Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Dynamic Equivalence or Formal Equivalence
Formal equivalence tends to emphasize fidelity to the lexical details and grammatical structure of the original language while dynamic equivalence tends to favor the language into which the text is being translated toward a more natural rendering for the hearer or reader. In this case, dynamic equivalence favors the readability of the translation is more important than the preservation of the original grammatical structure (favored by the formal equivalence).
Though we tend to love dynamic equivalence as a means of rendering a text of one language into our own vernacular, this kind of translation is inherently short lived and becomes quickly dated. What might be the modern equivalent for this moment is, over time, no longer able to communicate as well -- especially over a decade or more. Language is not static and words and their usage -- even grammar -- evolves. Frequent updating, however, robs the people of the familiar and ends up distancing them from that which it seeks to communicate.
It is in vogue today only because our technology makes such constant updating possible and affordable. In previous eras when printed books and memorization were required for consistency, such change was too great a cost to be paid for relevance. For this reason a formal or literary style was preferred for Scripture and liturgical texts over slang (so much more subject to change in meaning than the formal). The more stunted language of a more literal translation is actually more enduring both in accessibility for the reader or hearer and in terms of meaning.
Take for example the use of Christian in the Creed. This was not a Lutheran invention but predated the Reformation. It was an example of dynamic equivalence. Catholic was a word difficult to translate and the word Christian was intended as a synonym for catholicum. Now, long removed from the original usage, the word Christian in the creed has become antagonistic toward the original it was intended to translate (so much so that a comment on a post on this blog once insisted that the commenter would rather be Christian than catholic. This is a statement that would undoubtedly cause shock and consternation to the one who originally thought he was doing the reader or hearer a favor by proposing the change form a word more difficult to render in any vernacular than Christian. Now that person, whoever he was, never intended to rewrite the creed -- no user of dynamic equivalence admits to rewriting the text being translated. It is a fluid process of many choices and judgments. Yet the more we choose dynamic equivalence, the more distant we actually are from the original text. Roman Catholics knew this instinctively when the Novus Ordo was first used some 40+ years ago and yet we tend to be as in love with the lingo of the moment as we do the moment itself. Hence the resistance among some Roman Catholics to return to a more formal equivalence used in the 2010 Mass translations. As many have noted, nowhere is the weakness of the sense translation over the word for word rendering of the text than in the collects. Once so eloquent and majestic, the prayer of the day became a poster child for the 1960s and 1970s that eventually became a joke to the Roman Mass several generations later.
In other words, readability is not necessarily a priority for translations of Scripture or the liturgy which are meant to be heard and sung over many generations and put to memory by young and old. Lutherans should not lose sight of this truth.