Eugene Nida on Rhetorical features

The late Dr. Eugene A. Nida taught me many things over the years, both through his numerous writings on translation theory and practice as well as in personal correspondence. The following is another insightful quote that I have just run across in a book that I happen to be reading (cited in JIN Di, Literary Translation: Quest for Artistic Integrity, St Jerome, 2003, xvii):

“In addition to the lexical capacities of languages to speak about the total range of human experience, all languages possess certain devices for highlighting the impact and appeal of a discourse. In other words, all languages possess rhetorical devices for contributing clarity, force, and beauty to verbal expression. these rhetorical devices, such as parallelism and emphatic order, are all part of the meaning of a discourse. They are also signs in the semiotic sense and have special significance. In fact, they are often more important in indicating intent, purpose, and urgency of a message than even the lexical forms. If ‘translating’ means ‘translating meaning,’ then clearly one must take into consideration these important rhetorical forms.”

The last part is what I want to focus on. IF…THEN…! I accept Nida’s general assertion without reservation. The specific question for many Bible translators is simply this: To what extent does the diverse literature of Scripture include or manifest these “rhetorical forms”? I have attempted to make a defensible case that it does, that the different books of the Bible all give abundant evidence to support this assumption (Translating the Literature of Scripture).

If this premise is accepted, then perhaps a more difficult, practical question follows: To what extent are Bible translators willing and able to apply this knowledge in their work, to produce a consistent rendering of the original text that exhibits a similar degree of such “clarity, force, and beauty”? To be sure, this complicates the translator’s task considerably. But if we do find such rhetorical features in the biblical text–frequently and with varied functionality–how can we not take this fact into serious consideration when re-expressing the message in our contemporary languages of translation? To aim for any less would seem to compromise our claim to “fidelity”.

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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