must be fulfilled – taxes to be paid, laws to be obeyed etc.

    What exactly about that translation is troubling? Is it that it didn’t use the most direct equivalent of διακονία?

  21. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking recently about the Message, it seems that at points it is less accurate in some ways that some more literal translations, but in other ways it communicates more clearly and vividly than many other translations.

    I’m wondering how you all would classify it? Is it a functional equivalent translation with a different skopos (than other translations)? or is it a type of LiFE style translation? or is it something else?

  22. Posted August 31, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, regarding your “husband” example. If I’ve understood correctly, there are many more ways of translating emphasis in English than simply changing word order and italics or underlining. Apart from CD Host’s example above, depending on the type of emphasis and style you’re aiming for, depending on the context of the phrase, and on how free you want your translation to be, you could translate using one of the following phrases:

    “I do not have a husband.”
    “I don’t even have a husband.”
    “I don’t have a husband at all.”
    “A husband? Of course I don’t have one.”
    “It’s a husband that I don’t have”
    “I don’t have anything like a husband.”
    “I don’t have a husband, absolutely not.”
    “‘I don’t have a husband’ she said surprised.”
    “I don’t have a husband,” but I do have…
    “In fact, I don’t have a husband”
    “I don’t actually have a husband”
    “After all is said and done, I don’t have a husband.”

    Lots of those examples use words like “even”, or “in fact” or “anything like” which don’t really have semantic content apart from emphasising the words near them.

  23. Posted August 31, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Donna —

    I’d classify it as a paraphrase. In fact it is quite often given as one of the examples of a biblical paraphrase.

  24. Nemo
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    “your last sentence is based on a misunderstanding of dynamic equivalence.”

    I don’t think so. I think the problem is in the theory, not in my understanding of it.

    “emphasis through change in word order, can be very nicely preserved through dynamic equivalent translation.”

    Only in theory. But not in actual fact, as I think my example shows.

  25. Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Donna asked:

    I’m wondering how you all would classify it? Is it a functional equivalent translation with a different skopos (than other translations)? or is it a type of LiFE style translation? or is it something else?

    I don’t know what a LiFE translation is and I’ve heard of skopos but don’t know what it is. So I can’t answer your question as I would like, Donna. But I would consider The Message to be a kind of paraphrase. I personally find it very dynamic. My wife and I get much spiritual benefit from it. And we are alert to inaccuracies in translation, since we are Bible translators ourselves and my job is to check translations.

    It seems to me that The Message translates at a fairly high level of discourse or rhetoric, higher than Living Bible. By this I’m trying to say that Eugene Peterson seems to have assimilated the main themes of biblical passages very well, including rhetorical impact that goes with those themes. He then communicates the big picture of the passages in a way that that rhetorical impact is communicated more clearly than in almost any other English translation. Is it accurate on the clause or sentence level? No, often not. Do I get a better picture of the main thing being said and the impact the author intended, when reading The Message? Yes, I do. I wish that other English Bible translators could do more study of English discourse and rhetorical devices so that translations could be accurate not only at word, phrase, clause, and sentence levels, but especially at pericope, episode, and logical constructions levels.

  26. Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, I have just re-read the examples you have given and explanation of them, as well as the difficulties you see in translating Greek or Hebrew emphasis to English. You make your points well, but there are other ways of indicating emphasis in English besides those that you have listed. And since languages are primarily oral (and secondarily written, if at all), English, like all other languages can do quite well at communicating emphasis clearly. There is a nice amount of literature from literary analysts and linguists on English emphasis strategies. There are far more than just changes in word order or typographic devices like understanding, capitalization, or italics. English has a number of syntactic forms which help emphasize. Emphasis occurs through repetition. It occurs through negation of the opposite (as in: “I’m feel really good today; in fact, there’s nothing wrong with me at all”).

    Click here to go to one simple webpage which lists some English methods of indicating emphasis. If you prefer a literary approach which has roots in Greek and Latin rhetoric, click here for a wide variety of English rhetorical devices, some of which are used for emphasis. These are just a couple of webpages that I quickly found by googling. There are better descriptions elsewhere, but I must not take any more time from my work now.

  27. Nemo
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Wayne, the approach taken in your response is abstract and theoretical. “There are other ways of indicating emphasis,” etc. But the devil is in the details. How exactly are you going to express the emphasis in John 4:17? This where DE theory always runs into trouble — when we descend from theory to practice, its limits become obvious. Donna has offered a list of suggestions, but it seems to me that the list consists mostly of expressions that emphasize the “have,” not the “husband.”

    Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, or an excessive attachment to abstract theories, that leads some to deny the reality of the problem here. But isn’t every scrupulous translator familiar enough with that feeling, of being unable to reproduce the meaning adequately in some natural and fluent way?

  28. Posted August 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Nemo asked:

    But isn’t every scrupulous translator familiar enough with that feeling, of being unable to reproduce the meaning adequately in some natural and fluent way?

    No. We believe that there are one or more ways in each language to express any meaning in a way that uses only the syntactic and lexical rules of the translation language. It sometimes takes time to find a good translation solution, but the effort is worth it.

    To get to your specific example, there are a number of ways in English to translate the Samaritan woman’s response so that we get an emphasis on her not having a husband:

    1. But I don’t have a husband (contrast with “but” can emphasize)
    2. That’s one thing I don’t have right now, a husband.

    Donna gave many other examples. These possible English translations use a variety of English syntactic forms, but they all emphasize the idea of a husband for the woman, especially since the woman’s words form a conversational unit, a response to Jesus’ statement for her to go get her husband. And we need to keep in mind that the Greek is not simply emphasizing the single word for “husband”. It is, instead, emphasizing that the woman is husband-less.

    I disagree with you that the idea of husband is not emphasized in Donna’s suggestions. But to confirm or disprove my claim, I would encouage you to do some fieldtesting with others; ask them which of Donna’s and my suggestions would sound like natural answers to someone who asked someone to go tell her husband. You could even ask test subjects to rank the options according to which ones they think sound best.

  29. Nemo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    “No. We believe … ”

    Credamus! I think that expresses it well. We will believe in the theory … no matter what evidence is brought against it.

    “… To get to your specific example, there are a number of ways in English to translate the Samaritan woman’s response so that we get an emphasis on her not having a husband.”

    If you look at the passage in the Greek, you’ll see that it is not really the Samaritan woman’s response that I am quoting, but Christ’s “quotation” of her response. There’s a difference. By altering the emphasis he finds in her words something which she did not intend to express. A very interesting exploitation of the capabilities of Greek.

    “1. But I don’t have a husband (contrast with “but” can emphasize)
    2. That’s one thing I don’t have right now, a husband.”

    I think your first alternative does not emphasize “husband” any more than it does the other words in the clause. So it doesn’t work at all. The second alternative is more promising, but try plugging it into the translation of the passage and see what happens:

    “The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said to her, You have well said, That’s one thing I don’t have right now, a husband; for you have had five husbands (or ‘men’) … ”

    It’s confusing, because in the English his quotation varies too much from her statement to be seen as something that she said. Not so in the Greek, where there is only a shift in word order. I don’t know of any translation that tries to express this shift in emphasis. Also, does the “right now” really belong in the sentence? Christ’s point seems to go beyond the “right now” to say that she has never had a proper husband or marriage to one man. She has had a series of men (for he seems to exploit the ambiguity of ἀνήρ — another possibility in the Greek that cannot be reproduced in English.

    This is just one little three-word clause we are considering.

  30. Posted September 1, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    OK, Nemo, try this for Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman:

    “No husband? You’re right. …”

    I wish I had more time to interact with you on the details. I have a fulltime job and am limited on how much time I can spend on these comments. But my failures to provide an answer that satisfies you is not an indictment of DE. Nor am I suggesting that DE is the best translation theory. I am suggesting that there are many more translation options than we often can think of at first. This is not a problem of *any* theory of translation, but simply the limitations of our creative thinking and available time.

    We don’t even need to try to do a DE translation. Rich’s post isn’t about saying the DE is the best translation model. Rich was, instead, trying to show what the basics are of translation that does not put retention of forms a priority. And Rich was honoring the memory of a translation statesman.

    What do you suggest as a better translation in English that takes care of your concerns for the verse in John? (It doesn’t matter to me what translation model, if any, that you prefer, just as I don’t particularly follow any single translation model.)

  31. Posted September 1, 2011 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Nemo —

    I’m sorry but I’m not seeing how your Samaritan example is not a defense for DE. Things like jokes and puns don’t generally translate at all. That’s not a DE vs. FE issue that’s just setting exceptions. But English speakers can’t play with word order for literary purpose too much. The structure of English word order is just too rigid. What you are talking about is accomplished in English with something like a pun perhaps. So to really capture that, the translator would need to be very dynamic and throw in a word play.

    So you want your emphasis you go less literal:
    She says something like, “I don’t have a husband right now” and Jesus says “and were any of those previous 5 ‘husbands’ really husbands?”….

    Or if I had more talent as a writer I’d think of a good pun.

