LiFE-style translating

Five main premises or assumptions underlie a LiFE (“literary functional equivalence”)-style translation approach as applied to the Scriptures:
1. The foundational base text, the canon of Scripture, is arguably an excellent, “literary” document, consisting of many different genres and individual styles of composition.
2. The available literary/oratorical resources of the TL are fully sufficient when used judiciously and competently to match the literary (artistic, rhetorical, structural) qualities of the biblical text.
3. Diverse degrees, or strategies, of LiFE translational application are possible with respect to rendering the original text, whether more or less literally or idiomatically.
4. Depending on the language involved, different features of linguistic Macro- or micro-form may be selected for specific “literary enhancement” (foregrounding, making more “relevant” or “domesticated”) in a LiFE translation.
5. A literary, sound-sensitive (“oratorical”) translation is intellectually stimulating and emotively satisfying for competent translators to use their creativity to produce.

The first premise provides the motivating force for the others: IF the text of Scripture is somehow “literary/oratorical” in nature (manifesting certain functionally significant artistic and rhetorical qualities), THEN this dimension of overall “meaning” needs to be taken into account when setting up a project and formulating its goals. This amounts to a significant ethical issue–being true, or “faithful,” to the source text and the compositional intentions of its original author (and in the case of Scripture, its divine Author). Project organizers must at least acknowledge the presence of this factor in the biblical documents even if they are unable, for whatever reason, to take it into serious consideration within the translation itself.

It is important to note once again the potential variety in terms of practical application: Many different areas and degrees of literary engagement and enhancement are possible, depending on the operational organization and capabilities of the project, which may range in scale from the production of a full Bible to a brief selection designed for a special audience or religious occasion. I suggest that as a basic minimum, it would be most expedient, and perhaps also the most acceptable solution, to apply an oratorical manner of translating consistently to the phonology, or sound structure, of the TL text. This might involve features such as: the overall rhythmic flow of discourse, a basic pattern of sequential lineation based on natural utterance units, pleasant sounding collocations of words and phrases, euphonious alliteration and assonance, pointed paronomasia, and, if common in the TL genre concerned, also a touch of rhyme.

Thus, the component of “literariness” (verbal resourcefulness, rhetorical persuasiveness) may be introduced in a translation through diverse devices and in different measures. The emphasis, as always in the case of the Scriptures, remains focused firmly upon the semantic content of the original text, but there is an interest also in conveying its communicative significance artistically when translating, that is, in accordance with the linguistic “genius” and literary-oratorical inventory of the target language. The latter refers to the various stylistic features which distinguish the discourse of different genres—that is, as currently recognized and evaluated by artistically-sensitive lay-people as well as by local “experts” in the TL and its literature (orature).

About ewendland

I am currently an instructor at the Lutheran Seminary, Lusaka, ZAMBIA (since 1968). My academic training has been in biblical studies (BA, Northwestern College; MST, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary), Bible translation (several SIL courses), linguistics (MA, University of Wisconsin, Madison), and African languages (PhD, UWM). I am a “retired” translation consultant for the United Bible Societies (having worked with projects in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). I currently still serve as an external examiner in Zambian languages (University of Zambia) and as visiting professor in OT, NT, and Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, with an affiliation to the Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa ( My research and writing interests focus on the literary (structural, poetic, rhetorical) analysis of biblical texts and their oratorical translation, especially in southeastern Bantu languages (
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