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August 25, 2011

Eugene Nida has Died: Introduced the Idea of Dynamic Equivalence in Bible Translations

Most Christians have never heard of Eugene Nida but he probably had a great influence on your Bible translation-- and was a force behind translating the Bible into different languages around the world. When you study missions, you spend a lot of time with his work.

Sadly, Eugene Nida died today.

The United Bible Societies announced his death in a release:

For more than 50 years Eugene Nida was the leader of the translation program of the American Bible Society, and subsequently the intellectual leader of the global program of the United Bible Societies, as well as consultant to that organisation.

Dr Nida will be best remembered for the revolution he brought about in the field of Bible translation in the mid-twentieth century. The resulting impact on the growth and development of the Church continues to be felt as millions of people in hundreds of languages around the world have access to the Bible because of the approach he developed and promoted.

Using concepts from linguistics, cultural studies, communication sciences and psychology, Nida developed a practical approach to translation he called dynamic equivalence or functional equivalence, the goal of which was to make the translation clear and understandable as well as accurate. He also influenced the emerging field of modern translation studies and is generally acknowledged as having set in motion the developments that led to that discipline. Through his numerous books and publications and extraordinary lecture schedule, he was able to help scholars, translators and specialists in Christian missions find new ways to think about effective communication.

Dr. Nida was known for introducing the concept of Dynamic Equivalence, primarily associated Bible translations such at the New Living Translation, though present in most translations at some level.

Wikipedia explains Dynamic Equivalence pretty well:

In Bible translation dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence are two approaches to translation. The terms are not found in general linguistics or translation theory but were coined by Eugene Nida. In later years he distanced himself from the former term and preferred the term "functional equivalence."

Dynamic equivalence (also known as functional equivalence) attempts to convey the thought expressed in a source text (if necessary, at the expense of literalness, original word order, the source text's grammatical voice, etc.), while formal equivalence attempts to render the text word-for-word (if necessary, at the expense of natural expression in the target language). The two approaches represent emphasis, respectively, on readability and on literal fidelity to the source text. There is no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. Broadly, the two represent a spectrum of translation approaches.

The terms "dynamic equivalence" and "formal equivalence" are associated with the translator Eugene Nida, and were originally coined to describe ways of translating the Bible, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation.

In my Ph.D. study, I read much from (and more about) Eugene Nida. Reading his passion for missions combined with his love for God's word always challenged me. You were not a good Ph.D. student if you didn't debate his ideas, but you left more focused on making sure the word of God was clearly translated, taught, and (most importantly for Nida) understood.

I am thankful for his passion seeing God's word in the hands of every tongue, tribe, and nation.

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