  32. Posted September 1, 2011 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Rich was, instead, trying to show what the basics are of translation that does not put retention of forms a priority. And Rich was honoring the memory of a translation statesman.

    Eugene Nida emphasized that “Language . . . is essentially a code in operation, or, in other words, a code functioning for a specific purpose or purposes. Thus we must analyze the transmission of a message in terms of a dynamic dimension.”

    From this construct of language as code of communication of a message, Nida went on: “This analysis is especially important for translating, since the production of equivalent messages [i.e., L1 message = L2 message] is a process, not merely of matching the parts of utterances, but also of reproducing the total dynamic character of the communication [of the message].”

    Hence, “a translation which attempts to produce a dynamic … equivalence [in which L1 message = L2 message]

    is based upon ‘the principle of equivalent effect’ [in the communication of the message] (Rieu and Phillips, 1954) …

    aims at complete naturalness of expression [in L2] …

    tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture

    does not insist that he understand the cultural patterns of the source-language context in order to comprehend the message.”

    This last statement is key to our discussion of some of the examples here.

    The DE translator could care less whether (in the Book of Acts) Luke’s Greek translation of James’s speech in which he quotes the Hebrew prophets plays on the Hebrew “HaShem.” In Acts 15:17, it is the message of James, perhaps the message of the prophets and of Luke (which must all be dynamically equivalent in message) that the DE translator will convey into the natural English message.

    The DE translator could care less that Jesus is playing on the words of the Samaritan woman or that John, translating both people in written Greek as spoken Hebrew Aramaic, might be playing with the Greek for a complete un-equivalent effect on his audience. In John 4:17, what is the message. The DE translator does not have to ask, Whose message?

    In complete naturalness of English expression, in the modes of behavior relevant within 21 century English-dominant cultures, the DE translator does not have to insist his reader understand.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of a woman (whose name is irrelevant in the narrative), a Samaritan woman in this region, a nameless Samaritan woman in this region who is in a series of relationships with different men.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of Jesus, a Jew, a man, with a following of Jewish religious apprentices, who call him Rabbi, even though he’s not from Jerusalem or Judea but nonetheless amazes and puzzles the best of them with riddles and Greek-like parables (which Aristotle called fables). Rabbis were not so friendly or conversant with Samaritans or women or adulterous and fornicating types. But that cultural pattern, like a shadow in Socrates’s cave, gives way to the platonic message for the English reader.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of John, translating and narrating in Greek, in a very different sort Greeky cultural pattern noticeably different (to Greek readers) from the cultural pattern of the synoptic gospel translator-writers. The DE translator gives the English reader instead English that lets John’s word choice and varied syntax be completely irrelevant. The DE translator imagines and works to deliver the effect but disregards the causes of that effect, as if there’s to be one and only one effect.

  33. Posted September 1, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    When Eugene Nida was developing his science of translating, Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” was not around. But he did hold up another similar translation as exemplary:

    “A translation of dynamic equivalence . . . does not insist that he [i.e., the receptor, or reader or listener] understand the cultural patterns of the source language context in order to comprehend the message. . . One of the modern English translations which, perhaps more than any other, seeks for equivalent effect is J. B. Phillips’ rendering of the New Testament. In Romans 16:16 he quite naturally translates ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’ as ‘give one another a hearty handshake all around.’ . . . [D]ifferences between cultures cause many more severe complications for the translator than do differences in language structure.”

    BTW, The Message has for Rm 16:16 – “Holy embraces all around!”

    Is that really the message of ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ? And are the structures and cultural patterns of this clause, these phrases and words and morphemes and phonemes really irrelevant?

  34. Nemo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    “No husband? You’re right. …”

    That’s better in one respect, but he didn’t say “You’re right,” he said καλῶς εἶπας, “well did you say.” There is a difference. I won’t get bogged down in that, though, because the main issue here is how to translate the word-order emphasis on ἄνδρα. I think the emphasis falls not just on the word in a general way, but upon its singular number, because he continues with a plural: πέντε γὰρ ἄνδρας. In English I think we need the indefinite article here: “a husband.” So it’s back to the drawing-board again.

    In my opinion “a husband, I do not have” is the best we can do, not because it mimics the word order of the Greek mindlessly, but because it so happens that here the inverted syntax imparts about the same amount of emphasis in English as it does in the Greek. Of course many would be reluctant to accept this rendering because it lacks naturalness. That’s where the DE theory too often interferes with accurate translation. The priority it places on ease of comprehension and naturalness in the style very often trumps every other consideration, and prevents a really adequate representation of the meaning.

    I do think the failure to find fully adequate equivalents that are “natural” and immediately “clear” to eveyone is an embarrassment to DE theory. The theory is too ambitious and idealistic. It might be made more realistic if it were offered with the disclaimer: “Warning! You will pay a price for this naturalness and clearness.” But how often have I seen a refusal to admit this.

  35. Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Nemo, do you know of any better translation theory?

  36. Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Kurk asked:

    Is that really the message of ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἁγίῳ? And are the structures and cultural patterns of this clause, these phrases and words and morphemes and phonemes really irrelevant?

    The answer, of course, is a resounding no. And Nida never taught that they were.

    A true translation does not transculturate to “holy handshakes (or embraces) all around.” Much of the criticism against DE (or its successor, Functional Equivalence) is the claim that it encourages transculturation in translation. But it doesn’t. In actual practice Nida did not encourage translators to transculturate. Instead, he encouraged translators to find functional equivalents, that is, forms in the target language which, when combined with appropriate lexical items, have the same meaning as the form:meaning composites (a la Pike) of the source language.

    Nida’s mention of the code model is now considered to be outdated as are some of his other ideas. But all the details of what Nida taught is not the focus of this post by Rich. I think we should focus, instead, on what Rich’s post focuses on.

    Kurk, your comment in which you list several paragraphs stating what DE promotes does not align at all with how I was taught DE. I think you are creating a caricature of DE. DE is dated and I don’t feel like I need to defend it. But I do think we should defend it against unfair caritures of what Nida and his followers actually promoted.

    What they promoted, contra your claims, was that the meaning of the original text should be preserved in the translation process. There is meaning not only in propositional statements and questions, but also in word plays, poetry, exaggeration, irony, etc. Because Nida was so keen on retaining the meaning of original texts, a number of ABS (and UBS) Bible translation consultants have spent quality time preparing articles on how to translate Hebrew and Greek word plays in the biblical texts. I well remember sitting for a scholarly presentation by a UBS consultant on translating a pun in one of the Minor Prophets. These articles on translating word plays, poetry, etc. are available for the public to read in the UBS publication, The Bible Translator. Nida was well aware of the “meaning” that different genres have. He and his students worked hard at translating biblical poetry. Ernst Wendland, who has a comment above, can give more details on how much care has gone into translation biblical poetry in Africa, and probably other areas of the world as well.

    It’s good when you directly quote Nida. If you are critiquing Nida, that is the proper thing to do. But you also need to be aware enough of his entire record so that a single quote about Phillips translation doesn’t obscure what Nida actually practiced with regards to translation accuracy. Nida, like all scholars, grew as he continued to study, think, interact with other professionals at translation conferences (yes, John H., Pym and many any other translation scholars who did not agree with DE attended such conferences; Nida was there and was highly respected; he took critique seriously and grew as a scholar over the years). Like any human, he had his blind (or weak) spots in his theoretical approaches. But no single person has done more for Bible translation scholarship than Nida. And we can honor him for that and honor the translation theories that he promoted for the progress they brought to the field of translation.

  37. Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Nemo, my examples obviously don’t all fit the context of John 4. For that example, I’d say that the most natural way to have subtle emphasis is to leave the ordering the same “I don’t have a husband” because looking at the following sentence “because you have had 5 husbands” automatically implies the emphasis in the first clause.

  38. Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Wayne, I mentioned Literary Functional Equivalent (LiFE) translations here partly because Ernst Wendland commented and he wrote the book about them (which I happened to be reading this evening “LiFE-style translating” and also “Translating the Literature of Scripture”). I’m just learning about his method, but from what I’ve learned so far, it’s a style of translating which emphasises translating the function of not only words and phrases, but genre and discourse features also. Your description of what the Message does, seems to accord with his description of a LiFE style translation in some ways. (Though I agree that the Message does become slangy at times, and that seems to me to be an inaccuracy in terms of translating the original register/style correctly). I think Wendland would also consider it important to translate the equivalent rhetorical impact of a text. I wonder if he would like to comment on his opinion of the style of translating of the Message?

