Saturday, September 3, 2011

pt 3, Dynamic unEquivalence: Nida v. Barnstone

This is part 3 of a series. In part 1, we considered how Eugene Nida’s reductive theory of dynamic equivalence opposed Eunice Pike’s much more robust theory and practice of translating. In part 2, we looked at how Nida’s simplistic focus on language as mere communication excludes culture and Jewishness in the Bible and how it takes people like Naomi Seidman and Lynell Zogbo to point out his ethnocentrism and to recover and to give us some recovery from it. In part 3, let’s review Nida’s binary and then let Willis Barnstone propose how to bust that up.

To be sure, Barnstone’s theory of language is as robust as Pike’s. Moreover, his work in translation is informed by his theory and is incredibly prolific. And, certainly, Barnstone’s knowledge of Bible translation is equal to Seidman’s and to Zogbo’s. He’s a well-researched scholar, a poet, a historian, a theoretician, and a practitioner of translation in general and of Bible translation in particular. I think he knows the anti-Semitic tendencies of much Christian Bible translation, and just a read of his essay, “How through False Translation into and from the Bible Jesus Ceased To Be a Jew,” gives evidence. All that to say, I don’t want us to pigeonhole Pike or Seidman or Zogbo or Barnstone as specialists with tunnel vision whose particular and individual and singular respective view only offers just one of several needed vantages from which to take down Nida’s dynamic equivalence theory.

Nor do I want to box in Nida. Nor do I desire for anyone to do that. I do want to notice the problems his reductive theory has caused. I do want you to see he’s caused issues for others and how they must deal with these. So here’s Barnstone.

Barnstone’s issues with Nida include two that I’d like to highlight here. The first is that Nida’s linguistics operates on the binary principle of a sort of reductive “linguistics v. literature,” and especially literature that is part and parcel of cultural patterns and the arts. The second issue is that Nida’s “form v. message” message is an unnecessarily simplistic binary.

First, Barnstone seems to be very generous to Nida. Here’s an excerpt from Barnstone’s book, The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice (page 224):
Returning to mainstream linguistics and literature, the joining of what might be considered science and art has not been “a happy alliance,” to use the words of Henry G. Schogt in his recent book Linguisitics, Literary Analysis, and Literary Translation. I do not wish to denigrate the work of older pioneers in translation theory: Quine’s indeterminacy of translation, Catford’s translation shifts and his application of Firth-Halliday linguistics to translation, Mounin’s linguistic techniques, which represent “un art fondé sur une science” (Problèmes théoriques 17), and the comparative discourse links expressed by the team of Jean-Paul Vinay and the late Jean Darbelnet (the latter my esteemed teacher) are all purely linguistic without reference to literature. Even Nida’s primary purpose has been to spread the Christian faith through denotative translations favoring “content over connotative and associative elements . . . content over form, and . . . decoder-oriented” (Schogt, Linguistics 104). Because their intentions and practice belong to linguistic theory, not literary analysis, they should not be reproached for what is neither their domain nor their intent.
Don’t reproach Nida, Barnstone suggests. But then he goes on to talk about the problems of Nida’s separation of his would-be communication-science linguistics from literature. Barnstone writes:
Disturbing, however, is the frequent expectation that linguistics provides a model for literary translation analysis and theory. We can easily identify the source of the temptation – translation, after all, ordinarily involves a linguistic activity between languages. So why not turn to linguistics for the theoretical frame of literary translation? Because to make linguistics the major instrument for the analysis or theory of literary translation is no more nor less reasonable than to make linguistics the major instrument for the analysis or theory of literature. Linguistics has essentially forsworn literary, and specifically literary translation, theory. That is its privilege and apparently for the moment its fate. Although linguistics and philosophy have largely ignored literary translation, their own work, forbidding to the nonlinguist, unnecessarily casts a shadow over the serious value of nonlinguistic approaches. Were linguistics to be serious about literary translation . . . it would be welcome.
Okay. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a blog post. I’d urge you to read Barnstone’s books, to see the various things he develops along these lines with respect to Nida and his reductive non-literary theory of translation. (For that matter, I would encourage you to read more of Nida for yourself. I’ll say more in comments if anybody is interested in what I’d recommend.)

Barnstone gets to another problem with Dynamic Equivalence, when he translates the New Testament and writes commentary on it. In his commentary, Barnstone identifies three different registers for translation. Notice three in contrast to simply an EITHER / OR two. Nida posits the simple binary:
"[T]here are fundamentally two different types of equivalence [in translation]: one which may be called formal and another which is primarily dynamic."
Nida writes of "Two [and only two] Basic Orientations in Translating," in his book, Toward a Science of Translating with Special Reference to Principles and Procedures involved in Bible Translating, on pages 120-21:
EITHER [1] translation has an orientation towards “formal equivalence . . . concerned with such correspondences as poetry to poetry, sentence to sentence, concept to concept," which “might be called 'a gloss translation,' in which the translator attempts to reproduce as literally and meaningfully as possible the form and content of the original.”

