This recent (2012) book by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche (Penguin Perigee) is subtitled “How Language Shapes our Lives and Transforms the World.” Indeed, I fully agree with one of this book’s back cover endorsements: “A fascinating book about language and the importance of translation” (A. Salcito). I purchased a copy in order to see what (if anything) the authors might have to say about Bible translation and a literary approach to this task in particular. Several items caught my attention, which I will cite below and just briefly comment on.
“Literary translation is one of the most challenging types of translation work” (p. 93). To be sure, such a creative approach involves rendering the original text not only correspondingly in terms of semantic content, but also with similar artistic beauty and rhetorical power so as to stimulate an equivalent measure of impact and appeal.
“…translation can be more challenging than writing due to the lack of flexibility afforded in translation. The translator must say exactly what the writer has said” (93). Of course, most translators and theorists today would confess that to say anything “exactly” in translation is impossible–the degree of possibility being constrained by various factors, such as comparative linguistic relationship, cultural proximity, contextual background, the age of the original text, and so forth. Bible translators must also translate in view of a specific set of audience-related parameters, for example, their age and primary gender, religious background, familiarity with the Scriptures, and the principal setting of use intended for the translation.
“…translating literature is truly an art” (94). Yes, so much so that, based on my 40 years of experience in the field of Bible translation, I would have to underscore the truth of the adage that artistic translators are “born, not made.” Translators can certainly be taught to improve the language (linguistic and literary) skills that they were born with–at times to a considerable extent. But a genuine literary-oratorical rendition requires an artful wordsmith to compose the first words of a draft and then polish these to the point where listeners and readers alike exclaim in response to the text in their language: Mauwa andigwira mtima! “These words have grabbed my heart!” (Chichewa).