  39. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Donna, thanks for your summary of “Translating the Literature of Scripture” and “LiFE-Style Translating” (hope that you have the 2011 version!). Above all, my approach seeks to encourage use of the full literary (oratorical) and rhetorical resources of the target language—to the extent possible in keeping with the type of translation project being undertaken (which of course varies from one designated audience group/readership and primary setting of use to the next). For example, in the case of a version being prepared for public worship and liturgical use, a procedure that recommends more formal correspondence (less dynamic TL creativity) will normally be adopted. “The Message,” on the other hand, has a very different Skopos (target audience and communication purpose) according to which its relative quality needs to be evaluated. Eugene Peterson summarize this as follows (2003): “This version of the New Testament in a contemporary idiom keeps the language of the Message current and fresh and understandable in the same language in which we do our shopping, talk with our friends, worry about world affairs, and teach our children their table manners. The goal is not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the ideas, into the way we actually think and speak.” Whether we would want to call the result a “translation” or not (e.g., a “paraphrase” or “adaptation”) is a separate issue. Personally, I think that Peterson does a pretty good job in accomplishing his stated objective. However, since I have lived and worked for most of my life in Africa (Zambia), perhaps I am not the best person to make such an assessment.

  40. Posted September 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Nida’s mention of the code model is now considered to be outdated as are some of his other ideas. But all the details of what Nida taught is not the focus of this post by Rich. I think we should focus, instead, on what Rich’s post focuses on.

    Kurk, your comment in which you list several paragraphs stating what DE promotes does not align at all with how I was taught DE. I think you are creating a caricature of DE. DE is dated and I don’t feel like I need to defend it. But I do think we should defend it against unfair caritures of what Nida and his followers actually promoted.

    What they promoted, contra your claims, was that the meaning of the original text should be preserved in the translation process.

    Yes, Wayne. Thank you for saying also that it is good to quote Nida directly. Thanks for recognizing that I am doing that, not using wikipedia. Granted, I am quoting Nida from a book that he wrote in and published in 1964. Yes, he moved on from and developed further some of his ideas, as Ernst Wendland has said; and DE — as now more exclusively “functional” equivalence isn’t even Nida’s initial “dynamic” equivalence theory anymore. But are you really caricaturing what I am saying? Are you accusing me of caricaturing? Have you quoted me or just surmised that I am assuming Nida never evolved or that others practice DE differently from his first, formulaic “code” theory?

    Just for the record, Nida never stopped quoting his 1964 book that I have quoted from. And he continued, likewise, to uphold the Phillips translation as exemplary.

    For example, Nida was asked by Routledge to be one of just six consultant editors for the first Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, published in 1998, and senior and general editor Mona Baker asked him to write the entry on “Bible Translation,” one of the longest entries allowed in the work. There, long after 1964, Nida continues to quote from his Toward a Science of Translating and puts it in his very short 8-book bibliography for his entry. (Two of the other books in his short bib were his also: his 1969 work with Taber and his 1986 work with de Waard.) Already, by 1998, there was some development of DE theory and DE practice too, of course. But Nida had not retreated or substantially revised his communication code theory. I don’t believe I’ve caricatured it here either, Wayne.

    In his Routledge contribution, Nida says this: “Perhaps the most significant break with tradition in translating the Bible [i.e., by form or literal equivalence] was the contribution of J. B. Phillips in his Letters to Young Churches (1952), followed by Today’s English Version (1966, 1976), and The Living Bible (1971), which was much appreciated for its style but severely criticized for its exegesis” (pages 23-24).

    Did Nida ever retreat from this statement: “[D]ifferences between cultures cause many more severe complications for the translator than do differences in language structure.”?

  41. Nemo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    “Nemo, do you know of any better translation theory?”

    I have read through enough theoretical literature written by linguists to be utterly disillusioned with it. Most of it is written by persons who evidently don’t know or care much about biblical exegesis as it is commonly practiced by biblical scholars. As I said above, when theory meets the actual phenomena of the text, there are conspicuous failures, which seem to indicate fatal flaws in the linguistic theories that are being taken for granted. When examples are used, it is so strange to watch linguists blunder their way through exegetical questions. Nida’s use of examples is often incredibly naive. It is as if he were totally unaware of the extensive discussions to be found in commentaries and monographs in biblical theology. He never refers to them in his footnotes. He must have had very little interest in this literature. A better translation theory would be one that shows more awareness or at least more interest in what biblical scholars have written.

  42. Posted September 1, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Kurk, we missed each other about what I was claiming you were caricaturing. Here are the paragraphs in which you caricature DE inaccurately:

    The DE translator could care less whether (in the Book of Acts) Luke’s Greek translation of James’s speech in which he quotes the Hebrew prophets plays on the Hebrew “HaShem.” In Acts 15:17, it is the message of James, perhaps the message of the prophets and of Luke (which must all be dynamically equivalent in message) that the DE translator will convey into the natural English message.

    The DE translator could care less that Jesus is playing on the words of the Samaritan woman or that John, translating both people in written Greek as spoken Hebrew Aramaic, might be playing with the Greek for a complete un-equivalent effect on his audience. In John 4:17, what is the message. The DE translator does not have to ask, Whose message?

    In complete naturalness of English expression, in the modes of behavior relevant within 21 century English-dominant cultures, the DE translator does not have to insist his reader understand.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of a woman (whose name is irrelevant in the narrative), a Samaritan woman in this region, a nameless Samaritan woman in this region who is in a series of relationships with different men.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of Jesus, a Jew, a man, with a following of Jewish religious apprentices, who call him Rabbi, even though he’s not from Jerusalem or Judea but nonetheless amazes and puzzles the best of them with riddles and Greek-like parables (which Aristotle called fables). Rabbis were not so friendly or conversant with Samaritans or women or adulterous and fornicating types. But that cultural pattern, like a shadow in Socrates’s cave, gives way to the platonic message for the English reader.

    The English reader does not have to understand the cultural patterns of John, translating and narrating in Greek, in a very different sort Greeky cultural pattern noticeably different (to Greek readers) from the cultural pattern of the synoptic gospel translator-writers. The DE translator gives the English reader instead English that lets John’s word choice and varied syntax be completely irrelevant. The DE translator imagines and works to deliver the effect but disregards the causes of that effect, as if there’s to be one and only one effect.

    I refer you, again, to The Bible Translator, the journal of the UBS (United Bible Societies, for whom Nida worked for many years) in which there are numerous articles on word plays, translation of poetry, and other aspects of Bible translation that you claim DE translators disregard. The evidence doesn’t seem to support your claims. Before making your claims, you should first check with DE practitioners or their scholarly publications to find out if they are true or not. Now, it may be the case that some DE practitioners don’t care enough and flatten out word plays. But that is not a factor of DE itself. We can and do get sloppy translation using any translation theory. Sloppiness on the part of individual practitioners does not reflect on the theory itself.

    Provide evidence, my friend, evidence, it’s so important for accuracy when evaluating translations and translation theories.

  43. Posted September 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for quoting me now, Wayne.

    To be sure, only 3 of the 6 paragraphs you have reproduced discuss the DE translator. The other 3 discuss the English reader having to read what the DE translator has produced (although in the 6th paragraph there is a bit of a return to the DE translator as the cause of certain effects on the English “receptor”).

    I quote Nida directly and apply those quotations to specific examples of bible translation in this thread. Then you accuse me of dealing with an outmoded Nida and not representing his entire development of thought and presenting a DE that is different from how you were taught it.

    When you now advise me to first check with a DE practitioner, how do you know that I haven’t already done so? Did you check with me about that? Have you asked me how I was taught DE instead of presuming that only you were taught it? Look, I’m not caricaturing and I am wanting to show implications of DE translation by the first and still the most recognized theorist and practitioner of DE ever. You know my training and I don’t think you should suggest I’ve stopped talking with DE linguists or have refused to read what they’ve written either. I’m trying, as your BBB guidelines require, to keep my comments related to the topic of the post and of other commenters. Instead of just correcting me, why not offer counter quotes from Nida? Or why not tease out other implications that I’m failing to see? You’re slapping me for my understanding of Nida and of his DE, accusing me of twisting that, just because you see him and it differently than I do, I guess. I’d much prefer you just put your perspective up in the mix rather than putting me and mine down. I have no problem, at the moment, standing by what I’ve asserted in the 6 paragraphs you’ve quoted. I remain, nonetheless, open to seeing what I may have missed.

  44. Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Kurk responded:

    When you now advise me to first check with a DE practitioner, how do you know that I haven’t already done so?

    It is a safe assumption on my part, Kurk, because what you have claimed (in the paragraphs I quoted from you) about DE is so different from what DE scholarship is about. As you and I both do, DE scholars recognize the great importance of the Jewishness of the biblical texts. They recognize how important it was that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman. Almost all UBS consultants (typically trained by Nida) have Ph.Ds in biblical literature and related fields. I wish you could sit down and talk about your concerns with them in person and then come back and revise your paragraphs.

    I don’t know if you have read articles by DE scholars on translating word plays, poetry, or not. In either case, I would, again, refer you to the actual writings of the Bible societies people, people trained by Nida, to find out that they are concerned with the very things you are concerned about, but which you claim DE people are not.

    If you haven’t yet, read Ernst Wendland’s books on translation of biblical poetry (or ask Ernst your questions directly since he is reading this blog).

