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Naudé, J. A., and C. H. J. van der Merwe [Eds.]:
Contemporary Translation Studies and Bible Translation. A South African Perspective.
Bloemfontein: Publication Office of the University of the Free State 2002. VIII, 290 S. m. Tab. 8 = Acta Theologica. Supplementum, 2. Kart. US$ 22,00. ISBN 0-86886-661-X.
David J. Clark
This volume includes an introduction by the editors, and fifteen papers read at a symposium held in South Africa in August 2001. They "provide a South African perspective on recent developments in translation studies as well as in the theory of Bible translation" (2). Six of the contributors (Wilt, Wendland, Mojola, de Blois, and Mewe) work with the United Bible Societies (UBS) or the Bible Society of South Africa (Hermanson), and the other ten occupy academic posts in South Africa.
The articles are not presented in groups, but one can discern various foci of interest, of which the first is historical. Hermanson surveys the history of Bible Translation in South Africa, and Mojola the development of attitudes towards translation within the UBS. Ponelis discusses the present state of the Afrikaans language and the effect this would have on any future Bible translation into Afrikaans. It might have been helpful to group these articles together.
The main focus is on theoretical questions relating to translation in general and Bible translation in particular, though it is difficult to perceive any rationale in the sequence of the articles. Surely it would have been more coherent to put Naudé's masterly overview of recent developments in translation studies at the head of this group of articles. He relates how translation studies has emerged as a distinct discipline with various emphases at different times: linguistic, communicative/functional, cognitive, and so on. The seminal work of Nida &Taber (1969) was linguistically oriented and made equivalence its prime goal in translation. This stage tended to be prescriptive/normative in its orientation, though in practice not as rigidly as Naudé seems to think, at least in my experience in the Asia-Pacific region. The linguistic approach was gradually amplified by the growing awareness of the importance of discourse analysis and pragmatics. The cognitive approach of Gutt (1991) offered further insights from relevance theory, while other scholars focussed on the process of translation, or on the function of the translated text. The degree to which the foreignness of the source text should be preserved also became a topic for debate. Gradually the balance tipped from prescription to description, with more autonomy claimed for the translated text. Of course, Bible translation is not sealed off from the currents in the wider translation world, and the importance of the readers and their cultural filters has gradually assumed a higher profile.
The papers by Jordaan and Joubert express reservations about modern translations influenced by dynamic/functional equivalence views. Jordaan seems to be demolishing a straw man of his own creation, and while Joubert's plea for greater culture shock in a Bible translation is more carefully nuanced, how can a book that asserts that "Christ is risen" lack shock value in any and every culture? From the opposite point of view, van der Watt describes some of the problems that arise from literal translation, while recognising that the labels "literal" and "dynamic/ functional" are related on a cline rather than as polar opposites. Interpretation by translators is inevitably part of the translation process, even in literal translations.
Corpus-based studies are described by A. Kruger, specifically with regard to their relevance for Bible translation, and Smith provides a thoughtful discussion of Gutt's relevance theory perspective, rebutting some reservations about it that he believes misconceived. Van der Watt & Y. Kruger emphasise the complexity of the translation task and the importance of preserving the atmosphere as well as the meaning of the source text.
Wilt concisely outlines the latest theoretical thinking within the UBS, as expounded in the volume he himself edited, Bible Translation: Frames of Reference (Manchester: St Jerome, 2002). This thinking is expressed mainly in terms of interpenetrating and increasingly comprehensive "frames of reference" (speech-situation frames, organisational frames, and socio-cultural frames) within which the communicative events involved in Bible translation take place. This represents a considerable expansion of the theoretical horizons of the earlier dynamic and functional equivalence models, and takes much fuller account both of audience response and of the influence of interested parties such as churches and publishers.
In the longest article of all, Wendland provides a characteristically perceptive analysis of the nature of literature, the nature of translation, and the relationship between them. His dream is that there may be a truly literary translation that is able to bring something of the artistic qualities of the source text both to readers and (especially in predominantly oral societies) to hearers. He is aware that this is a utopian goal, not least because we do not and cannot have a full appreciation of the artistic qualities of the source text, and these in any case vary from book to book within the Bible. Nevertheless it is surely true that too little attention has been paid to this aspect of Bible translation, even in major languages. (This theme is developed further in Wendland's chapter in Bible Translation: Frames of Reference, mentioned above.)
The three remaining articles are more diverse. De Blois and Mewe relate some of the practical problems encountered in the New Dutch Translation currently under way. Initially the theoretical basis of the project had not been defined with sufficient clarity, leading to some serious differences of opinion within the rather large translation team. These were resolved by a sharper definition of the skopos of the project, and a clearer understanding that adjustments could be made much more readily at the linguistic level than at the cultural and literary levels.
Van der Merwe discusses recent advances in the understanding of Hebrew structures at sentence level and above. Such advances throw light on previously puzzling variations in sentence patterns, and so are very relevant to the way translators perceive the flow of the text.
In a stimulatingly different article du Plooy examines the impact of modern literary theories on views about interpretation. She reaches the balanced conclusion that while readers have a greater freedom to interpret a text than has often been recognised in the past, they do not have absolute freedom, but must be constrained by both textual and extratextual contexts. This is particularly important in reading a sacred text such as the Bible.
Overall, one has the feeling that the Bible Society contributors are less absorbed with theoretical abstractions than the academic contributors. This is hardly surprising since the former have their feet kept firmly on the ground by their constant involvement in the exigencies of real Bible translation projects into non-European languages. While the classical expression of Nida's views on dynamic/functional translation is now seen as dated and over-simplified, it must not be forgotten that in their time these views were a huge advance. The UBS translation goal of the seventies and eighties was summed up in the mantra of seeking "the closest natural equivalent." In practice this was never the straightjacket that some theoreticians seem to imagine, and even though it did not focus primarily on such features as the meaning carried by source language forms or on audience interpretation, it in no way precluded sensitivity to these issues. Today's task is to build on the past rather than to demolish it, and this book is a useful contribution.