Review of "Fascinated by Languages" by Eugene Nida

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by John of Japan, Jul 28, 2009.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Nida’s Last Book​
    Fascinated by Languages, by Eugene Nida,
    Reviewed by John R. Himes

    I mentioned in a previous thread that I had ordered what I believe is Eugene Nida’s (pronounced nigh-dah) last book, Fascinated by Languages (2003). I said that I would tell at that time when Nida himself said he formulated his dynamic equivalence method of translation. However, unfortunately Nida never gives that information in this book. But there is enough of interest there that I thought I would review the book for you.

    First of all, the price per page was very disappointing. Not counting the bibliography and index, the book only has 143 pages, but I paid $120 smackers for it! That works out to about 84 cents per page. It was published by one of those companies that publishes in low quantities mainly by and for scholars. So how did an impecunious missionary get his hands on that kind of dough, you ask? Just in case any supporting pastors or mission board executives are reading this, I want you to know that I did not use support money for this purchase. The Japanese government paid for this with their stimulus package! So I’m helping out the US economy with Japanese money!
     
  2. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

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

    Now on to the positives. First of all, the book made for a very interesting read. Nida was a good writer, and had very wide experience in over 90 countries as both a representative and translation consultant for the United Bible Societies. In Part 1 (pp. 1-65) he tells many fascinating stories of his journeys around the world to help out and evaluate both secular and Bible translators.

    Nida also had a wonderful sense of humor, and there are many humorous stories in the book. For example, he mentions German textual scholar Kurt Aland, who he called “an overwhelming personality,” and his new wife, wondering how she would be able to develop her leadership potential living with Kurt. Then he says, “But when I once visited them for a weekend in their country home and saw Kurt washing dishes, I realized what an effective leader Barbara is” (p. 104).

    Secondly, from this book one gets a real picture of the workings of the United Bible Society. So from a historical standpoint this book is a must read for scholars of 20th century Bible translating. Whether or not it is a must read for the layman interested in the history of Bible translating is another story. Are you able to shell out $120 bucks? That’s up to you, but if Prime Minister Aso and the Liberal-Democratic Party hadn’t helped out I probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it!

    Part 2 (pp. 69-132) starts out by telling of the many associates Nida had over the years, and about his experiences in teaching people to be translators (pp. 69-80). The rest of this section is more technical, discussing the Bible as literary genre (pp. 81-86), and discussing “Texts and Interpretations” and then “Specific Bible Translation Problems” for the rest of the section. Nida was also a brilliant linguist, with a Ph. D. from the U. of Michigan. So for the linguist this book has some interesting tidbits. However, Part 2 is certainly not worth the price of the book. For Nida’s theories and methods, the reader is far better served by buying one of his books on translation theory.

    Thirdly, the almost complete bibliography of Nida’s books and articles will be of interest to scholars. I don’t know of any other such list. I say “almost complete” because of the omission of a cooperative effort with one scholar who came to disagree with Nida. Nida at one point mentions this scholar, though not by name, and says a book resulted, but the book is not in the bibliography.

    The scholar is Jin Di, a secular Chinese translation studies scholar, who wrote On Translation with Nida as co-author. However, in the book’s second edition, Jin discusses From One Language to Another (co-authored by Nida and Jan de Waard), and tells us that he had come to disagree with Nida. Jin wrote, “To my mind that concept (functional equivalence—John), though it may serve religious translation well (as explained in their book), is not appropriate for literary translation, and I have tried to make the point clear in some of the new material, particularly in Supplements I and V” (p. xiii). Jin wrote as much to Nida, but never heard back from him. So now we know why this book is not included in Nida’s bibliography.

    Finally, in Part 3, “A Personal Touch” (pp. 135-143) Nida tries to answer the question, “Who Am I?” We learn some interesting tidbits such as that he is a birdwatcher, how his first wife died, his second marriage, etc. Unfortunately, we only get about 2 pages of how he developed his theories. We could wish for a much longer section here.
     
  3. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

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

    Now for the negatives. First of all, there is a little in the way of technical material in Fascinated by Languages, but not nearly enough for the serious researcher. I had hoped for more on the history of when how Nida came to formulate his theories, but that was not to be. He discusses this much more in Toward a Science of Translating, but even there we don’t get a clear picture. So the workings of Nida’s mind are somewhat of a mystery—or maybe just an existential fog.

