New Translation Theories

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Nov 30, 2009.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Hi folks.

    Nope, this is not about Eugene Nida and his dynamic equivalence. That's old hat in the world of translation studies.

    In the past 10 to 20 years there have been some interesting developments in the secular world of translation studies that are now starting to infiltrate the world of Bible translating. I've been researching this trend and want to share it here.

    My goal here is to see if I'm understanding the theories and communicating them well enough. If you don't understand what I'm writing, let me know and I'll try to explain better. If you do understand and don't agree, go ahead and debate me.

    Caveat: my descriptions of these theories don't mean I agree with them. I'm just trying to understand them right now.

    God bless all.

    John
     
  2. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Polysystem Theory

    Polysystem Theory


    Invented by Israeli translators Gideon Toury and Itamar Even-Zohar, this theory is the first to consider the concepts of faithfulness and equivalence to be secondary, focusing instead on the translators themselves. “Polysystem theory was a radical development because it shifted the focus of attention away from arid debates about faithfulness and equivalence towards an examination of the role of the translated text in its new context” (Translation Studies, by Susan Bassnett, p. 6). So what is a polysystem? “The term ‘polysystem’ is thus a global term covering all of the literary systems, both major and minor, existing in a given culture” (Contemporary Translation Theories, 2nd ed., by Edwin Gentzler, p. 115).

    Toury in particular strongly relates translation to the two cultures involved (source and target), with the emphasis on the target culture. “Translation activities should be…regarded as having cultural significance. Consequently, ‘translatorship’ amounts first and foremost to being able to play a social role, i.e., to fulfill a function allotted by community—to the activity, its practitioners and/or their products—in a way which is deemed appropriate in its own terms of reference” (Toury in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. by Lawrence Venuti, p. 205).

    So Toury’s theory says that you translate from one culturally-connected literary system into another, not just one language to another. In any culture there are various systems, so that the translation may be literary, scientific, business, etc. What should be studied is how the translator adapts his translation to the “norms” of the target culture. The norms of that culture are based on what is out of date in the culture and what is up to date. The translator may be doing an avant-garde translation or a more mainstream one (ibid, p. 212).

    Also according to Toury, “A translator’s behaviour cannot be expected to be fully systematic. Not only can his/her decision-making be differently motivated in different problem areas, but it can also be unevenly distributed throughout an assignment within a single problem area” (ibid, p. 215). So the researcher is to study the translator and his decisions, not lay down rules the translator must follow.

    “I conceive of translated literature not only as an integral system within any literary polysystem, but as a most active system within it” (Even-Zohar in Venuti, p. 200). “Translation is no longer a phenomenon whose nature and borders are given once and for all, but an activity dependent on the relations within a certain cultural system” (ibid, p. 204).

    Note that one negative for the Christian about this system, at least in Even-Zohar’s work, is that he was influenced by Hegel and Heidigger. “Hegel and Heidegger posit that being must engage other being in order to achieve self-definition. This is true only in part of language, which, at the phonetic and grammatical levels, can function inside its own limit of diacritical differentiation. But it is pragmatically true of all but the most rudimentary acts of form and expression. Existence in history, the claim to recognizable identity (style), are based on relations to other articulate constructs. Of such relations, translation is the most graphic” (ibid, p. 196). So to Even-Zohar, apparently for a translation to be real depends on the identity it assumes in the target culture. The translation cannot stand on its own. This is an existential view. But of course to a Christian the Bible is revealed truth, and stands on its own no matter what the culture or its acceptance or rejection of that truth.

    The result of polysystem theory: “The Israeli contribution abandoned attempts at prescription, incorporated descriptions of multiple translation processes, and analyzed the various historical products. Instead of basing itself on deep-structured grammar/thematic types or linguistic features that have similar functions, ‘modern’ translation theory incorporated the idea of systematic change which undermines such static, mechanistic concepts” (Gentzler, 109).

    So, what does polysystem theory mean to the Bible translator? I know of no one in the field of Bible translation who is using this theory yet, so we have to speculate. One possibility for the future is that the translator will consider the Bible itself as two or more polysystems: the OT, the Hebrew culture in the NT and the Gentile Christian culture in the NT. The translator will then vary his translation techniques and methods according to what system he is translating (poetry, Gospel, letter, apocalyptic literature, etc.). Or another possibility is that the theory will be used to validate more and more dependence on the secular world of Bible times to validate translation renderings. This is being done now to a certain extent and with some success in such cases as when a translator uses secular 1st century koine Greek sources to research the meaning of NT words.
     