    Here are some good reads (or a reminder if you have already read them):

    Hebrew Poetry in the Bible: A Guide for Understanding and for Translating, by Lynell Zogbo & Ernst Wendland (UBS, 2000

    Discourse Perspectives on Hebrew Poetry in the Scriptures. By: Ernst R. Wendland. American Bible Society / 1994

    Translating the Literature of Scripture: A Literary-Rhetorical Approach to Bible Translation, by Ernst Wendland (SIL, 2004)

    pdf outline of the preceding book

    UBS publications

  45. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if I can help out here with this dynamic problem concerning equivalence, but I’m willing to give it a try for anyone interested. However, since my responses might include references to what I have written, they best not appear on this blogsite. I do not have a site of my own (being rather technologically challenged myself), but I’m willing to do this by email: wendland@zamnet.zm

  46. Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Wayne,
    However safe you feel your assumption to be, it’s still just an assumption. Aren’t you violating both the spirit and the letter of the BBB guidelines? “Do not tell someone what they believe. Instead, ask them.”

    I wish you could sit down and talk about your concerns with them in person and then come back and revise your paragraphs.

    Me too. And, until we are in person, and for the benefit of the others here reading BBB, would you just put in your own perspectives on DE instead of just saying mine are wrong.

    As you and I both do, they recognize the great importance of the Jewishness of the biblical texts.

    In fact, Wayne, one of the greatest problems with Nida’s entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies is that he entirely slights Jews and neglects altogether the Jewishness of the scriptures. It’s not that he’s anti-Semitic, it’s that he’s got on cultural blinders. Don’t know if that accounts for his (early) development of DE as absolutely opposed to formal equivalence or if DE influences how he ignores the Jews when talking about the Bible and its translation in such an important work as the Routledge Encyclopedia with its wider audiences than just Wycliffe/ SIL and UBS.

    I’ll put up a blog post on this at my blog when I have some time. In the mean time, would you mind, please, not making assumptions about me, whether you feel they are safe or not? I don’t think they are safe to me at all. I’m not asking you to pull out your credentials and your CV. Why not just continue the blog conversation here? Or are you trying to suggest you don’t want to hear what I have to say? Please stop telling me I am wrong and telling me what I must read. Please either ask me what I’ve read or tell us all what you’ve read and shed some light rather than accusing me of being in the dark.

  47. Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Kurk wrote:

    Me too. And, until we are in person, and for the benefit of the others here reading BBB, would you just put in your own perspectives on DE instead of just saying mine are wrong.

    Kurk, it’s perfectly fine on this blog to correct someone, as long as we do not attack them in the process. In fact, we welcome intense dialogue here at BBB. I have not questioned your spirituality or scholarship or training. I am only questioning the statements you have made about DE. They are incorrect, and I am trying to provide evidence to show that. The BBB guidelines prohibit personal attacks and ask people not to assume what someone else believes. I have not assumed what you believe. Instead, I have quoted what you say you believe about DE and I am trying to provide evidence that I hope will help you take a second look.

    This is what scholarly dialogue is about, iron sharpening iron, without questioning the personhood of the other, only questioning their claims.

    I have made the assumption that you have not read UBS books or articles which address your concerns because you have made the claims that you do. This is appropriate logic on my part. Surely you would not post claims that you knew to be untrue from what you had read from DE scholars.

    You don’t need to withdraw from BBB to respond to BBB posts on your own blog. If I am wrong in my translation claims (and often have been), I want to be corrected here on BBB (and often have been). That’s how we grow.

    P.S. I was revising my comment while you may have been responding to it. I have heard your request not to assume that you haven’t read what I have encouraged you to read. So I revised how I wrote my reading recommendations not to have that assumption. Also I added several reading recommendations that address your claims about DE which I quoted. Again, by listing reading recommendations, I am *not* assuming that you haven’t read the books. I am simply citing literature where your concerns are addressed. I apologize for writing in earlier comments in a way that came across as sounding like you hadn’t read DE scholars who addressed your concerns.

  48. Posted September 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Ernst, it’s perfectly fine to cite your own writings on this blog. I was citing some of them at the same time that you were writing your comment. Please do feel free to fill in what I have missed and to correct me in anything I have wrongly stated.

  49. Nemo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t know if you have read articles by DE scholars on translating word plays, poetry, or not. … ”

    I have read this:

    “But for most persons in the Western world, presenting the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament in poetic form, as the closest formal equivalence, often results in serious lack of appreciation for the urgency of the prophet’s message, which was put into poetic form in order to enhance its impact and to make the form more readily remembered. Such poetic forms are often interpreted by persons in the Western world as implying a lack of urgency, because poetic forms have become associated with communications which are over-estheticized and hence not relevant to the practical events of men’s daily lives.” (Eugene Nida, “Science of Translation,” Language 45/3 (1969), p. 494.)

    The “science” of translation put forth here is actually recommending the elimination of poetry. From the point of view of a biblical scholar, this is simply outrageous. You see how we might get the impression that Nida did not care much about poetic form. If there is now a more poetry-friendly attitude in DE theory, it can hardly be called a development of Nida’s ideas. What was needed was an about-face, a repudiation of his views.

  50. Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I apologize for writing in earlier comments in a way that came across as sounding like you hadn’t read DE scholars who addressed your concerns.

    Thank you, Wayne! And please know that my decision to write another post on Nida and his DE theory at my blog isn’t because of the nature of the exchanges here.

  51. Posted September 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, you quoted from Nida then concluded:

    The “science” of translation put forth here is actually recommending the elimination of poetry. From the point of view of a biblical scholar, this is simply outrageous. You see how we might get the impression that Nida did not care much about poetic form. If there is now a more poetry-friendly attitude in DE theory, it can hardly be called a development of Nida’s ideas. What was needed was an about-face, a repudiation of his views.

    Nemo, Nida does *not* recommend the elimination of poetry. Instead, he points out what is true, that if biblical prophetic poetry (not all, biblical poetry, please note, but prophetic poetry, as in some passages in Isaiah) is translated by typical English poetry, the urgency of prophetic poetry is not communicated to English readers. For Nida, it is not enough to translate words or phrase or clauses. Nida recognized that what people say or write has an *impact*, in other words, rhetorical content, emotional nuances, things which biblical scholars have been discussing for a long time. This impact is an essential part of the meaning of a biblical passage. If a particular form used in the Bible does not have an equivalent form that communicates the same meaning (where meaning includes propositional as well as emotive content), then a Bible translator has to find other forms in the translation language which do accurately communicate all those aspects of meaning in the translation.

    Now, I happen to believe that DE translators can work harder to find kinds of poetry in the translation language which *can* communicate both the propositional content as well as original impact. And biblical scholars like Ernst Wendland, who is among us today on this blog, have spent years trying to do just that with African languages. Wendland was trained in DE translation theory and recognizes, as Nida did, how important poetry is, including in the Bible. If you have not read Wendland’s books on translating biblical poetry, I recommend that you do (I give links to them in a comment preceding this one). You will find that he strongly believes in translating biblical poetry accurately and in a way that sounds poetic to the users of a translation. Nida would agree. He never said we should eliminate poetry.

    What Nida was saying is what DE translators have said all along: IF translating the same form doesn’t communicate the same meaning, then other equivalent forms must be found which do communicate the same meaning. The priority in DE is placed on equivalence of meaning, not equivalence of forms. I personally think that equivalence of meaning produces more accurate translations, since if a translation does not communicate the original message, how can it be said to be accurate?

  52. Nemo
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    “Nemo, Nida does *not* recommend the elimination of poetry. Instead, he points out what is true, that if biblical prophetic poetry (not all, biblical poetry, please note, but prophetic poetry, as in some passages in Isaiah) is translated by typical English poetry, the urgency of prophetic poetry is not communicated to English readers.”

    Wayne,

    You misunderstand Nida if you think that in the paragraph I quoted he is referring only to an attempt to represent poetic passages “by typical English poetry,” or in the Prophets only. He also frowns upon reproducing the characteristic parallelism of Hebrew poetry, and in one place he specifically mentions the Psalter as a book where such poetic parallelism will bother or offend readers.

    “in most parts of the world … receptors are often irked by what they regard as obnoxious repetition and tautology in Semitic poetic forms” (Toward a Science of Translating, pp. 211)

    “for a literal translation of the repetition in the receptor language might imply something oddly whimsical or strangely unreal” (Toward a Science of Translating, p. 231.)

    “in some languages the repetition which occurs in the thematic parallelism of the Psalms is regarded in bad taste since it seems like tautology, saying the same thing twice and thus depreciating the intelligence of readers” (From One Language to Another, p. 87. See also pp. 96, 119)

  53. Rich Rhodes
    Posted September 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Nemo,
    On the question of the relation of Biblical studies and translation theory, there are really good reasons why Biblical studies shouldn’t inform translation theory.

