Recently, I had the honour of exchanging some thoughts over e-mail with Dr. E. A. Nida, a Bible translator most notable for his development of dynamic equivalence (subsequently functional equivalence) translation theory. Dr. Nida graciously agreed that the following parts of the e-mail exchange could be published here. It’s a smaller than usual interview but still part of our Talks With Scholars series. I trust that it will be of interest to students and others engaged in the translation of Scripture.
1. You have been a leading member of the Bible Translation community for some decades now. How do you sum up the current state of the global Bible Translation scene compared to the middle of the 20th century?
I consider that nowadays there is more emphasis in academic quality. I mean a deep knowledge of the Bible in order to understand its context and culture and to be more accurate in translating by means of studying the equivalence between the context and culture of the Bible and the culture of the language of the receptor of the translation.
2. Is that a positive statement? Is academic quality a good goal to be aiming at?
I think that to emphasise good quality is always positive, and of course, to improve quality in translations and training is a good goal to aiming at.
3. What do you see as the greatest need for organisations such the American Bible Society and other groups for whom Bible translation is an important issue?
The greatest need seems to be the training and accurancy of the translators
4. Perhaps your most notable contribution has been the development of dynamic equivalence theory. For those who are not familiar with your work, could you briefly explain this concept?
The dynamic equivalence is the quality of a translation in which the message of the original text has been so transported into the receptor language that the RESPONSE of the RECEPTOR is essentially like that of the original receptors. Frequently, the form of the original text is changed; but as long as the change follows the rules of back transformation in the source language, of contextual consistency in the transfer, and of transformation in the receptor language, the message is preserved and the translation is faithful. The opposite principal is FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE.
5. How does dynamic equivalence differ from functional equivalence, a term you introduced in 1986?
In principle there should be no difference.
6. Are you still actively engaged in writing and research?
I am essentially revising my former texts. I am revising my books “The Theory and Practice of Translation” and “Towards a Science of Translation” among others, because I am preparing a book in Spanish with my essential ideas from these books.
7. Do you mean in terms of learning biblical languages, or rather in terms of learning about the local cultures, including learning about their languages?
Actually, both are important, but absolutely indispensable to learn about local cultures and local languages.
8. In Bible translation circles, there is a great deal being said about Relevance Theory. Are you able to tell us briefly what this is what your thoughts are about it?
The most important words are related to the meaning of a passage. We have to focus on the words that carry the essential meaning of the passage.
9. Can you tell us a little bit about the Nida Institute and how this serves the global Bible translation effort?
I think it would be better you to ask this question to the Director of this Institute. In the past it was Bob Hodgson, who I used to have a very close and interesting relationship. One year ago the Direction
changed and I don’t know the name of the new Director, that never contacted me, but if you send a mail to the American Bible Society they will give it to you.
Many thanks, Dr. Nida for your time.
This interview was conducted over e-mail by Andy Cheung who teaches on the distance learning Theology degree programme at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.