Quartz Hill School of Theology

Lesson 28: Introduction to Translation

The Theory and Practice of Translation was an excellent book written by Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber and originally published by the American Bible Society in 1982, then reprinted by Brill Academic in 2003. It is sadly out of print but can be obtained in used copies through Amazon.com.

One will discover that there are differences of opinion regarding the best method of translation; most of the discussion is over whether one should use dynamic equivalence or formal equivalence as a preferred methodology for translating the Bible. Formal equivalence attempts to render the text literally, or "word for word" (the latter expression being itself a word-for-word rendering of the classical Latin verbum pro verbo). Literalness is preferred, by those who hold to formal equivalence, at the expense of features natural to the target language, that is the language into which a text is being translated. Nida disagreed with the concept of "literalism" and instead held to an approach he referred to as "dynamic equivalence," (or "functional equivalence"). This translation technique conveys the essential thoughts expressed in a source text — if necessary, at the expense of literality: that is, the goal for dynamic equivalent translation is to render the translation as clearly as possible in the target language, attempting to express things in such a way that one cannot tell it is a translation at all. This technique is sometimes disparaged as “paraphrasing.” The problem with such a criticism, as the student of Hebrew should know by this point, is that there is not a one to one correspondence between languages. All translation is necessarily paraphrastic. Translation is not the equivalent of using a magic decoder ring to solve a cypher. There is a reason that machine translations, even as sophisticated as they are getting, are still not entirely accurate.

As Nida and Tabor pointed out in their book, when one is translating a manual on aircraft repair and maintenance from one language to another, are you concerned with the formal equivalence between the original language and the target language, or are you more concerned that the target language be as clear as possible so that the airplane may be properly repaired and maintained, given that lives depend on the mechanic understanding clearly what he or she needs to do?

Is the Bible more or less of a life and death matter? Clarity and comprehensibility are the goal in translation. Wycliff Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics, along with Quartz Hill School of Theology, come down on the side of dynamic equivalence when it comes to proper translation.

The student is encouraged to find and read the following books:

1. The Theory and Practice of Translation. by Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber. Brill Academic. 2003
2. Bible Translation Basics: Communicating Scripture in a Relevant Way. by Harriet Hill, Ernst-August Gutt, Christoph Unger, Margaret Hill, and Rick Floyd. SIL International. 2012

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Email: info@theology.edu
Website: www.theology.edu

Quartz Hill School of Theology
43543 51st Street West
Quartz Hill, CA 93536

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