Amidst all the frenzy of preparing simultaneously for a new semester and a putative hurricane, I heard today that Eugene Nida had died in Brussels at the age of 96. Newcomers to the field of translation studies may not know his work, but he was indisputably one of the translation theory giants of the mid-twentieth century. I suppose it makes sense that if you live long enough, you will eventually find your ideas discredited. But I for one am still a fan of Nida’s work. And within his field of specialization – Bible translation – his theories have never really gone out of style. In fact, one might argue that they have remained in style ever since the sixteenth century: Bible translator Martin Luther’s 1530 Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen (Open Letter on Translating) expounds principles that were clear forerunners of Nida’s famous notion of “dynamic equivalence” that he describes in his seminal essay “Principles of Correspondence” (1964).
Incidentally, religion is not the only sphere in which dynamic equivalence is of crucial importance. The one time I had the fortune to experience Eugene Nida in person – in the spring of 1988 at the University of Zurich, where he had been invited to lecture by Mary Snell-Hornby – he spoke about his most recent project at the time, which involved training translators to work at the U.N. It turns out that in questions of international relations, clarity and naturalness of expression are high on the list of desiderata, just as they are in church.