  3. Forever settled in heaven

    Forever settled in heaven
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2000
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    0
    first, i'd like to say thx to J of J for the sharing. fascinating. a real update n a real timesaver. not all of us are fulltime translators working in the field.

    second, i'd like to suggest that it might be interesting--beyond testing the theory (polysystem, DE, etc.) on random samples of Scripture or secular texts--to run whatever theory by the examples of translation in scripture itself. i'm thinking particularly of the NT's use of the OT, where it's well-known that textual correspondence between the Gk NT and the Masoretic OT is somewhat spotty.

    perhaps some of these theories could offer an account/explanation of the cultural n other frameworks at play while being superintended by the Holy Spirit.
     
  4. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Glad you're enjoying the thread. More to come.


    I've done a little of this, but not nearly enough. The best resource for this kind of study is Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament, by Gleason Archer and G. C. Chirichigno. This book lines up in a horizontal chart the Masoretic OT source, the Septuagint translation, the NT quote of the OT, and a brief commentary.
    Skopos theory is the most interesting to me in this regard. I'm still writing the synopsis of that for this thread. I just received two articles by email from one of the top scholars in that field, Dr. Christiane Nord, who was very gracious when I wrote her asking for help.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Relevance Theory


    This is one secular theory that is currently enjoying wide evaluation among Bible translation scholars. Ernst-August Gutt, a British Bible translation researcher and consultant who has worked as a Bible translator in Ethiopia, first began applying relevance theory to Bible translation. (See his website at: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ernst-august.gutt/)

    Relevance theory is actually a linguistic theory rather than strictly a translation theory. Thus Gutt in a sense follows in the footsteps of Eugene Nida, who also based his dynamic equivalence on linguistic theories such as transformational grammar and code linguistics. On the other hand, relevance theory is a rival communication theory to the code linguistics used by Nida. It was first set forth by Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson in Relevance: Communication and Cognition (1986). Gutt developed his translation theory based on relevance theory soon after, beginning in 1991.

    Stated clearly, relevance theory teaches that communication “is seen to result from the interplay between the context, or the ‘cognitive environment’, of an utterance and the processing effort required to infer meaning from that utterance” (Key Terms in Translation Studies, by Giuseppe Palumbo, p. 100). Stated simply, successful communication depends on how the communicator phrases things based on his knowledge of what the listener knows. “Thus, according to relevance theory, unless the sender of a message knows something about the recipient’s expectations, situational context and cognitive experience, the message cannot be formulated in an optimally relevant way” (ibid, 101).

    Advocates of relevance theory like to use illustrations to explain this. Here is mine. Let’s say you overhear a conversation in which a man says, “No, that’s way too big.” That’s all you hear. The statement could mean that a monetary figure is too big, and he won’t pay. Or a house is too big, so he won’t buy it. Or a piano is too big to fit in his apartment. You lack the necessary information to make complete sense of the statement. If you then hear an answer, “Okay, look at this one, because it only has two bedrooms,” then you can assume he is talking about a dwelling place. The more information the recipient of the message has about the speaker’s subject, the more depth the communication contains.

    So how does Gutt apply this to translation? He writes, “Its main concern is to provide translators and others interested with a cause-effect understanding of translation as an act of communication: given the way the human mind goes about communication, what will be the likely effects of particular solutions, or what solutions are needed to achieve particular effects? The overall scientific domain within which these explanations are sought is cognition” (“Applications of Relevance Theory to Translation—a Concise Overview,” from his website). In other words, the translator will choose his renderings of the source text according to how much information the reader has about the original situation. So he may even paraphrase some to add more information to his rendering, such as “wicked city Sodom” in Luke 10:12 instead of just “Sodom.” Or if he is a more theologically conservative translator, he’ll add lots of explanatory notes and footnotes.

    So where does this leave us? In a chart, Stanley Porter puts relevance theory even further away from a strictly literal method than functional equivalence, functionalism (skopos theory, etc.) and discourse analysis, which is saying a lot (Translating the New Testament, p. 139)! A Bible translator sticking strictly to a relevance theory of translation would end up paraphrasing a lot.

