Contextual Frames of Reference in Translation

Communicative Bible translation is at the same time a science, a technology, and an art. Thus it is (or should be) based on generally accepted knowledge derived from interdisciplinary sources as well as extended observation, study, and experimentation; it operates according to specific, experience-based principles and practical procedures; and equally important if not always recognized, it is at some point also carried out intuitively, in response to the artistic genius and sensitivity of the translator. It is the primary aim of Contextual frames of reference in Bible translation to provide translators and their trainers alike with a heuristic framework for exploring all three of these key dimensions of translation, with primary reference to the Christian Scriptures. I thereby wish to encourage a more broadly-based perspective on this multifaceted task and, to this end, also provide translation staff with the opportunity to progressively practice as well as to reflect upon these insights in relation to their own specific sociocultural setting and work situation.

This coursebook offers a practical, step by step way to follow up on some of the main ideas that are presented in the influential text Bible translation: Frames of reference (Wilt 2003). The collection of studies proposed a more diverse and flexible “holistic” approach to Bible translation, as summarized by the following critical points of view (ibid: xii):

• viewing the translation project in terms of its community, organizational, and sociocultural settings;
• viewing the translation product as part of a larger communicative process;
• viewing translation as an interdisciplinary subject;
• viewing textual parts in terms of textual wholes;
• viewing form and content, structure and function, as together contributing to the meaning of texts;
• viewing informative and imperative functions of texts in relation to other functions, especially the aesthetic and ritual functions of scriptural texts.

The present coursebook seeks to investigate these basic perspectives in somewhat greater detail by means of both additional information regarding the different topics involved and also through interspersed exercises, which invite readers to apply the material contextually to the particular circumstances in which they themselves are either translating or training and guiding translators to do the job. Bible translation focuses upon a single text, but the process is influenced and thus also coloured by a host of interrelated sociolinguistic and cultural variables that pertain to the many different settings in which this communicative activity is being conducted throughout the world today. Thus this coursebook intends to broaden translators’ field of vision—their “frames of reference”—with regard to the conceptual and pragmatic scope of their task in relation to the original text and, on the other hand, to lead them to apply this vision with more focused clarity and conviction to their specific work situation, ideally in close interaction with colleagues in a “team” approach to the task. This text is itself very much the product of teamwork, as the many quotations and exercises contributed by others clearly indicate.

For more information about this book, see at or at

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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