Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eugene Nida, Bible translator: 1914-2011

Eugene Nida passed away last Thursday, August 23rd, at the age of 96. As founder of the Eugene Institute for Biblical Scholarship, and overseer of translations for the American Bible Society, Mr. Nida coordinated the work of hundreds of translators all over the world and helped to make the world's most-published book accessible to the speakers of many of the world's languages.

Mr. Nida, a linguist, is given credit for developing and promoting a theory of "dynamic" or functional equivalence, which he reasoned was a more effective means of providing access to the Biblical text than literal translations which transmit Biblical concepts -- a camel through the eye of a needle, my father's mansions, nothing new under the sun -- into the new language without taking cultural and idiomatic differences. In a remembrance titled "Spreading the Word in Hundreds of Tongues", Stephen Miller writing for The Wall Street Journal notes "The results [of functional equivalence] often worked better than literal translation but can sound odd when translated back into English. For instance 'Love the Lord with all your heart' became 'with all your liver' in some west African languages." ... "But in Japan Mr. Nida encountered resistance to introducing cultural clarity [by using idioms belonging to the target language, rather than importing the idioms of the Biblical source]. They said, 'If we made the Bible that clear, what would preachers have to do?'"

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