    Gutt is no doubt a splendid linguist and translator, but he is no theologian. His resume at the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) website (http://www.sil.org/SIL/roster/gutt_ernst-august.htm) shows that both his MA and PhD are in linguistics. So he may not realize the theological implications of the direction he has gone, whether or not he is conservative in theology. The Bible is not a normal book. It is the inscripturated revelation of God! Thus it matters not what information the reader of the Bible knows or does not know about what he is reading, it is still Truth (with a capital T)!! It behooves the translator to stick closely to the original meaning and even form of the original texts of the Bible.

     
  6. Forever settled in heaven

    Forever settled in heaven
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2000
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    0
    apprec the resource by Gleason Archer and G. C. Chirichigno. i hadn't known.

    Thx ... i trust this is more on a descriptive level than a judgment on which end of the spectrum's better or worse.

    thing is, until we have an objective standard, or some standard at all other than what's off the top or gut feel, we can't conclude if "strictly literal" or "paraphrasing" is good/bad.

    which is why i'm proposing--tentatively--that the standard of NT quotes of the OT might be a place to start. establish principles based on those data, n u might arguably have a yardstick. so, like, are there places where Christ/Paul is strictly literal? or paraphrasing a lot? or functionally equivalent?

    and, further, in what proportion and under what circumstances--discourse-wise, textual, cultural, etc.
     
  7. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Well, I'm an "essentially literal" or "optimal equivalence" translator. But I have to say that skopos theory (still to come) is having an influence on me. Skopos theory puts the translation process squarely in the hands of the translator, instead of kibitzers and theorists.
    The problem with using the OT quotes in the NT as a guide is that it is an extremely complicated area. Sometimes the LXX is quoted word-for-word, sometimes the Hebrew is retranslated. To get it all figured out will take some serious, and I mean serious research by someone fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.

    Eugene Nida said somewhere (I don't have a quote handy) that he was influenced in his theory by the OT/NT quotes, but I have yet to find where he tells what he meant by that (I have eight of his books, have read six so far).

    Along the same line, though, check out the places where the NT translates itself: "Eli Eli lama sabacthani", "Talitha cumi", etc. That's an instructive study.
     
  8. Gold Dragon

    Gold Dragon
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2005
    Messages:
    3,837
    Likes Received:
    3
    These concepts sound pretty old-hat when it comes to the field of hermeneutics. Is it fair to say that the field of translation theory is starting to recognize that the division between the fields of translation and hermeneutics is becoming more blurred. I think that is a good thing because I have always felt that translation is hermeneutics and those who insist on "literalist" interpretations are doing bad translations because they are doing bad hermeneutics.
     
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    I'll have to think about this--but at a minimum I have to say that there are many kinds and levels of "literalist" translations, and this is being recognized in the field of translation studies. I'm not sure precisely what you mean by a literalist interpretation.

    On the other hand, Lawrence Venuti (who I'll mention more later), a well-known translation studies scholar, brings up such issues as keeping a translation "foreign"--meaning that he sees problems in some cases with adapting the translation fully to the target culture.

    Concerning what is happening historically, rather than say that the line between translation and hermeneutics is being blurred, I believe it is becoming more distinct. In particular, post-Nida (beginning in the '70's) we saw linguistics and "translation studies" (a fairly recent term) becoming separate disciplines. The new field of translation studies is more about researching the translator himself and why he makes his choices than the traditional issues of literal vs. free translation.
     
  10. Gold Dragon

    Gold Dragon
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2005
    Messages:
    3,837
    Likes Received:
    3
    Sorry, I meant literalist translations.

    I personally do use more literal translations like the NASB and find them superior for the purpose of study because they give more information about the original languages. But for the average reader, that is information that actually hinders the usefulness of the translation because it provides very little help in bridging the linguistic and cultural barriers that the reader needs to understand the text, which is what these two theories are about.
     
  11. Gold Dragon

    Gold Dragon
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2005
    Messages:
    3,837
    Likes Received:
    3
    This parallels the movement away from more author-centric hermeneutics (like the historical-grammatical hermeneutic) towards more text and reader-centric hermeneutics (like reader response criticism) that has occurred in the field of hermeneutics.
     