    If you get translation theory right, it applies to every translation situation and not just to those involving the Bible. If your theory characterizes what bilinguals do in translating and what their judgments are about the quality of translations between the languages of their competence, then you have a good theory. Nida’s insight was that Bible translators weren’t doing the same thing that translators between modern languages did, and his proposal was that they should. He called that proposal “dynamic equivalence”. As with nearly all insight driven advances, the guy with the insight rarely gets all the details right, so his opponents often throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Of course, Nida assumes that the languages of the Bible are just languages like any other language, and I suspect that a big piece of the backlash comes from an unspoken assumption on the part of some that the Bible really is written in languages that aren’t quite like other languages, so all the comparisons to other languages don’t really apply.

    Another reason why some of us are very sensitive on the question of the need to minimize Biblical scholarship — at least at the first stages of translation — has to do with the feedback loop.

    In essence, the development of theology should run: start with the text, interpret it, then build a theology on the basis of the interpretations. (OK, way over simplified, but still basically right.) However, what actually happens is there are points of unclarity in the text, so we end up using what our theology says to fill in the textual interpretation. This is, in fact, very problematic. Part of what people like Ann Nyland bring to the table is extensive experience with the huge corpus of Roman era eastern Mediterranean extra Biblical Koine — much of which is only seeing the light of day in recent decades. So we can now say much more about some of those unclear wordings, entirely independent of Biblical exegesis. (There are Biblical hapax legomena which turn out to be common words in the papyri.)

    Let me cite an example that might help.

    There is a very bright young theologian in our church with a recent PhD in Systematic and Philosophical Theology. As an undergrad he recognized the dangers of the kind of feedback I’m talking about, so he decided to learn Greek apart from the Bible first and then bring that knowledge back to reading the Scripture. But even with that background, from time to time, he gets things backwards.

    A couple years ago I did a Sunday school class on linguistically informed exegesis and how to use an interlinear. In the class I came to the lesson on how the corpus work on επιτιμαω — which you, yourself, can do on your home computer — shows it means ‘tell [s.o.] to stop [doing s.t.]‘ rather than ‘rebuke’ as the dictionaries have it. This fellow got all excited and started to talk about how επιτιμαω is a special word because Jesus uses it over and over in exorcism. At that juncture, I threw up my hands. The whole point of the exercise is that we ordinary folks in the pews now have the tools at our disposal to look at the text and figure out its basic level meaning first, and see that there’s nothing special about the word. There are dozens of other places with no theological import where one person is telling another person to cut it out. Jesus wants the demons to stop doing what they’re doing. There’s just no deeper significance to the word than that. What’s theologically significant is that the demons obey him, but the words he uses to communicate with them and the translation of those words are utterly incidental.

    Please understand. I believe there is enormous value in Biblical Studies; you can’t produce a quality translation without a thorough familiarity with what has been worked out by Biblical scholars over the centuries. But Biblical Studies doesn’t trump linguistics. There are things we know about Greek, both classical and Koine, today that we didn’t know even as recently as in 2000, largely due to linguistics and, in the case of Koine, expanding corpora. The contribution of Biblical Studies to that new knowledge is minimal.

    On the other hand I should add linguistics doesn’t trump Biblical Studies either. They are complementary.

  54. Posted September 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Nemo, in my response to your quoting Nida, I responded on the basis of what Nida said in that quote, such as:

    presenting the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament in poetic form

    If you wanted to present something broader from Nida (as you did in your followup message) it would have been more appropriate of you to quote more broadly first.

    Again, though, we need to look at the details of what Nida is saying to determine if he is actually rejecting translation of biblical poetry by poetic forms in target languages. I suggest that he is not. I continue to suggest that Dr. Wendland, who has studied Nida’s theories for many years, also has been working for many years at accurate translation of poetry into African languages. (Please see references in my message above.) It would not make sense for Dr. Wendland to translate poetry if Nida had actually rejected translation of biblical poetry by target language poetic forms. Or at a minimum, it would be necessary for Dr. Wendland to explain why he was differing from Dr. Nida’s wholescale rejection of translation of biblical poetry by poetic forms. I don’t think you will find such a statement anywhere in Dr. Wendland’s writings.

    Please note that Dr. Nida is focusing on meaning equivalence. He is trying to say, over and over again, that if translators match forms and the result does not have the same meaning (and impact, which is part of meaning), then the translation is inaccurate.

    I am sure that if Dr. Nida were here with us on this blog and he read our exchanges he would point out how much he loves biblical poetry and how important it is to translate the meaning of its forms accurately to any language. For what it’s worth, most literal (forma equivalent) English translations of the Bible do not translate biblical poetry in a way that sounds poetic in English. So where does that leave us?

  55. Nemo
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    There are things we know about Greek, both classical and Koine, today that we didn’t know even as recently as in 2000, largely due to linguistics and, in the case of Koine, expanding corpora.

    My own view of this changed dramatically after I learned Hebrew and Greek well enough to evaluate the arguments and claims so often made concerning “new light” on the meaning of words. I found that in nearly every case the evidence for newly proposed meanings is shaky. For a scholar it is quite a feather in his cap if he can get credit for discovering something new, and so many have been busy about it. One cannot take all the claims at face value, not even from a prominent figure like Koehler. Have you ever read James Barr’s Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament? He has some very trenchant things to say about all the “new light” upon Hebrew words. As For the Greek, I suppose you must be familiar with Moulton and Milligan. I am always finding confident assertions in their Vocabulary book concerning the newly discovered meaning of words, which have never been accepted by most scholars. It is embarrassing. Then we have lexicographers like Bauer, who was a competent scholar, but I think he must have been overwhelmed. Probably his grad assistants culled half those new meanings from weakly supported claims made in Journal articles. Most of the claims are not even helpful. That’s how I look at the situation, and I think that’s how a conservative biblical scholar is bound to see it. We learn to be skeptical.

  56. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    With regard to Nida’s views on the translation of poetry, into English in particular, I think that we need to recognize that his opinion changed somewhat over the years. The following, for example, is an excerpt from an interview with Christianity Today in 2002, when Gene was 84:

    Q: Some American translations have suppressed biblical poetry, even in the Psalms. How should poetry and other rhetorical elements be handled?

    Nida: “I was very surprised that in the Living Bible there were a number of passages that were really quite lyrical, but it was all printed as prose because the translator felt that most Americans didn’t believe anything that was in poetic lines. He was probably right, because most people don’t believe that poetry really has any particular truth.

    “Bible translators are not producing poetry in the traditional European sense. Western poetic style can work for some of the Psalms, though not for all of the Psalms. But if somebody has the skill, the creativity, and the ability to render the Psalms poetically, they should be encouraged.
    We had a Zulu poet who came to us and said, the Psalms are real nice, but they’re not written right. Zulu poetry has a very complicated 12-syllable line structure. It’s a chant structure. He reorganized the material, and now it’s meaningful for Zulus. And it has the flow of what the Psalms would have had, because they were normally chanted.”

    Gene reviewed certain sections of one of my first attempts to come to grips with the prophetic books (“The Discourse Analysis of Hebrew Prophetic Literature,” Mellen Biblical Press, 1995) and approved of my general approach to the subject (Hebrew poetry => Chewa poetic forms), though he had a number of critical comments concerning my English style of writing! For an update and hopefully an upgrade in my methodology, one might check out “Prophetic Rhetoric” (Xulon Press, 2009, with a revised edition currently in press with SIL). My aim in all of these studies is first of all to try, through various types of discourse analysis, to demonstrate the many excellent compositional qualities of the biblical writings—the forms of the text not only expressing, but also complementing and enhancing the meaning. Once we begin to recognize and come to appreciate these varied literary (artistic and rhetorical, including oral-aural) features—the beauty and power, the impact and appeal—of the original text, we are in a better position to re-present them, dynamically, in translation. Whether that goal will be achieved through an approach that favors more (or less) formal correspondence or functional equivalence, should, I think, be determined by the broader nature of our translation endeavor, its organizational “frames of reference” (intended audience, principal setting of use, available project budget, competency of the translators, medium of communication, and so forth).

  57. Posted September 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This has been an instructive thread. The application of Nida’s approach to poetry is a test case of its validity. It illustrates the promise and peril of field testing within a functional equivalence framework (framing again).

    The peril: the whole idea that a translator (1) field-tests a literary genre, in this case poetry, (2) discovers that it is not taken seriously as a vehicle of truth; (3) and therefore prosifies the poetry of his Vorlage (the text before him), is manifestly absurd.

    It is absurd from the linguistic point of view. It is as if the kind of linguistics one follows remains blind to the insights of Roman Jakobson.

    Roman Jakobson, The Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry (ed. Stephen Rudy; Selected Writings 3; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1981), esp. Roman Jakobson and Jurij Tynjanov, “Problems in the Study of Language and Literature,” 3-6 [1928]; Roman Jakobson, “The Dominant,” 751-56 [1935]; “Linguistics and Poetics,” 18-51 [1960]; “Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet,” 98-135 [1966]; “Subliminal Verbal Patterning in Poetry,” 136-47 [1970]

    Jakobson identified various interlocking functions of language: referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic. If all the attention is given to referentiality in terms of semantic domains, of course you are going to end up with translation that is the opposite of emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic.

