Nida, Existentialism & Bible Translation

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Nov 6, 2008.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    In my recent thread on the meaning of paraphrase I mentioned that Eugene Nida followed the godless philosophy of existentialism in formulating his semantics (the study of meaning). I thought I'd at least get the sources out there for this statement so no one thinks I'm just playing the nasty fundamentalist. I'm still thinking through the ramifications, so I may not post or discuss much beyond the quotes. We'll see. At any rate, here is the first quote:

    "Nida drew on the existentialist philosophers, particularly Ludwig Wittgenstein, who held that the meaning of any word is a matter of what we do with our language. Knowing the meaning of a word can involve knowing to what objects (if any) it refers, recognizing whether the word is slang or figurative language, knowing what part of speech it is, and also being aware of its connotative values. Essentially, then, to oversimplify somewhat, the meaning of a word stems from its use. Functional equivalence as an approach to translation depends on this idea." (Stine, Philip C. Let the Words Be Written. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004, pp. 143-144)

    Just so you know, Stein was a close associate of Nida, and the book is basically a puff piece rather than a scholarly tome (though it has lots of good information in it). So you know that Stein was not saying this in criticism of Nida but in agreement.
     
  2. John of Japan

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    It just occurred to me that maybe I should explain who Eugene Nida was for some who may read this but not know. He is the man who formulated the translation method called dynamic equivalence (or functional equivalence) which underlies many modern translations beginning with the Today's English Version (Good New Bible).
     
  3. Rippon

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    So are you saying that translators who use the functional-equivalence method are godless?
     
  4. John of Japan

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    No. That's a completely speculative interpretation of what I said, which was "godless philosophy." I didn't even say Nida was godless, and I don't believe he was.
     
  5. Rippon

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    So are you saying that translators who use a functionally-equivalent philosophy of translation are following godless principles?
     
    #5 Rippon, Nov 6, 2008
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  6. rsr

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    Isn't this true?
     
  7. Rippon

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    Following RSR,would anyone disagree with the above?If so,in what ways?I think contextual meaning is the gist of the idea being expresed.
     
  8. John of Japan

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    No. Once again, that's a completely speculative interpretation of what I said, which was "godless philosophy." Please stop trying to put words in my mouth.
     
  9. John of Japan

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    I said in the OP, "I'm still thinking through the ramifications, so I may not post or discuss much beyond the quotes." I have two long quotes yet to give from Nida himself and more research to do, so please be patient.


    Are you familiar with existentialism?
     
    #9 John of Japan, Nov 7, 2008
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  10. John of Japan

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    Please note that Stein said he was oversimplifying--and he certainly was! There is a movement nowadays to limit the semantics of a word to only its use in the discourse, the context if you will. There are some who take this position who are criticizing the standard works (BDAG, Gerhard Kittel, etc.) as going too far in that they use historical linguistics in their analysis of a word.
     
  11. John of Japan

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    I'm going to give a lengthy Nida quote now to show what he thought of existentialism, since I have it scanned in and have a few minutes. I'll try to get at least one more in before the weekend comes and I get busy.

    Nida wrote in Religion Across Cultures (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1968, pp. 55-56):



    "EXISTENTIALISM

    "It is not at all strange that Existentialism should have arisen in circumstances in which, for many, God is dead and subhuman forms of life have proved inadequate to explain the uniqueness of man. For Existentialism is precisely a system of looking at truth which refuses to accept the supernatural, at least in its traditional forms, and at the same time insists that the answers of Fascism and Communism are no answers at all, and that man is simply not explicable as merely a quantitatively more complicated animal.

    "Existentialism is not a 'content' philosophy, in the sense of a system of truth, but it offers a very important way of looking at truth, since it raises questions in ways which earlier forms of philosophy have not considered. In fact, societies and periods of history are distinguished, not so much by the answers they give to life, but by the questions they ask, and the ways in which they ask them. In this regard Existentialists have sought to pose some relevant questions about man’s search for meaning, his freedom, his ambiguous relationships to his fellow man, and his incredible capacity for self-deception.