OR [2] there is, “[i]n contrast, a translation which attempts to produce a dynamic rather than a formal equivalence [which] is based upon 'the principle of equivalent effect' (Rieu and Phillips, 1954) . . . and aims at complete naturalness of expression, . . . tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture[, and] . . . does not insist that he understand the cultural patterns of the source-language context in order to comprehend the message.”
Barnstone rejects this binary. He says there may well be:
[1] a gloss for the reader who wants help with the source text [i.e., an interlinear] and [2] imitation for the ['translating'] writer who wants to collaborate with, adapt, or rewrite a precursor's [originally-authored] work....

There is also [nevertheless] [3] a middle ground between [1] gloss and [2] imitation, whose purpose is to hear the source author more clearly than the translator author (page 1290 of The Restored New Testament, Barnstone’s translation).
With respect to the Bible, an example Barnstone gives of [1] “a gloss” is “[t]he Jesus Seminar translation of the gospels... heavy in explanation and conceptualization of image and metaphor, [that] uses key words to clarify rather than to express.” This is Nida’s so-called “formal or literal equivalence.”

An illustration of [2] “imitation,” according to Barnstone, is “John Dominic Crossan's adroit transformations of Yeshua's sayings into minimalist poems.” For Nida, this would be closer to his ideal of “dynamic or functional equivalence.”

Finally, Barnstone’s alternative to these two is the more exemplary [3] “middle ground” translation approach, the approach that he says “is Tyndale's... autonomous restatement” and is also what Robert Alter is doing “in making the literal literary” with his translating of the Hebrew Bible.

As Barnstone himself attempts making the literal literary in translation of the New Testament, he says, “This is the difficult middle way.” He calls his work [3] “an autonomous text to be read in English as scripture. . . .” (pages 1289-91).

Barnstone gets his idea for [3] “the literal literary” not first from Bible translators such as Tyndale and Alter but from a translator of Homer's Odyssey: from Robert Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald began to translate Homer, he first asked Ezra Pound, “How?” Pound replied, “Let Homer say everything he wanted to say.” This was the middle way between [1] glossing Homer's Greek and [2] imitating it.

There is not doubt that this advice was unusual for Pound. The translator was one who's “normal practice” was never [1] to gloss but was normally [2] to take “tremendous freedoms” as he “imitated, and intimately collaborated with or overcame the author in his best translations from Anglo-Saxon and Chinese.” Barnstone adds: “and they may be his own best poems” not necessarily giving any credit whatsoever to the original authors. Nonetheless, Pound advises Fitzgerald [3] to take the middle way between [1] literal glossing and [2] dynamic or functional equivalence license.

Barnstone explains this [3] “middle ground” approach as “both literal and literary.” We might use Nida’s terms and call it “both formal and functional” and “both literal and dynamic.” Barnstone says:
    The translator in service of the source author becomes more invisible as the art intensifies, permitting the reader [3] to see Homer or Dante or the Bible and, as Pound suggested, [3] to hear them have their say. By contrast, in the inevitable collaboration between author and translator, as we move from [1] re-creation to [2] imitation, the earlier author tends to disappear, overcome by the voice of the translating author. (page 1292).
Nida, to be clear, advocates [2] the dynamic or functional imitation of the text's effect on receptors. Thus, I'd like to end the post now with a contrastive illustration of Nida's approach and Barnstone's.

In his entry "Bible translation," for the first edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Nida gives an example of a translation of his from the New Testament. He writes:
Since the relevance of a message is not in the formal features of a text but in its semantic content, some measure of freedom is required if the target audience is to understand the biblical text. The heavy weight of tradition, however, often stifles a translator's creativity and obstructs a reader's comprehension. For example, most English-speakers have no idea what Hallowed be thy name (the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:9) really means. The Greek text can be translated literally [1] as 'Sanctified be thy name', in which 'name' is a Semitic way of avoiding a direct reference to God, and 'sanctified' must refer not to the character of God, but to the manner in which He is recognized by peole as being truly God. Accordingly, it is more relevantly rendered [2] as May all people realize that you are God or Help us to honour you as God or even as Help us to honour your name. (page 26)
Barnstone, in contrast, avoids either [1] literally translating or [2] telling readers what must really be meant by the Hebraic Hellene ultimately rendered "relevantly" in a non-Jewish but English "reader-comprehensible" sense.

By the way, the Jewish Matthew translates and writes the spoken Jewish words of the Jewish Jesus to his Jewish audience by this Jewish Greek:
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομα σου·
Barnstone works, likewise, to Let Matthew let Jesus say everything that he wanted to say. They give voice to Yeshua ben Yosef. "Yet hear that voice and hear a poet." Barnstone lets Matthew, who is Mattityahu, say everything that he wanted to say. He gives voice to Mattityahu:
hallowed be your name.
A literary literal rendering of a Jewish prayer. So who's stifled whom and who's obstructed what?

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