Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation-2

Bible translation focuses upon a diverse corpus of sacred texts that were composed over the course of some 1500 years in two major languages–classical Hebrew and koine Greek. Varied extralinguistic contextual concerns must therefore be taken into consideration during the interpretation of any given “book” within this collection, and at times even when analyzing a specific portion, or “chapter,” of one document, such as the Psalms. The translation process is also influenced in different degrees by a host of interrelated sociolinguistic and cultural variables that pertain to the manifold settings in which this communicative activity is being conducted throughout the world today. Thus this “Coursebook for Bible Translators and Teachers” (see previous post) intends to broaden the field of vision of all project participants—to expand their respective “frames of reference” with regard to the conceptual and pragmatic scope of their task, first of all, in relation to the original text. On the other hand, this workbook also aims to lead translators to apply this enhanced perspective with more clarity and conviction to the target-language text, ideally in close interaction with colleagues as part of a “team” approach to the task. This book is itself very much the product of such teamwork, as the many quotations and exercises contributed by others would suggest.

I discuss, largely from the practical standpoint of a translator, consultant, and teacher, many crucial aspects of the overall cognitive, emotive, and volitional “context” that converge to influence the interpretation of an ancient religious text and its re-wording in a contemporary language-culture. In some ways, this hermeneutical procedure is analogous to unpeeling the thick leaves of an onion bulb—a compressed, composite whole, the essence and significance of which is much greater than the sum of its individual parts. Each segment contributes to the essential corporate unity and, while it can be examined in isolation, one component cannot really be understood without reference to each of the others. But this analogy does not take one very far. The difficulties of comprehension and integration increase exponentially when one attempts to dismantle a “high-value” literary composition in a particular language-culture and to reassemble it again creatively, yet also accurately in an entirely new communication setting. In this coursebook, I offer one possible method of approaching this challenge in a progressive, systematic, and hopefully intelligible manner. My context-sensitive, function-oriented, “frames of reference” approach is certainly not the only way to accomplish this important goal, but it does offer a practical set of tried-and-tested procedures that are compatible with many other tactics and techniques being practiced in translation studies today, whether religious or secular.

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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One Response to Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation-2

  1. Pingback: Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation-2 | Metaglossia: The Translation World |

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