(This is a revised version.)

“Literary functional equivalence” translation (LiFE for short) is an extension or development of de Waard and Nida’s “functional equivalence” methodology (1986), with special reference to distinctive literary forms and their associated communicative functions. This approach is based upon the assumption (supported by various types of discourse analysis, e.g., Wendland 2004) that the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, by and large, exemplify literary texts of demonstrably high quality, and therefore any translation should manifest a corresponding level of compositional excellence (to the degree possible under the prevailing circumstances of text production). The term “literary” conveys a twofold emphasis, namely, upon the artistry (forms) and rhetoric (functions) of the original biblical documents as well as their equivalent replication in vernacular, or “target language” (TL), translations (cf. Wendland 2011). Artistic techniques include features such as patterned recursion, imagery and figurative language, distinctive word orders, rhythm and other purposeful sound effects, and the use of emphatic devices (e.g., rhetorical questions, hyperbole, exact repetition, direct speech insertions, etc.).

Basic functional analysis techniques are given more precision through the application of “speech act” and “schema” (or cognitive “frames”) theory (Wendland 2008). Special attention is given to the TL and the systematic search for oral and written (or mixed) genres that may serve as functional equivalents to those found in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Various degrees of LiFE application are possible, depending on considerations of “relevance” (processing “cost” versus conceptual “gain”) in relation to a given translation project’s “job commission” (brief), including the major communicative goals (Skopus) of the present version, the primary setting in which it will be used, the wishes and/or needs of the target audience, and the working competence of the translators. This may range from a complete genre-for-genre (SL>TL) “oratorical” transposition to merely a limited treatment with respect to the phonological (e.g., rhythmic) structures of an otherwise relatively literal “liturgical” version.

Thus the intended situation of use is of major importance when preparing a LiFE translation, and this projected scenario is researched and assessed through the recursive application of a cognitive “frames of reference” investigative methodology—that is, involving an exploration of the integrated and mutually influencing sociocultural, organizational, conversational (situational), and textual (including intertextual) referential contexts (cf. Wilt 2003, Wilt & Wendland 2008). It is recognized at the outset that complete communication via translation is impossible, and therefore the potential use of various supplementary paratextual tools (e.g., explanatory notes, sectional introductions and/or headings, illustrations, glossary, etc.) and features of text formatting (e.g., indentation, spacing, typography) are also researched and promoted during the preparation of a LiFE translation. Two recently published examples of LiFE translations of the Psalms are Boerger (2009) and Wilt (2012).

Boerger, Brenda H. 2009. Psalms (Poetic Oracle English Translation). Dallas: Self-published.
de Waard, Jan and Eugene A. Nida. 1986. From one language to another: Functional equivalence in Bible translating. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Wendland, Ernst. 2004. Translating the literature of Scripture: A literary-rhetorical approach to Bible translation. Dallas: SIL International.
Wendland, Ernst. 2008. Contextual frames of reference in translation: A coursebook for Bible translators and teachers. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome.
Wendland, Ernst. 2011. LiFE-style translating: A workbook for Bible translators (2nd ed.). Dallas: SIL International.
Wilt, Timothy. 2003. “Translation and communication,” in T. Wilt (ed.), Bible translation: Frames of reference. Manchester: St. Jerome. 27-80.
Wilt, Timothy. 2012. Praise—The book of Psalms translated from the Hebrew. CreateSpace: Self-published (available from Amazon).
Wilt, T. and E. Wendland. 2008. Scripture frames and framing: A workbook for Bible translators. Stellenbosch: SUN Press.


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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