Thursday, November 3, 2011


EUGENE A. NIDA (1914-2011)
Celebrating the life of a distinguished linguist and translator may seem trivial to some people.  Today in New York City Eugene Nida's life will be celebrated.  He was born November 11, 1914 and died August 25, 2011. In an ever more complex, connected world there may be no more important task than translation. 

The United States is only beginning to feel the enormity of the issue of translation since English is such a dominate language throughout the world.  Many Americans think of translation as a bit of a nuisance and expense.  Nuisance in that if people are going to come to America they need to learn English.  Expense in that schools (among many private and public entities) need to deal with communicating to people who do not know Englsih well (the Los Angeles Public Schools have over 250 languages spoken by children attending their schools).  It takes money to teach those kids and translation is a very important part of the process.

Nida (pronounced NAY-duh) was a pioneer both in the theory of translation and in preparing people to be translators.  He is responsible for what is called dynamic equivalence translation.  He thought that it was as important to be faithful to the original language and text as it was to make sure the people for whom the translation was being made clearly understood the original.  Merely assuming that a word used in one langage and possible at a different time (as in the translation of ancient texts such as the Bible) is always and in every place to be translated with the same word is not to understand the denotative and connotative elements in languages.   

As reported in one article Nida translated the simple phrase "I am sorrowful" in a variety of ways in one small area in Africa with different languages.  Given the cultural and linguistic differences among those several groups the phrase was translated into what when translated back into English were " my eye is black," "my heart is rotten," "my stomach is heavy," and "my liver is sick." 

The simple solution of saying that translation is merely taking one word in the original language and translating it into one word in the target language often misses the goal of translation, namely to communicate accurately and efficiently one idea/word into another's language's and culture's idea/word.  Translation is not merely finding the right words but understanding at least two cultures.


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