    Secondly, though Nida tells many great stories of his days traveling as a translation consultant and the UBS representative, he gives no dates for those occasions. It would be almost impossible to put together a timeline of Nida’s life from this book. Along that line, the book is far too short and incomplete to be a biography or even to help much in the writing of one.

    Thirdly, Nida sources nothing whatsoever in the book. This becomes particularly irksome when he talks about Bible translation problems. To give just one example, about the Greek word ekklhsia (“church”), he says, “The origin of the word ekklesia was from meetings of all the citizens of a town because the people normally had to go outside of the city walls” (p. 124). I’ve never found this explanation in any source, and if Nida is correct (which I doubt) I would certainly like to know his source for this tidbit.

    Finally, in spite of Nida’s much vaunted skills, his reference to the Japanese language shows he knows little about his subject. This leads me to wonder how many times he gets it wrong when referring to some other language. He wrote, “Revision of the Japanese New Testament was further complicated by the multiple Japanese orthographic system that employed three systems of writing: the kanji characters borrowed from Chinese, the syllabic system of katakana used for both words and affixes, and the furigana symbols often used alongside the kanji and katakana symbols to indicate the pronunciation of words, a device often used in texts requiring explanations” (p. 32). In reality, the third system is hiragana, with the katakana being used for foreign words or for emphasis (and not for affixes), and furigana being simple a system of ruby pronunciation marks often using hiragana (but sometimes katakana). The truth is, I felt sorry for the Japanese translators Nida was trying to tell how to do their jobs!
     
  4. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

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

    In this section I will discuss some revelations in the book about Nida and who he really was. Until now, his books on translation have been technical, but this book gives us more of a picture into the man and his beliefs.

    For starters, it is clear that Nida opposed the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. He once chaired a discussion about the subject where various possible errors in the Bible were put forth. Concerning one of those so-called errors, the two different accounts of Christ cleansing the temple, he wrote, “But some people insisted that this just means that Jesus drove out the merchants twice. This is, of course, possible, but is it probably, especially when the wording of the event is so similar?” (p. 92).

    Again, we learn that Nida was a thoroughgoing ecumenicist. Over and over again he actively sought cooperation from liberals and Catholics. One of his closest associates was Robert Bratcher, a notorious theological liberal. Again, in writing about a meeting with representatives from the Vatican about cooperating on Bible translating, he says, “How could some of our Protestant friends in Latin America justify cooperation with people whom they regard as ‘unsaved heretics’? But one member of Propaganda Fidei (Vatican representatives—JRH) said, ‘You have your fundamentalists and we have our cardinals’” (p. 97). Again, Nida said of Chinese scholar I-jin Loh, “His openness to cooperation with leading Roman Catholic scholars was nothing less than inspiring” (p. 74).

    Unfortunately, however, Nida had little use for theological conservatives. A number of times he referred to them as incompetent or as obstructers of progress. For example, he wrote that “very conservative missionaries…were opposed to a Bible revision in Thai.” (p. 27). This is not to say that Nida himself was a theological liberal except in his opposition to Biblical inerrancy. For example, on page 79 he relates how he told Ken Taylor, author of the paraphrased Living Bible, how he should not depart from the Greek text of Matthew 2 and thus eliminate the miraculous nature of the star of Bethlehem.

    Having said this, it is apparent that Nida often took the side of liberals when translation problems are discussed. For example, concerning the Greek word for virgin, parqenoV, he wrote, “Temple prostitutes were often called ‘virgins,’ in view of the fact that they had no offspring” (p. 115). Unfortunately, he doesn’t source this, leaving me very doubtful as to its truth, since I can find such a usage nowhere in the literature of koine Greek. It may be once again that he is letting classical Greek meanings rule the koine meaning.

    Finally, in this book we learn some disturbing things about Nida’s scholarship. While he was certainly a brilliant linguist, it appears that he was out of step with the evangelical scholarship of today. He admits to knowing very little Hebrew (p. 107). Also, it may be that his Greek (M. A. in patristic Greek) was rusty and thus not up to par. For example, though a translation consultant, he admits to never having translated a chapter of the Bible for publication (p. 135).