  12. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Stay tuned. This is where skopos theory comes in, which asks, "What is the purpose of the translation?"
     
  13. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    There have been recent articles in the Bible Translator journal about reader response criticism in translation studies. So far I'm not impressed. :type:
     
  14. Forever settled in heaven

    Forever settled in heaven
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2000
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    0
    o, and i thought paraphrasing was "optimal equivalence" :tongue3:

    as Bible believers n (i suppose) advocates of sola scriptura, such an endeavour--however complicated n arduous--must surely be worth the cost n effort. anything less risks being, um, somewhat baseless, no?

    i've never seen the quote, but hey, good for him! we shd subject our favourite kneejerk theories of what translations "should be" to examplars from biblical data.

    fascinating. i don't read Aramaic, but i guess i cld dig for commentaries by those who do.
     
  15. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Yanking my chain, eh? :laugh:
    I agree. It would be a very informative project.
    The problem would not be the data, but how Nida interpreted it according to his presuppositions about linguistics, existentialism, inspiration, etc.
     
  16. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Skopos Theory


    Skopos (skopoV) is the Greek word for “goal,” occurring in the New Testament only in Phil. 3:14 as “mark” in the KJV. Skopos theory was formulated by translation studies scholar Hans Vermeer. In his words, “The word skopos, then, is a technical term for the aim or purpose of a translation” (The Translation Studies Reader, ed. by Lawrence Venute, 2nd Ed., p. 227). Again, Vermeer says, “The aim of any translational action, and the mode in which it is to be realized, are negotiated with the client who commissions the action. A precise specification of aim and mode is essential for the translator” (ibid). So to a skopos theorist, whether or not the translation achieves its goal is more important than its equivalence (formal, dynamic, optimal, etc.) to the original.

    According to Giuseppe Palumbo, “The skopos…is the overriding factor governing either the choices and decisions made during the translation process or the criteria based on which a translation is assessed” (Key Terms in Translation Studies, p. 107). Edwin Gentzler puts it this way: “For most practical purposes, then, the Skopos is not located in either the source or the target text of culture; rather it is negotiated between the client and the translator, with reference to both the source text and receiving audience” (Contemporary Translation Theories, p. 73).

    This is the secular theory of translation most likely to resonate with the professional translator, since Vermeer views him or her as an expert. The basic premise of the theory is that the translator should (and usually does) translate according to the purpose of his contract. In the case of a professional in the secular world, this often means that he will translate with the goals given him by the contract he signed, or the goals delineated by his boss, or those given him by his client if he is an independent translator.

    Earlier this year I was asked to correct an English translation of the information brochure put out by the local water treatment plant. The goal was to take my Japanese client’s work and put it into good, grammatical, smooth English. I wanted it to read like it had been written in English so that the reader was not distracted by what we call Japlish—a mixed up version of English influenced by Japanese syntax and loan words from English. I thus operated with a skopos, a definite goal that did not limit me to strictly literal renderings. Because of this, more than once I did a free rendering of the original text, something I rarely do in translating the Greek New Testament. In skopos theory the tools and methods of the translator depend on his goal. My goal in this case was a faithful yet readable translation of the brochure, so I worked accordingly. As Vermeer writes, “The skopos can also help to determine whether the source text needs to be ‘translated’, ‘paraphrased’ or completely ‘re-edited’” (ibid, p. 237).

    This theory has not penetrated much yet into the world of Bible translation scholars. One of the most recent books on Bible translating, Translating the New Testament (ed. by Stanley Porter and Mark Boda, Eerdmans, 2009), does not even mention the theory or Vermeer, even though Porter has a whole chapter on modern theories, “Assessing Translation Theory: Beyond Literal and Dynamic Equivalence.” Surely Porter knows about this theory, since he mentions “the functionalist approach” (p. 128; different from Nida’s functional equivalence), which includes skopos theory. However, he apparently doesn’t see its relevance to Bible translation.

    As far as I know Dr. Cristiane Nord, the leading advocate of the theory next to Vermeer himself, is the only scholar writing about skopos theory and Bible translation. I wrote Dr. Nord asking for her article, “Functions of Orality in the Translation of New Testament and Early Christian Texts: a skopos-theoretical perspective.” She graciously answered and sent me not only that article but another as well. Rather than misrepresent her writings, I’m not going to discuss these articles in this post, but will post some about them later.