    Accommodation to a culture’s destructive tendency to reduce everything to referentiality is just another example of transculturation. There is a place for that, an essential place, if the text under consideration is deemed to advance a claim on one’s life. But the place is beyond the text, in the realm of application. Furthermore, to use a metaphor, just because people prefer food you can cook up in two minutes and eat in two minutes doesn’t mean that that is what is good for them.

    There is a place for field-testing and transculturation so long as both are yoked to a higher regard for the wording and detail of scripture than DE people are known for.

    Wendland’s example of putting biblical poetry into Zulu poetry might correspond to what I am calling for.

    An example at hand: The Revised Grail Psalms (Singing Version) – 2010. Indebted to the sprung rhythm poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, committed to reproducing the rich imagery and emotive range of the Hebrew source texts, with the additional aim of translating in such a way that the text is open to Christological interpretation, it is a far better example of a truly functionally equivalent translation than are the Psalms as found in GNB, NLT, CEV, or the Message.

    There you have it: a translation that is surprisingly literal, that does not indulge in political correctness (singular theys, however appropriate in everyday speech, are inappropriate in the traditional poetic language typical of the Psalms), that aims nonetheless for functional equivalence. This is probably as good as it gets.

  58. Nemo
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Ernst,

    I should study your books before venturing to interact with your comments on tihs subject, because I don’t want to be presumptuous or waste any of your time. But I would mention that we do have some pretty good metrical Psalters in English. Some use not only meter but also regular rhyme schemes. At one time these were well-known, because they were used as hymnbooks in Presbyterian churches, and they were often printed as appendices in those old folio-sized family Bibles. This, I take it, is the sort of version you are trying to develop and promote in African languages: one that conforms to conventions of poetry or song in those cultures. But the judgdment of English Bible translators has always been that the requirements of meter and rhyme interfere too much with accuracy of translation, and so the versions of the Psalter found in our English Bibles do not represent the traditional English conventions of poetry. Instead they mirror the Hebrew poetry, with its parallelism of clauses, and without meter or rhyme. I agree with this approach, and I do not think it is necessary to render the Psalms with regular poetic meter and rhyme, because in fact everyone does recognize the poetic nature of the Hebrew parallelism when it is arranged and printed as verse. I do not see this as being a problem at all, despite what Nida says about it. In fact I think it is quite important for people to see where the biblical text is poetry, and not prose. I don’t think Nida was on the right track at all in this respect. I strongly disagree with his endorsement of the approach taken by one who “felt that most Americans didn’t believe anything that was in poetic lines,” and his statement that “most people don’t believe that poetry really has any particular truth.” And I suspect that he preferred prose for a reason that he does not mention: it is easier to compose and easier to understand.

  59. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Nemo,

    If we may move on from Nida, I think that many current advocates of “functional equivalence” would agree with your opinion. I have said as much (with some examples) in Appendix B1 of “Translating the Literature of Scripture” (395-418). In fact, I kinda like the old Psalter of the Church of Scotland (re-published as “The Psalms in Verse”), e.g., “That man hath perfect blessedness, who walketh not astray; In counsel of ungodly men, nor stands in sinners’ way; Nor sitteth in the scorner’s chair: but placeth his delight; Upon God’s law, and meditates, on his law day and night.” There are problems with this rendition, to be sure, but it does have its value. As the Skopos school of translators would say, it all depends on the “purpose” for which you are translating, the intended setting of use, and what the target audience is looking for.

  60. Posted September 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    John, as I’m sure you are aware, in different languages and cultures different linguistic forms have different meanings, at the connotational and emotive levels. So are you denying even the possibility that poetry might have different connotations and emotive results in different languages?

    For a start, is poetry actually a linguistic and cultural universal? I don’t know. But it is at least possible that some target audiences would have no concept of poetry and so it would be meaningless to translate the Bible into poetry – or they would understand it simply as oddly typeset prose.

    And then can you be sure that there are not target audiences for whom poetry is used only for fairy tales or for humorous purposes? In such a case, would you really be happy about publishing a translation of the Psalms and the Prophets which the target audience would immediately misunderstand as untrue fairy tales or as humour? Might it not be right in such a case to translate these Hebrew texts into an appropriate prose genre?

    Or are you so committed to the concept of formal equivalence that you would insist on translating poetry as poetry even if the audience completely rejected it?

  61. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    John,

    A slight correction: The example from Zulu was Nida’s, not mine (I work in Chewa and Tonga).
    I agree with your commendation of Roman Jakobson–and the Russian Formalists in general; they were great linguists and literary critics.
    A recommendation for rather close poetic renditions of the Psalms in English: “Psalms: Poetic Oracle English Translation (POET)” by Brenda Boerger, self published (2009).

  62. Rich Rhodes
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Nemo,
    My own view of this changed dramatically after I learned Hebrew and Greek well enough to evaluate the arguments and claims so often made concerning “new light” on the meaning of words. I found that in nearly every case the evidence for newly proposed meanings is shaky.

    I think we may be talking at cross purposes. When I say that we know a lot more about ancient Greek than we did even 10 years ago, I’m not just talking about “new” word meanings, in fact, not even mainly talking about “new” word meanings. In the huge corpus of Greek, there is all sorts of information about usage and constructional meaning lying around just waiting to be figured out. (Ditto for Latin — the same claims are true for Latin as well). Advances in understanding the nature of human language continually open doors to previously obscure, or even controversial, passages, whether in the Bible, in Pindar, or in Homer. Large corpora allow us to be like virtual children, who learn language by taking in what is said and watching what happens as a result.

    And I don’t know, for example, how one can possibly complain about the clarification of the meanings of Biblical hapax legomena that are widely attested in the papyri.

    That said, I, too, am underwhelmed by a lot of the linguistics practiced on Biblical languages aimed at a non-linguistic audience. The linguistics is generally about 20 years behind, and the authors seem always to have one eye on theology — i.e., they’re in that feedback loop I talked about. On the other hand most of the better understandings of the Koine language that real, current linguistics makes possible have next to no theological implications — at least not individually. Instead they add up to things that, for the most part, we already knew, or at least were there as seriously considered opinions. Things like: the Koine of the Bible was very, very much like Koine everywhere in the eastern Mediterranean. Aramaic/Semitic influences in Koine extend well beyond Palestine. (Not surprising because Thucydides mentions the use of Aramaic as a lingua franca between the Persians and the Spartans.)

    A case in point, a couple years ago I was the outside examiner for a Dutch thesis on a class of sentences called presentationals. (In short, such sentences introduce entities into the discourse.) Find my post about the defense here. The thesis topic grew out of a translation problem he faced in the minority language he is translating the Bible into. There are different ways in which entities are introduced in Greek that don’t match how his language does it at all. He needed to know more about what the Greek differences are so he could tell which construction to use in the target language. Theological content: zero. But that’s the kind of advance in knowledge I’m talking about. We know more about Greek (particularly Greek word order) now than when Dr. Bailey started.

    Hebrew, now that’s another story. The corpus is just too small. I take no responsibility for proposals about meaning in Hebrew. You just can’t do the kinds of testable things I’m talking about.

    Also, it’s not particularly helpful to conjecture disparagingly about Bauer and his graduate students. If you have real objections, state them. That’s the point of the scholarly process. Someone proposes something. The community discusses it and eventually comes to some consensus. All science has worked that way for centuries. Almost everything we now know about chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, etc., etc. was at one time controversial, from oxygen to relativity, to the structure of the solar system, to the make up of DNA. Present your evidence and make your argument. Don’t just poo poo the matter.

  63. Posted September 3, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Ernest,

    Thanks for the reference. I’ll see if I can find a copy.

    Hi Peter,

    There are a great many things that linguists call universals across languages. Poetry, I would think, is one of them. I have yet to hear of a language that did not or does not have a prose-poetry distinction. If you have a counter-example, please tell.

    It is possible that there is some language in which, as you say, poetry is reserved for (say) joke-telling. But I have yet to hear of such a language.

    As far as I know, you are dealing in pure hypotheticals.

    Regardless, I remain convinced that any attempt to eliminate poetry from the Bible in English translation is fundamentally misguided, no matter how many tell you that poetry is for fiction and not for truth. Surely you agree.

    So why has the option been taken more than once by functional equivalence practitioners to do away with poetry? The reason I think is a stronger commitment to clarity than to reproducing in translation the difficulties and the complexities, the parallelisms of structure and sense, and the metaphors and similes of the source texts.

    I have many reasons for favoring “as literal as possible, as free as necessary” translations of the Bible. I just gave one, if only implicitly.

    Another is similar to the reason that the Catholic Church is putting into practice a fairly strict policy of formal equivalence, not only in Bible translation, but also in the liturgy. The advantage, for a catholic = universal church: from one language to the next, the diction is that much more consistent and familiar.