    Again, we learn that when he wrote the definitions for the Louw-Nida The Greek-English Lexicon, “I reviewed carefully the meanings of terms in the Greek-English Lexicon by Newton G. Liddell and Robert Scott…and in many instances I traced the meanings of a term from Classical usage to Hellenistic, and even to later Patristic usage” (p. 112). This is surprising and disappointing, since classical Greek often used words in a very different way from koine Greek. One is left scratching his head, wondering why Nida did not tell of using BAGD, BDAG, Abbot-Smith or one of the other good koine lexicons.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

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

    There are other areas that bothered me, such as Nida’s great prejudice against the Byzantine text type, which he called “the least reliable of all texts” (p. 101), his dynamic equivalence as seen (to give just one example) in his endorsement of the rendering of “saints” (oi agioi, “holy ones”) as “his very own people” in the Contemporary English Version (p. 128), etc. However, this review has probably gone on long enough.

    My conclusion is that I’m glad the Japanese government paid for this book, and not my supporters. I would be embarrassed if I had to explain buying this book to a supporting pastor. If you were thinking of buying this and have no compelling interest such as that you are writing a scholarly book on Nida’s life, let it slide and save your money.
     
  6. gb93433

    gb93433
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    15,496
    Likes Received:
    6
    I found what Nida claimed in another source but I am not sure where. He does group ekklhsia and dhmos.

    In M&M Vocabularly of Greek NT the authors claim that ekklhsia originally meant any public assembly of citizens summoned by a herald.

    Another reference is Judith 6:16.
     
  7. gb93433

    gb93433
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    15,496
    Likes Received:
    6
    I oppose the Chicago Statement On Inerrancy because it fails miserably to deal with what separates scripture from an accurate document. It does nothing to address Heb. 4:12. To suggest that scripture is inerrant is to claim that it is only an accurate document and says nothing about its value of a living, breathing message from God. Scripture is dynamic in its power not static.

    I would say that about both sides of the fence in many ways. We should have no use for anyone who propagates ignorance and religious politics for the sake of power and not truth.
    Nobody should listen to those who do not study and propagate SYI.


    The TDNT address the issue in that goddesses were called parthenos. "For example Artemis, for instance, is emphatically parthenos." "This is also true when the word is used at times for goddess of love (Aphrodite and her oriental cousins), cf. the idea that Hera becomes a parthenos again after each union with Zeus" (Vol. V, p. 828).

    Liddell, Scott gives examples of unmarried women who are not virgins.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    There is no doubt that on occasion ekklhsia referred to all the citizens of a city, as Judith 6:16 shows, or even sometimes the entire Jewish assembly. What I doubt is Nida's statement about the etymology of the word, especially his idea that they were called outside of the city. That just doesn't make sense to me. My understanding was that the etymology came from the Greek democratic city-states, which of course all had sizeable meeting places within the city.

    Thanks for contributing to the thread.
     
  9. gb93433

    gb93433
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    15,496
    Likes Received:
    6
    “The origin of the word ekklesia was from meetings of all the citizens of a town because the people normally had to go outside of the city walls”.

    I am not sure what he meant by "
    the people normally had to go outside of the city walls."

    The way I read that quote was to assume that it was a meeting within the confines of the city because the people normally left the city and went outside of its walls. I have never heard the part about them leaving the city but it would make sense if they were farmers outside the city.
     
  10. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    So what do you say about the particular example from Nida that I gave? I believe in an inerrant Scripture myself, but even if I did not but still believed in divine inspiration, I would certainly go for the very possible explanation that leaves a passage inerrant rather than giving ammunition to the enemies of the Bible by casting doubt on Scripture.




    Sorry, I don't know what SYI is.


    I am aware of this, but it doesn't prove Nida's point, which was that temple prostitutes (not goddesses) were called parthenos. If you postulate a goddess, you will also postulate miracles (continued virginity in this case) to make her special.

    Ironically, though, the linguistic faults of TDNT were one reason Nida co-wrote his lexicon with Louw.
    Again, this doesn't prove Nida's point. Liddell-Scott was written as a classical Greek lexicon, though it sometimes references koine literature. Meanings change between classical and colloquial languages, and parthenos is one such case. For example, the word appears in Xenophon, who lived hundreds of years before Christ. What is important in the study of any word is how it was used in the literature at the time of the document you are studying, not its historical usage, as Nida himself knew and taught.
     
  11. gb93433

    gb93433
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    15,496
    Likes Received:
    6
    I thought that he lacked in informed historical context. I would have tended to be silent and study than say something that is not true. Immediately I thought of ignorance. That kind of expression seems to be so common today in an effort to win a hearing and advance politically. It helps Satan both in the church and the world.

