Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dynamic Equivalence and its practice

Those who read my blog would know that I am against the practice of Dynamic Equivalence (D-E) or Functional Equivalence (F-E) in the practice of Bible translation. To prove my point that the entire translation philosophy is flawed, here is another mess which shows why F-E translations turn out to be neither functional nor equivalent.

"And a voice came,'You are my beloved Messiah; with you I am well pleased.'" This declaration is the familiar pronouncement of God's favor upon Jesus, at the time of his baptism.

Well, not quite. That verse is actually from the Injil Sharif.

The group in Bangladesh represents what is known in missions circles as an "Insider Movement." Advocates of these initiatives say their followers believe Jesus as Savior, yet remain inside their families, networks and communities, retaining the socio-religious identity of that group." The idea of encouraging believers to "remain" within Islam and "retain" their identity as a Muslim is one of the most controversial issues in missions today. Arguably the most contentious practice of some of these groups is to produce Bible translations that remove familial language for God, due to the offense Muslims have towards the idea that God is Father and Son. Thus, "Son" is removed from Mark 1:11 to read in the Bangladeshi translation, "You are my beloved Messiah."


When translators take it upon themselves to decide what the meaning of the text is apart from the words of a text, we will get only the interpretations of the translators about what THEY think the text mean, not what the text actually mean. From my experience however, the F-E proponents just cannot get this point, thinking that just because lexical interpretation is necessary therefore every form of interpretation is necessary in translation.


Rhology said...

Hello brother,

As someone interested in translation and in missions to Muslims, I have a couple of thoughts.

The Insider Movement is poisonous. It's clear we're agreed on that.

I have to disagree, however, that it is possible to avoid the "practice of dynamic equivalence". Any translation partly involves some dynamic equivalence; it's unavoidable. Arguably going from, say, Spanish to Italian or Russian to Ukrainian might involve quite a bit less, but that's because you hardly need to translate those.

It's all about a spectrum, from high DE on one side and low DE on the other.
One might say an example of high DE /low Formal Equivalency would be The Living Bible, whereas an example of low DE/high FE would be the NASB.

I'd argue that The Message, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Not a translation; a paraphrase.
Now, let me relate that to your example in the post: the text says "Beloved Son", not Messiah.

This document you cite is not attempting translation at all. It is replacement and substitution.
That is perhaps the most obviously identificatory practice of the Insider Movement - replacing "Son" with "Messiah" so that "Son of God" becomes "Messiah of God" for fear of offending or violation of cultural mores or pre-existing religious understanding.

That's not even a question of translation. In no language is it possible to go from "Son" to "Messiah". It's an interpolation, a replacement.

So, with respect my brother, I think you should've focused your post on decrying the Insider Mvmt (b/c it needs lots of decrying!) and found another example to write about when ripping DE. Also, would you agree that we should prefer low levels of DE rather than high? (This would be a slightly different statement than what you said: "I am against the practice of Dynamic Equivalence".)

Grace and peace,

Daniel C said...


I would agree with you that "some dynamic equivalence" is unavoidable, if by "dynamic equivalence" we mean the translation of meaning not merely the form of words.

However, that is not how I see the D-E/F-E advocates teaching. They are not merely asking that we pay attention to the meaning of words and not be rigidly wooden in our translation methodology. [Btw, I know enough languages (and two fluently enough to speak read and think in those languages) to know how translations are to be done.] They are asking us to do a meaning-to-meaning translation without attachment to the words and phraseology of the sentence in the source language, and without seeking to preserve as much of those meanings as possible. In their denigration of formal equivalence, they give the impression that meaning can be taken from the text, conceived of as some ideal amorphous "meaning," and then re-interpreted and re-conceptualized into any form which the translator/ interpreter thinks best preserve the meaning of the sentence/ text.

I happen to believe that one should not divorce the meaning of the text from the words and form of the text in the source language. Therefore, while allowing for some manner of lexical interpretation and rearrangement of phrases and sentences (not one-to-one word translation), we should seek to translate not only the "meaning" but also the logical and verbal relation between the words and sentences of the text into the closest correspondent logical and verbal relation in the words and sentences of the target language.

I do not see the difference as one of degree (high D-E versus low D-E), but of kind. In one (the supposed high D-E), the "meaning" as interpreted and as understood by the translator is to be preserved at all costs. In the other, the meaning is to be preserved yet with the understanding that there is no such ideal meaning that exists apart from the connection to words and phraseology in both the source and target language.

I hope you can see that if one adopts the F-E translation methodology (as I understood it), the translation of "father" as "guardian" is not altogether misplaced. You rightly say that it is replacement and substitution, but then you have a certain understanding of the meaning of "father" which is obviously not shared by those in the Insider Movement. For them, the meaning of "father" is analogous to the Arabic word for "guardian." If one does not insist that words have meanings in and of itself, and meanings do not float in the air after being taken from the text, then isn't the objection that such translations are "replacement and substitution" merely the difference between one translator's/ interpreter's interpretation of what "father" means" and your interpretation of what "father" means? Who is to say that ours is correct and theirs is wrong, if meanings are not tied to words but merely to the text as a holistic unit?

I hope this helps.
Daniel Chew.

Rhology said...

Yes, definitely! I think we're not too far apart.
With respect, the comment you've just left would have made for a much better and more focused post than the original post does, in my opinion, as I think you've done a fine job here of explaining your thoughts on the matter, whereas the post, I still think, confuses translation issues with substitution of words.
Specifically, "Messiah" in place of "Son".

Grace and peace,

Daniel C said...


point noted. It is hard to always give a full write-up evertime I post on this issue, but I'l see how I can be clearer.