    "Existentialism cannot be expected to put God back in the heavens, for a way of examining truth is not a technique for proving the existence of anything. But Existentialism has served a very useful purpose in destroying some age-old idols. For one thing, it has exposed, with heartless cynicism, the idea of the inherent goodness of man by turning the spotlight on man’s demonic capacities for evil and self-deception. Existentialists such as Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus have all exposed the moral nakedness of man.

    "Existentialists, however, have not made man out to be merely a beast or some highly complex animal, but as qualitatively a different “animal,” not only because he is essentially a user of symbols, but also because he lives constantly in the presence of the great Existential question of life and death— something which makes the human being utterly distinct from other animals

    "Quite understandably, the Existentialist has also refused to look at man as merely a spectator, sitting on the sidelines of life; for in the Existential view there are no spectators; all men are actors. Moreover, presumed objectivity is not to be found by the person who isolates himself from the very phenomenon he is studying, but rather by the individual who is immersed in it. This means that the best judge of Christianity is not the outsider, who looks in upon Christian behavior, but the Christian who himself participates in the very activity he wishes to describe. In a sense, of course, it also means that complete objectivity (in the traditional sense of the word) is impossible, for we are all—whether we like it or not—a part of the very life we study and evaluate. It is only that we must be honest and fair.

    "Probably one of the most significant contributions of Existentialism has been its revolt against the mere intellectualization of life. In fact, Existentialists have been emphatic in their denial of thought as a substitute for action or of words as a substitute for life. Theology is thus not religion, any more than grammar is language."
     
  12. Crabtownboy

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    I am not a philosopher nor a theologian ... so keep that in mind.

    Seems a very reasonable statement to me.

    This also seems a very reasonable statement.

    The entire quote seems a pretty good explanation of Existentialism ... of which I am not even a novice. LOL

    John, I am following your thread trying to figure out what you are really looking at. Pardon my ignorance. Thanks.
     
  13. John of Japan

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    Actually, Nida is simply giving his opinion of existentialism here, not explaining it. If you're not familiar with philosophy in general or existentialism in particular, it's hard to explain my antipathy towards it. And this is not just something you can just pick up on Wikipedia, either. The explanation there is poor. At the least, check out this:

    "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8).

    Existentialism is literally a godless philosophy in the sense that it doesn't seek God. (This is in its original secular garb. There is a theological version called neo-orthodoxy.) Until the 20th century, two of the main questions philosophy addressed were the existence of God and the origin of evil. Existentialism deals with neither of these, but is entirely man-centered.
     
  14. Rippon

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    As a Calvinist I certainly concur with the above.


     
  15. Rippon

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    When I put something in the form of a question :"Are you saying...?" I am not putting words in your mouth.I simply want to get an answer to my inquiry.
     
  16. Rippon

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    Nida codified what was already practiced centuries before he came on the scene.
     
  17. Rippon

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    Are you trying to establish a link between existentialism and the translation method of functional-equivalence somehow? I don't get the connection -- please elaborate.
     
  18. John of Japan

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    Certainly not! Nida's buddy Stein did that in the quote from the OP!! Wait for the next quote from Nida. Nida himself openly gives the link between his method and existentialism. It's in the semantics of the method.
     
  19. John of Japan

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    Enlighten me. Who before Nida based their semantics on existentialism? Who before Nida based his translation method on linguistics, particularly on the idea of language as code, or the ideas on deep and surface structure of Noam Chomsky? Who invented sociolinguistics if not Nida? You don't give Nida enough credit!

    The man was brilliant in linguistics and translation, I'll grant him that. I've praised him before on the BB for being the first to actually develop a complete theory and methodology of translation. Even though I disagree with his method, I say he got the ball rolling for a serious discussion of these things. Why, the secular field of translation studies didn't even get going until the 1970's or so.
     
  20. John of Japan

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    As a Calvinist, surely you disagree with the main theme of existential writers?!?
     

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