  64. Rich Rhodes
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    John,
    I take it you don’t know the literature (fairly substantial literature) on ethnopoetics. The big names are Dell Hymes and Dennis Tedlock. Hymes worked on North American languages and Tedlock works on Mayan. Their collective insights were about how languages have highly structured genres that could be called poetry, but whose rules are so different from Indo-European poetry that for years researchers looked right past them. Tedlock’s masterpiece is his translation of the Popul Vuh, a collection of Quichean mythology including accounts of the creation and the flood.

    It’s my familiarity with ethnopoetics that leads me to say that much of the Bible isn’t literature. I have spent no small amount of time trying to unravel Ojibwe text genres, including that the only things worth calling poetry are song lyrics. So maybe Algonquian languages constitute at least a partial counterexample to the claim that all languages have poetry.

  65. Posted September 3, 2011 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    Hi Rich,

    I am embarrassed by the turn this conversation has taken. I feel as if everything I thought I knew, not only about the Bible as literature, but about the kind of linguistic universals Jakobson discussed, is being thrown in doubt.

    Here are some of the things I thought I knew about native American poetry.

    “A pervasive use of parallelism … permeate[s] the poetic forms of C. Am. Indians. Rhetorical questions, prophecies, riddles, allegory, personifications, question and answer sessions, insults, metaphorical strings, euphony, and onomatopoeia are also displayed. … The written native texts available to us, notably the Quiche’ Maya Popul Vuh, the Yucatec Books of Chilam Balam (The Jaguar Priest), and the Kuma ikar are written entirely in verse.”

    Source: Robert Luxton, in the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (3d edition, 1993). The correspondences with the poetic forms preserved in the written native texts found in the Bible are deep and wide. It is precisely the case that, as you say, the “rules are so different from Indo-European poetry that for years researchers looked right past them.” So also in the field of biblical studies: for the most part, it wasn’t until the 18th century that poetry was rediscovered in the Bible, by Robert Lowth and others almost simultaneously.

    “Am. I. poetry seems to have existed in three broad functional categories.

    (1) As independent lyrics, “songs” per se, ranging from lullabies and love-songs to complaints, curses, war-cries, and death-songs [I note: except for the first, lyrics of these genres are all attested in the Bible; the first is attested in the Talmud] …

    (2) As songs embedded in narratives, performed by racconteurs taking the part of characters who break into song, generally at moments of dramatic tension [I note: compare the use of poetic insets in the Primary History (Gen - 2 Kgs] …

    (3) As ceremonial poetry – works serving ritual purposes: healing, political consolidation, or propitiation of deities …

    The most radical perception of ethnopoetic research is that *all* performative verbal forms – narrative and oratory as well as sung – is best understood as poetry, and that prose as such did not exist in native traditional verbal art.”

    Source: Jarold W. Ramsey, op. cit.

    The classical example outside of the realm of the Native American poetries is Sanskrit literature in which even mathematical and grammatical treatises are written in elaborate verse according to strict meters. In the Bible, on the other hand, ritual protocol for example is not versed; nor is law; nor is narrative.

    On the other hand, it should be noted that much of Hebrew narrative is cadenced in such a way that some experts (Eduard Sievers of old, Marjo Korpel more recently) find it very natural to divide it – e.g., Genesis and Ruth – into “cola and commata.”

    In short, the great amount of verse in all or nearly all traditional literatures (oral and written) is hardly in doubt. Said verse participates fully in the ladder of functions Jakobson identified; non-verse or non-poetry are simply not up to the task, in *any* language.

    It is the prose part of the binary that in some cultures finds limited expression, perhaps only in free-form casual conversation.

    Precisely the “prosification” of the Bible which DE translations are famous for flies in the face of the most important insights of the field of ethnopoetics.

    As I see it, this conversation has come full circle. The trouble with poetry, as Robert Frost put it, is that poetry is that which is lost in translation. So there better not be too much of it in the Bible; that would have been singularly improvidential on God’s part if there were. Not to mention other things like myth and legend (in the anthropological sense: Gen 1-11; part of Ps 74) and short and long works of fiction (Jonah, Esther, and Job).

    But that is a terrible non sequitur. It also betrays a great misunderstanding of the history of our own culture.

    The first retellings of scriptural texts in a European vernacular are those of Old English narrative: the narratives are, surprise, surprise, poetry through and through. As David Curzon noted, the “poems are told by people historically still close to their own tribal attitudes and practices, bringing that understanding to the biblical world. And since these versions are by tribal poets of great imaginative capacity, they may give us a sense of the dispositions underlying the biblical stories in ways no modern commentator—even with the resources of archeology and scholarship—could hope to do.”

    I concur, and I would think that anyone familiar with native American literature (oral and written) would also concur.

  66. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Rich, John,

    Perhaps we are getting off the original blog track a bit with this discussion of the Bible as literature. But perhaps not, if some sort of “dynamic/functional equivalence” in translating the Bible is desired. For if there is little or no literature in the Scriptures, then that conclusion would of course affect our manner and goals of translating the various texts that we find therein. But if not literature, what are we dealing with then? I can sense some of John’s Angst in this regard (having written a book on “translating the literature of Scripture”!).

    Perhaps it is a matter of definition. For “literature,” I turn to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, which says simply “written works, especially those regarded as having artistic merit.” Webster’s New World has as definition #2b: “all writings considered as having permanent value, excellence of form, great emotional effect, etc.” If we accept those definitions, which I do, then our evaluation depends on what we do find when analyzing the texts of Scripture, in the Greek as well as the Hebrew Testaments. My studies, and I think that John would agree, indicate that we are indeed reading (and especially hearing!) texts that do have, over and above their expression of varied theological-religious content, also “artistic merit … permanent value, excellence of form, great emotional effect, etc.” Even many of the non-poetic books (narratives, epistles, legislative discourse) often feature poetic devices—patterned repetition, rhythmic-cadenced expression, chiastic constructions, lyric inserts, figurative language, rhetorical questions, hyperbole, allusion, wordplays, alliteration, assonance, and so forth. The exegete-translator must then determine the communicative aims of those literary-oratorical forms (individually or as functional complexes) and render the TL text accordingly with that dimension of meaning and significance in mind, whether directly in the translation or indirectly, explaining the nature and purpose of the prominent forms of the original in footnotes.

    The “three broad functional categories” of American Indian poetry are duplicated in African (southeastern Bantu) oral art forms, ancient and modern, which include various prose (narrative, sapiential-didactic, judicial, and dramatic) genres. This “literary” inventory provides the stylistic and rhetorical resources for creative and competent translators to duplicate something of the vibrant textual dynamics, along with the essential content, of the biblical literature in their mother tongue.

  67. Posted September 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    John, I would not argue that poetry should not be used at all in an English Bible translation, except perhaps for special audiences. The way in which poetry (including song lyrics) is used in English makes it appropriate for translations of material like psalms. I would be less convinced that it is appropriate for wisdom or prophetic literature.

    But we are not talking only about English here. Nida developed his DE method originally for use in Africa, and Wendland continues to use it there. Wikipedia distinguishes nine genres of poetry, but not all are found in every language. If, for example, narrative poetry is not found in a particular language, would you say that the narrative psalms must nevertheless be presented as poetry in that language?

  68. Posted September 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Lest anybody’s interested, my third post of a series on Nida’s DE theory gets into the literary a bit, from the perspectives of (New Testament) translator Willis Barnstone:

    http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/09/pt-3-dynamic-unequivalence-nida-v.html

  69. Posted September 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I realize that Nida’s theory of translation is mission-oriented. I stress that here:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/08/remembering-eugene-nida-1914-2011.html

    On the other hand, Nida is best-known for the English translation he contributed to and inspired: the Good News Bible.

    Your preferences are interesting. The recovery of the poetry of the wisdom and prophetic literature in the Bible is normally considered one of the great achievements of the modern study of the Bible.

    Thanks to that achievement, it is now hard to find a major translation of the Bible that does not verse wisdom and prophetic literature in accordance with source language.

    For example, in view of the “special audiences” of translations as various as NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT2, REB, NABRE, NJPSV, and so on, the verse of the source text is mimicked in translation.

    In my view, if your preferences were followed (not that I see that happening), the result would be a massive step backward. In fact, the only widely used translation in English that does not verse wisdom and prophetic literature is KJV! Who knew that you would prefer KJV precisely on this matter?

  70. Rich Rhodes
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Ernst,

    I don’t mind the comment thread wandering a little. It’s definitely worth talking about genre and its implications for translation. I’ll put it on my list of possible posts.

    In the meantime, my claim that most of the Bible is not literature should be nuanced a little. I think there is a large role for author’s intent in determining genre. If a piece of writing was not intended as art, at least in part, then, for me, it isn’t literature. Such a writer might use literary devices, but that’s not the same as intending that the work be understood as art. By this criterion, nothing Paul wrote, in fact none of the epistles, is literature, but the Psalms and the Prophets unquestionably are. By the same measure, the Torah and the Gospels and Acts are not literature. Revelation is more problematic — in Greek by the least competent Greek speaker, but in the prophetic tradition.