    When skopos theory does penetrate the ivory (or maybe just brick) towers of the Bible translation scholars’ world, how will it influence the Bible translator? First of all, it should make him consider his goals in a much deeper way. Is he aiming at a tool for evangelism first of all, or a faithful rendering of the original text? Secondly, he ought to be prayerfully thinking about the original Author of the Bible, and how that Author would have him translate. His view of Biblical inspiration will then shape his methods and what tools he uses. However it happens, the translator should grow simply by being aware of the theory.
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Dr. Christiane Nord

    Here is a good quote from Dr. Nord on skopos theory from her article “Function and Loyalty in Bible Translation,” included in the book, Apropos of Ideology. Translation Studies on Ideology – Ideologies in Translation Studies.

    “Translators have to decide beforehand what their translation is intended to mean to the addressed audience – in other words: what kind of communicative function(s) it is aiming at. Since in the case of biblical and apocryphal texts there is a large variety of possible skopoi, translators should be obliged (and given the opportunity, e.g., in a preface) to justify and defend their translational decisions. A team of translators and other experts who do not disclose their identity (like in GNG 1997) can create the false impression of having translated objectively and thus violate their obligation to loyalty with regard to the target readership” (“Function and Loyalty in Bible Translation,” by Christiane Nord, p. 19).


    Again, in her article included inTranslators and Their Readers: In homage to Eugene A. Nida, she discusses orality as the skopos of a Bible translation. This idea is fascinating to me as a missionary when considering tribal translation efforts. Dr. Nord writes:

    “Extratextual orality refers to specific characteristics of the communication forms used in the culture(s) involved in a particular translation process, where one or both of the two cultures are oral. If the source culture is (or was) an oral culture, orality has shaped the source text according to certain preferences in communication. If the target text is addressed to an oral culture, features of orality may help to make it more comprehensible. When texts from an oral culture are translated for a non-oral one (whether literate, less literate or post-literate, Piper 2005), translators will have to make up their minds whether to reproduce the features of orality in both form and content, taking the risk of making the text difficult to understand and perhaps even less acceptable for the target audience, or to adapt the target text to the standards of the receiving culture, paying for a higher degree of acceptability and comprehensibility by leveling the distance between the two cultures. The same considerations apply to the opposite case: Members of an oral culture will find texts written in a book culture hard to process. This is one of the reasons why in missionary contexts, other transfer forms, such as Bible storying, are often preferred to translation and the stories of the Bible are told chronologically (chronological Bible storying, CBS), in thematic groups or individually, as opportunity and need arise.”
     
    #17 John of Japan, Dec 3, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 3, 2009
  18. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Deconstructionism

    Deconstructionism



    This is one translation theory that I highly doubt any Bible translator will embrace. Even the liberal Robert Bratcher, when he translated the TEV (Today’s English Version, also called Good News for Modern Man, also called Good News Bible) by Nida’s dynamic equivalence method did not go near so far as the deconstructionists. But there’s always someone….

    Anyway, the inventor or this postcolonial, postmodern theory was Jacques Derrida. Derrida is a French philosopher who has as major influences such men as Heidigger (existential Nazi) and Neitzsche (“God is dead” nihilist). If you know philosophy at all, that should tell you a lot! But on to his deconstructionism translation theory, which I’ll just briefly explain and then abandon forever.

    “Derrida’s translation ‘theory’ is not a theory in a traditional sense—it is not prescriptive nor does it propose a better mode of transporting. Instead, it suggests that one think less in terms of copying or reproducing and more in terms of how languages relate to one another” (Gentzler, p. 165). So the deconstructionist tears apart the original document and reconstructs it however he wants to in the target language, since there is no such thing as eternal truth or permanent meaning. The translated document becomes something new, something invented by the translator and not the original writer.

    Derrida himself says, “As for the word (for the word will be my theme)—neither grammar nor lexicon hold an interest for me” (“What Is a ‘Relevant’ Translation?” p. 424 in Venuti’s The Translation Studies Reader). For a translator to swallow deconstructionism he must reject eternal truth. And that means he must reject the Bible’s revelation from God. And that is not just unchristian, it is anti-Christian.
     
  19. Forever settled in heaven

    Forever settled in heaven
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2000
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    0
  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192

Share This Page

Loading...