    I have had numerous discussions with people that started about the issue of inerrancy and very few about inspiration and God's word. I have found zero who truly understand inspiration but are tripped up by the challenges on the issue. Just last week I talked with a young man who is 19 and in one year he went from faith to atheism and is now on the rebound back. He was challenged by some college students and he had no answers. I spent about two hours one question after another about the seemingly errors from the historical context. I explained to him about inspiration and Heb. 4:12 and never once using the word inerrant. Personally I think there is a lot of nonsense created in an effort to solve a problem when the words scripture should be studied. Why should we use different words than scripture uses? We should use them and explain them in such a way that people understand them. Too much is avoided in church where the answers should be given.


    I like using it because it gets people's attention. Eventually someone asks what it stands for. It stands for Share Your Ignorance.


    I could easily see how that could happen. However I believe we must inform people correctly and show the limitations of words and ideas. If we do not then we go so far as to say that Jesus was the result of parthenogenesis. I believe we must be honest with people where we teach and not avoid matters that do not always seem to be so crystal clear or make us disagree with the political arena. I have had pastors tell me that they cannot preach what I do. My response is often for them to examine who they are serving. Is God their master or the fear of man?

    That is interesting. I was not aware of that.

    I generally agree with you. There are times when we need to know when a particular word was substituted for another. For example episkopos for presbuteros. I am not sure we could get much information about those words if we did not look deeper than just the NT text itself. Historically we can easily find information on presbuteros but to find information on episkopos we need to go further ahead in time.

    If we just used the NT usage of the word for baptize we would not get the same meaning as when we look at the OT usage of the same word. We would get a different meaning if we looked at the secular usage of the same word. Imagine reading into Heb. 6 the meaning of Christian baptism.


    Don't you ever sometimes wonder how God ever uses us with all of our baggage and lack of other things? Kind of humbling isn't it? The older I get the more I know that I know so little. It seems like as I get older I know less.

    Thanks for bringing up the issue. It made me think more.
     
    #11 gb93433, Aug 3, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2009
  12. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Well, I kind of agree with you here. "Inerrant" is a theological term and should be reserved for Bible school or seminary or maybe training union. The average non-Christian wouldn't understand the concept without knowing about inspiration, as you point out. In evangelism I never try to explain inspiration, I just use the Bible like a sword as in Heb. 4:12 that you mentioned. You don't try to explain to your target why your sword will cut, you just stab away.


    Got it. :smilewinkgrin:



    This is all true as long as we only use etymology as a last resort (as opposed to the "word studies" that used to be so popular). I don't go so far as Carson in Exegetical Fallacies when he appears to completely rule out etymology. Sometimes when a word is rare or doesn't occur outside of the NT, etymology is the only way to figure out the meaning.

    BTW, the word in Heb. 6 is not the normal word for baptism, but baptismos, "washings," I believe.
    Amen to that!

    It is impossible to consider Nida's writings without thinking. Whatever I may disagree with him on, he was truly a thinker and innovater.
     
  13. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
    Expand Collapse
    <b>Moderator</b>
    Moderator

    Joined:
    May 4, 2001
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's too bad that you think that you have to defend the buying of a book. I am sure as a missionary, you run into all kinds of nonsense, but I am saddened by that. It should be that pastors and missions boards applaud missionaries who buy books.
     
  14. Mexdeaf

    Mexdeaf
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2005
    Messages:
    7,051
    Likes Received:
    0
    ... I am not going to hijack... I am NOT going to hijack... I am not going to HIJACK... OK, I AM going to...

    But I have to say, Pastor Larry- IF ONLY YOU KNEW some of the silly things missionaries get grilled over.

    And that's all I'm going to say about that.

    :smilewinkgrin:
     
  15. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    Well, it was kind of a stiff price. But I was writing partly tongue in cheek. My churches have supported me long enough I doubt there'd be a problem. But there's always that new, young pastor.... :smilewinkgrin:
     
  16. John of Japan

    John of Japan
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2005
    Messages:
    12,212
    Likes Received:
    192
    I had to fill out a seven page questionairre once. As soon as I clapped eyes on it I knew our support was doomed! And so it was.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled thread. :wavey:
     
  17. gb93433

    gb93433
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    Messages:
    15,496
    Likes Received:
    6
    One does not have to be a missionary in a foreign country to run into all sorts of nonsense. Most likely you can find a religious person in your own town.
     

Share This Page

Loading...