    There’s a very important translation point lying behind this position. Almost all books of Scripture that I would classify as non-literary include clearly literary stretches in a mostly non-literary matrix. Epistle writers quote Psalms and hymns, and use literary devices. All this is obvious in the Greek, as is the fact that the language of the LXX quotes is different from the surrounding Koine. If you really want a translation that reflects the nuances of usage of the original, then you have to see them, whether or not you call the texts literary. I choose to say they aren’t literary, because I think we misread (and hence mistranslate) a lot of Scripture because we think it is intended as literature, simply because it has had a big impact on Western literature and is something that you have to think deeply about.

    To bring this back to the question of DE, some of our commenters (John, my apologies in advance for this violation of our comment policy) think that DE dumbs down translation. I say that ALL translations make the mistake of leveling out stylistic differences that are all over the Scripture. So IMHO regardless of what you call it, Nida’s insight, correctly applied, includes translation of genre and style as well as meaning.

  71. Posted September 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    John, you seem to have entirely misunderstood me. Perhaps there were too many negatives in my sentence

    I would not argue that poetry should not be used at all in an English Bible translation, except perhaps for special audiences.

    Just to make it very clear: in my opinion (and except for some very special cases e.g. perhaps Bibles for children and for second language speakers) poetry SHOULD be used in English Bible translations, at least in many psalms. I left the issue open whether it should also be used in prophetic and wisdom literature. But what on earth do you mean by “if your preferences were followed” on a matter in which I have quite explicitly refused to state a clear preference? I certainly do not prefer KJV!

  72. Posted September 3, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Rich, for hosting an interesting thread. I remain convinced that one of the unsung values of dynamic translation is its ability to bring out semantic concordance that lies beneath the surface. What it takes away with one hand it gives back with the other.

    My most important mentor in linguistics was a friend of Nida: H. A. Gleason, Jr. Not that Gleason necessarily agreed with Nida on all points. In fact, the things we have discussed on this thread have occupied the charmed circle of Bible translators with training not only in linguistics but anthropology and philology since forever. Here is the TOC of Nida’s Festschrift at age 60; it may serve as a reminder:

    On language, culture and religion : in honor of Eugene A. Nida / ed. by Matthew Black and William A. Smalley The Hague: Mouton, 1974.

    Contents
    Eugene A. Nida : an appreciation / by Eric M. North
    Publications of Eugene A. Nida
    Der deutsche Pietismus als Wegbereiter für die Arbeit der Bibelgesellschaften / Kurt Aland
    Pourquoi la Torah a’telle été traduite en Grec? / Dominique Barthélemy
    The Perfect with waw in 2 Samuel 6:16 / P. A. H. de boer
    Observations on the tikkune soperim / William McKane
    The Qumran Psalms scroll (11QPSa) reviewed / James A. Sanders
    The use of repetition in the prophecy of Joel / John A. Thompson
    A Greek translation technical treatment of Amos 1:15 / Jan de Waard
    Notes on the longer and the shorter text of Acts / Matthew Black
    The linguistic background of shame in the New Testament / Howard C. Kee
    Eclecticism and atticism in the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament / Carlo M. Martini
    Early Arabic versions of the New Testament / Bruce M. Metzger
    The interpretation of Romans 12:8 / W. C. van Unnik
    Men, grammars, and machines : a new direction for the study of man / Benjamin N. Colby and Rodger Knaus
    Linguistics and philology / H. A. Gleason, Jr.
    Barefoot in an ascending elevator : a meditation / Kosuke Koyama
    Speak and talk : a vindication of syntactic deep structure / D. Terence Langendoen
    No man, having put his hand to the plow / Paul Leser
    The subjectivity of anachronism / Norm Mundhenk
    Agreement types dispersed into a nine-cell spectrum / Kenneth L. Pike
    Secular culture, missions, and spiritual values / William D. Reyburn
    The seventeenth century cheremis : the evidence from Witsen / Thomas A. Sebeok
    Linguistic de-stigmatization? / Berthe Siertsema
    Restructuring translations of the Psalms as poetry / William A. Smalley
    Think metric / George L. Trager.

  73. Posted September 4, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that TOC, John. That’s the kind of conference we need more of, interdisciplinary stuff. I’m glad there is more of that now taking place at SBL conferences. We have to learn from each other if we are going to make progress in our fields. English exegetes can no longer translate without adequate attention paid to English rhetoric, literary analysis, and linguistic studies. And Bible translators are recognizing the need for them to have better insights from biblical studies. Unfortunately, the inter-pollination is not happening as fast as is needed.

  74. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 4, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the helpful conversation, Rich—too bad it could not be in person, like those we used to have during the SIL session at the U of ND in the summer of ’75 (many moons ago!)…

    You bring up the important matter of “authorial intention.” I agree that this is the ultimate aim of biblical exegesis, despite the difficulties of this quest (and the risk of being accused by some critics of the so-called “intentional fallacy”!): What did the original writers intend to be conveyed in their works, and how did they view what they were writing—as pure theology, as worship, as instruction, as prophetic warning, as pastoral advice? Could there have been something more—a desire to express their deepest thoughts and words artistically, with beauty, feeling, and rhetorical impact? I don’t know, and I don’t think that one could prove one’s conclusion on this issue one way or t’other. Then, for some of us, there is the additional factor of “divine inspiration”: What effect, if that supernatural force was indeed in operation, might that have had on the final text of the biblical authors, whether oral and written (and we must recognize that there was a varied process of textual transmission involved here too)?

    I think that there are problems, however, in trying to differentiate the various books of the Bible—some being “literary,” others not. Why the Prophets and not the Torah? Why none of the epistles of Paul, when even secular critics use his letters as examples of Greco-Roman rhetoric, or Semitic rhetoric, as the case may be? Do his epistles not have great impact and cause us to “think deeply about” them? The content of the biblical works is primary, but can we eliminate or neglect the dimensions of aesthetic effect (e.g., Song of Songs) and persuasive power (e.g., Qoheleth)? Whether the original authors initially intended these literary outcomes, we cannot tell. All we have left are the formal marks of these effects in the texts, in their micro- as well as macro-structures.

    So I guess that it comes down then to what you actually discern and interpret when studying the various documents of the Scriptures (as you say, “then we have to see them” [nuances of usage]). In my analyses of the Hebrew and Greek texts, however, I do not see “clearly literary stretches in a mostly non-literary matrix.” Rather, I find a great diversity of functionally coherent artistic and rhetorical features in whole-cloth literature. It must be left up to others then to evaluate the exegetical evidence and come to their own conclusions.

    Among a host of studies of this subject (and steering you away from my own stuff), I might recommend just five older, (I would say) classic works, for starters:
    1. Alter, Robert, “The Art of Biblical Narrative” (New York: Basic Books, 1981).
    2. Ryken, Leland, “Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1982).
    3. Alter, Robert, “The Art of Biblical Poetry” (New York: Basic Books, 1985).
    4. Alter, R. and F. Kermode, eds., “The Literary Guide to the Bible” (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987).
    5. Ryken, L. and T. Longman III, eds., “A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).

    For now then we will have to agree to disagree on this subject. Ultimately the issue of “literary” versus “non-literary” with reference to the Scriptures cannot be proven by deft or force of argument. It must be determined (I think) by a close and sustained analysis of the actual Hebrew and Greek texts; they speak, eloquently enough, for themselves. And the implications for Bible translation—functional equivalence, formal correspondence, whatever—must be determined, first of all, by what the exegete-translator finds in the originals.

  75. Ernst Wendland
    Posted September 4, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I agree, Wayne, much more interdisciplinary work is necessary in the field of Bible translation. Intra-disciplinary as well, I would say—that is, interacting with the field of secular translation studies. I was amazed at how little I knew about the range and depth here when doing some background research for “Translating the Literature of Scripture”—for example, the literalist, functionalist, descriptive, textlinguistic, relevance, interpretive, comparative, and professional approaches, as I term them in ch. 2 (some of these do overlap with Bible translation).

    On the other hand, the influence can move both ways. Secular translators need to keep up with what’s going on in the theory and practice of Bible translation—and not remain with their eyes fixed, for good or ill, on Nida and his works. I was disappointed, for example, on how few of us there were presenting from a biblical perspective at the recent “Research Models for Translation Studies II” conference held at the University of Manchester this past April. Let us hope for some good mutual interaction all around at the “Bible Translation—2011” conference to be held at the Wycliffe Center in Dallas next month (though I unfortunately cannot make it).

  76. Posted September 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a 4th post in a related series. Wayne and Dr. Wendland, I’ve mentioned you both (and myself and Dr. Nida too, of course):

    http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/09/part-4-dynamic-unequivalence-nida-v.html


3 Trackbacks

  1. By Dynamic Equivalence on August 30, 2011 at 9:51 am

    [...] via Dynamic Equivalence re-visited « Better Bibles Blog [...]

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  3. By Translating | minus gods, and other things on September 1, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    [...] here (link) is a little primer on “dynamic equivalence” [...]

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