Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation-3

This Coursebook for Bible Translators and Teachers (see preceding posts) begins with a general introduction is made to the concept of frames, that is, distinct culturally-conditioned cognitive perspectives which serve to orient as well as to contextualize all our perception, evaluation, integration, and organization of data (Chapters 1-2). Four distinct, but closely interrelated conceptual domains (sociocultural, institutional, situational, and textual) are then individually described and exemplified to provide a more detailed introduction to the subject (Chapters 3-6). The original biblical author (or “implied author”) presumably accommodated these varied mental viewpoints, prioritizing them according to the manifold principle of relevance in order to localize a given passage of Scripture when composing it for an envisioned audience in a particular Ancient Near Eastern situational setting. Special attention is given in Chapter 7 to the overt “textual” frame of reference as this applies to the study of biblical documents, especially from a literary perspective. A sequence of examples and exercises has been incorporated into the coursebook as these different issues are presented in an effort to render the discussion more “interactive” and contextually relevant for Bible translators and team supervisors or instructors. These projects may be assigned for individual study or, more profitably perhaps, as corporate tasks to be discussed and responded to as a group (2-3 participants).

The same four culturally-specific frames of reference must also be accessed during the re-compositional activity of Bible translation, first when analyzing the source text for “meaning” (Chapter 8), and then when extracting this from its linguistic form (whether Hebrew or Greek) in order to verbally synthesize it within a new communicative environment and sociocultural setting. As an example of the latter set of circumstances, the case of translating meaningfully into Chewa (Nyanja), a south-eastern Bantu language of Malawi and Zambia, is selectively considered (Chapter 9). The pressing challenge here concerns the complex process of conceptual engineering whereby a sacred literary text is accurately expressed in a way that is appropriate as well as acceptable to a specific target audience and also supplemented by suitable techniques of extratextual cognitive enrichment. By way of illustration, John the Divine’s graphic depiction of what he saw behind the “open door” in heaven (Revelation chapter 4) is given more detailed attention with respect to how to produce a more adequately framed representation of the original document in Chewa, using a combination of textual and paratextual strategies.

It is one thing to reproduce a text in translation; it is another to ascertain whether or not this rendition has achieved its aim(s) with regard to a particular target audience and setting. This important topic is taken up in Chapter 10 as I summarize a diversified method for assessing a translation, that is, evaluating the overall quality of communication with regard to how much of the original unpeeled “onion” of meaning (sense and significance) was lost or distorted during its linguistic transformation. The goal is to identify and compensate for those inevitable gaps and lapses that occur in our efforts to put the meaning back together again, that is, to re-present it more accurately and appropriately in its new linguistic, literary, and cultural milieu. Chapter 11 consists of a question-driven series of exercises that focuses on Revelation 5 to give readers a chance to further apply what they have learned during an analysis and translation of this dramatic biblical passage in their language. Chapter 12 concludes by giving some attention to ongoing efforts to better contextualize, that is, provide a more adequate frame of reference for, the joint process of teaching and learning about Bible translation in different situations and for different ends, including the need for follow-up interactive networking. A final detailed Topical Index will hopefully serve to give some orientation and direction to readers as they make their way though this coursebook. While experienced translators and teachers might be able to select different chapters to consider in isolation, it is generally recommended to take them in the order given, since one chapter deliberately builds on and presupposes the knowledge gained in what has preceded it.

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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