On the complexities of Bible translation (1)

Translation (the “process”) may be generally described as a type of complex, controlled, and contextualized communication (the generic concept under which “translation” falls). It is “complex” because two (or more) distinct, and often very different, language-cultures are concerned. It is “controlled” because the process is directional, moving both cognitively and textually through the activity of “exegesis” (or interpretation) from a given SL document into what is intended to be a corresponding TL document, the translation (i.e., intended “product”). Translation is also “contextualized” because the process must closely reference, investigate, and be guided by two discrete communication settings—that which initially surrounded the original SL text, and that which subsequently governs the production of an audience-acceptable TL text.

More specifically then, translation is an intricate (text-focused) and intuitive (context-sensitive) process of verbal exchange, or textual “transubstantiation,” that involves two basic procedures:
o The intercultural re-ideation of a given SL text, which is a meaningful and purposeful selection, arrangement, and differentiation of oral or written signs, as it is conceptually transferred from one world-view domain, or set of interrelated mental representations, to another;
o The semantically accurate, formally (stylistically) appropriate, and pragmatically acceptable interlingual re-signification of the original text in a specific TL, along with any essential para-textual bridge and background material (e.g., explanatory notes, illustrations, etc.) needed to facilitate a basic comprehension of the translation by a specific target audience (readership).

The first operation requires the cognitive processing and transformation of all the explicit and implicit semantic and pragmatic features of the original text of Scripture—to the extent and degree possible, given the resources available to the translation team. Indeed, we must admit at the outset that due to the limitations under which translators must work, only a partial representation of the original text and its implied thought-world is possible. The second procedure, which follows from the first, deals with the overt, constituent “surface-level” semantic, structural, and stylistic aspects of a discourse. Mistakes that occur during the initial step of translation, the SL text’s re-conceptualization, are generally introduced into, and hence distort, the latter stage, its re-composition in the TL.

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 (http://sun.academia.edu/EWENDLAND). 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 (http://www.amazon.com/Ernst-R.-Wendland/e/B001HPLMX6).
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