“A new Jerome”

This is interesting – L’Osservatore Romano, of all newspapers, has a highly laudatory editorial today marking the death of Eugene Nida, known best for the “dynamic equivalence” or “functional equivalence” translation theory rejected by the 2001 Roman document Liturgiam authenticam. “A new Jerome,” he is called. (St. Jerome translated the Bible into the vernacular of the day, Latin, in the fourth century – the “Vulgate” version.) If your Italian is up to it, read the Roman editorial here. Or, Google’s translation is surprising good, though not of course up to Nida’s translation standards.

The new translation of the missal begins to be implemented in the U.K. this Sunday. Coincidence?

Thanks for the Osservatore tip from Fr. Philip Endean, SJ, Pray Tell‘s newest regular contributor. Watch for wit and wisdom from Fr. Endean in coming days.

Also coming at Pray Tell: a response to “Translation theory in Liturgiam authenticam by Fr. Dennis McManus, delivered at the first Fota Liturgical Conference in 2008, by translation theory expert Anthony Pym. Watch for it.


11 thoughts on ““A new Jerome”

  1. He who, in spite of being a great schoar of holy writ, cast of upon us a system which has only distorted, literrarily impoverished and burdened us with an equivilency which is not equivialent and a dynamic which is leaden in its rendering of its most gracious Latin prototypes. It is this which priests should be embarrassed about and making excuses for. This is the ‘translation;which shoud have been met with ‘priestly civil disobedience and incredualous lay receptions. Why, when we get a step in the right direction do we hear of clerks who seem bent on scuttling it, but not the analagous scutling of the reprehensible regimen of equivalancy which is utterly discredited?

    1. “Why, when we get a step in the right direction …”

      Because it’s not necessarily a step in the right direction. Mere assertion, no matter how verbose or hyperbolic, doesn’t make it so.

      “… which is utterly discredited?”

      Prove it. Show that creditable opinion in translation theory has uniformly rejected the “reprehensible regimen.” Good luck with it. I’m afraid the reality is a little more complicated.

    2. Keep the parodies coming! I’m sure the devotees of Vox Clara are annoyed by your persistent mocking of their language register.

      And another lesson to them on not using one word where you can use two.

    3. Jackson (your comment of 3 September 2011),

      Did you notice that Nida was Baptist? That the work for which he is known is NOT the translation of the texts of the Mass? What was the rush to be the first one to write an obnoxious comment about someone who just died after a life spent at the service of the Bible? And why did you miss the main point of the post: that he was praised by the Osservattore Romano?

    4. MJO,

      I’m curious as to whether you have ever done any translating yourself? This is an honest question and not a “gotcha.”

      I have done some translating for publication, both from French and from Latin, and to me, recognizing that any translation is to some degree a betrayal, “dynamic equivalence” is really the only approach that makes much sense for a translation for use by the average person. Someone who knows a bit of the grammar and vocabulary of the source language might be helped by a formally equivalent translation, in the way that Aquinas was able to use the Latin translations of Aristotle or I am able to use my interlinear New Testament, but absent such knowledge a formally equivalent translation is as likely to mislead as not.

      If you’ve done translation yourself, maybe your experience is different, and I would be interested in hearing about that.

      1. Fritz Bauerschmidt – should I address you as Fr? You seem to be in a chasuble (or dalmatic?) in the photo.

        I am honoured by your question and am probably unworthy of it. The translating I have done would not at all pass muster against your professsional work. I am a choirmaster and organist, also a composer, and a teacher of piano, organ and Gregorian chant. My translating has been limited to liturgical anthem texts when superior work was not to be had. Also, I have translated some of the Latin collects and propers, relying heavily on hints from Anglican versions when I needed them and was not impressed with the gossamer versions found in our current missal. You may wonder, then, and perhaps justifiably so, why I have wandered into a conversation with those who are more knowledgeable than I about the history of the new translation, and who are, without doubt, far greater linguists than I.The answer would be that I had assumed that we shared a desire to be rid of a translation which is, to put it charitably (so it seems to me), a grossly inadequate rendering of the Latin of which it is a supposed translation. Whatever the current status of ‘equivalency’ in the literary world, I will continue to assert that our current translation is not even that. As is most apparent in the collects (but not limited to them), it does not begin to be, by any measure, an ‘equivalency’ to its prototype. This does not even address the pallid and uninspired style of the language itself. Perhaps, then, one could ask, considering that one translates meaning rather than words, does what we have translate the meaning of the Latin, or, is much of this ‘meaning’ made from whole cloth? In many instances it would seem to be. Also, though one does not translate word for word ‘interlinearly’, is there not an obligation to be faithful to the feel, the heft, the particular poetic genie, of the original tongue? Surely this is part and parcel of any true translation(?).

  2. L’Osservatore was wise to call Eugene Nida ‘The New Jerome’ because St Jerome himself would have been appalled at the new translation.

    The old Jerome was clear: ‘if I translate word for word, the result is nonsense.’ (see, e.g., letter 57 to Pammachius).

    1. Although Jerome writes in the same letter that he was more strict in translating Scripture: “in translating from the Greek (except in the case of the holy scriptures where even the order of the words is a mystery) I render sense for sense and not word for word.” (Ep. LVII, 5)

    2. Imagine Jerome’s reaction to “the immensity of your Majesty” in the Christ the King Preface? A mistranslation of the Latin AND a lousy word choice in English! “The translators did a great job!” – Abp Gomez! Hahahaha!

  3. The Sunday Times carried this obituary:

    The American Bible Society does good work. I was intrigued to find out the original purpose of the Good News Bible, and its subsequent history. Can Nida’s work be credited with providing tools for the expansion of the Christian Church in Africa in the 20th Century, I wonder? It would be interesting to know what missiologists think of the effort.

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