Understanding English Bible Translation
- Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Dynamic equivalence: a theory of translation based on the premise that whenever something in the native-language text is foreign or unclear to a contemporary reader, the original text should be translated in terms of a dynamic equivalent.
Functional equivalent: something in the receptor language that differs from what the original text says but that serves the same function in the receptor language; for example, "first fruits" translated as "special offering."
Functional equivalence: a theory of translation that favors replacing a statement in the original text with a functional equivalent whenever the original phraseology or reference is obscure for a modern reader in the receptor language; for example, "holy kiss" translated as "hearty handshake" because the latter is how Christians in Western cultures extend greetings to each other today.
Equivalent effect: translating in such a way as to produce the same effect on readers of the translation as the original text produced on its native-language readers; for example, The Message gives the image of "daughters as shapely and bright as fields of wildflowers" as producing the same effect as the original text's image of "daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace." (Ps. 144:12)
Formal equivalence: a theory of translation that favors reproducing the form or language of the original text, not just its meaning. In its stricter form, this theory of translation espouses reproducing even the syntax and word order of the original; the formula word for word translation often implies this stricter definition of the concept.
Verbal equivalent: a word or combination of words in the receptor language that most closely corresponds to a word in the original, native-language text.
Essentially literal translation: a translation that strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax in the receptor language.
Linguistic conservatism: as applied to Bible translation, a general orientation toward language that would seek to conserve the actual words of the original text as much as possible; an implied contrast to the "liberalism" of dynamic equivalence, which does not feel bound to reproduce the actual Hebrew and Greek words of the original.
Transparent text: this means two opposite things, and for that very reason the term has become devalued and misleading, even though it continues to be widely used by dynamic equivalent advocates. A text is transparent to the modern or contemporary reader when it is immediately understandable in the receptor language; this is the goal of dynamic equivalent translations. A translation is transparent to the original text when it reproduces the language, expressions, and customs of the original text; this is the goal of an essentially literal translation.
Target audience: the audience that a translation committee and publisher expect to be the chief market for a translation. Translation committees that consciously bring a target audience into their enterprise make translation decisions based on their desire to appeal to the target audience that they envision.
What the Terms Tell Us and Don't Tell Us
The definitions in the preceding section of this chapter provide a good introduction to the field of modern translation theory and practice. The terms do a good job of revealing where we currently stand with English Bible translation.
We should note first the dominance of the word equivalence. This was a brand-new word on the translation scene when it was introduced in the mid-twentieth century. There was no comparable dominating word for translation before Eugene Nida popularized the new philosophy of translation, but it is pretty clear that the word that translators would have used to describe their practice up to that point was correspondence. What translators formerly did was find the correspondent English words for the words of the original.
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