First, a translator has to know the source language; or, more general, he or she must have a working knowledge of the language from which he or she is translating into, if not his or her first language. Nida says:
"It is not enough that he be able to get the 'general drift' of the meaning . . . . Rather, he must understand not only the obvious content of the message, but also the subtleties of meaning, the significant emotive values of words, and the stylistic features which determine the 'flavor and feel' of the message" (150).When we translate the New Testament, we want the meaning and the "flavor and the feel" to transfer over to the receptor language.
Second, a translator has to have a working knowledge of the language into which he or she is translating. Nida writes:
"A certain amount of data on the source-language message can usually be secured from dictionaries, commentaries, and technical treatises, but there is no substitute for thorough mastery of the receptor language. Certainly the most numerous and serious errors made by translators arise primarily from their lack of thorough knowledge of the receptor language" (150).I think we have given thorough consideration to this point in previous posts. It's important. And it's striking to me that Nida says this is where the most numerous and most serious errors are made.
Third, a translator needs needs to take on the ethos of the author of the work being translated. According to Nida, it's not enough just to translate the words. In fact, he says translation in the truest sense is so much more. How many people would watch the television series Law & Order if the actor playing the district attorney read his lines from the script but failed to act the part? Well, maybe you would still watch...but it wouldn't be believable. Having the ethos is critical.
Fourth, a translator is not above the one for whom he is translating, but he or she should be content to be like him or her. That sounds a lot like Luke 6:40. Nida writes: "[A] translator must be content to be like his author, for it is not his business to try to excel him" (151). What does Nida mean by that statement? Well, he means one should be as much in the world of the one he is translating as humanly possible. A translator should be able to empathize with the surrounding culture. If it is an appeal, the translator should be able to make the same case with the same fervor (even if he does not agree with the position). In translation of audible discourse (as opposed to written), if the speaker smiles, the translator smiles. If the speaker throws his hands up in frustration, the translator throws his up in frustration. If the speaker raises his voice, the translator raises his voice. And you get the point. When it comes to the New Testament, we have to bring the same approach to translation. Of course, the translator of the New Testament texts will not hear voices or see facial expressions; they won't hear or see these things. But they have to be sensitive to the texts and their authors, and they must become as much like them as humanly possible.
Fifth, a translator should match the literary, intellectual, etc. skill of the one for whom he or she is translating. Well, this is a tough one. I nearly packed up all of my translation projects, but then I realized...this is a nice goal, but often not the case.
Sixth, a translator should provide an opportunity for readers of the translation to experience the same emotions, intellectual processes, etc. that were experienced by readers of the original. Translators have to be thinking of their respective audience(s), as well as thinking about the original audience(s). This experience is intellectual, emotional, psychological, etc.
I found these six "basic requirements" very interesting. But, I have something to share with you. Did you know that Nida actually had seven basic requirements? He mentions the seventh requirement in the final paragraph of his section dealing with the "basic requirements." Stop and think about it for a second. What would you add to his list? Specifically, what would you add to the list concerning the translation of the biblical texts? Here is what he writes:
"In translating the Bible, most outstanding translators have also insisted upon a further requirement, namely, a devout recognition of dependence upon divine grace. This element has been repeatedly noted in the attitudes of such translators as Jerome, Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale, and is expressly set forth as a prerequisite by Frederick C. Grant (1950, p. 149): 'The translator should not only make use of the best scientific philology and exegesis, but also invoke and rely upon divine grace for the fulfillment of his task" (152).Divine grace is on my list too. Translation is not the type of work that should be approached purely from a scientific perspective. There's a science to translation. That's true. There's also a sense that translation is an art. Nida's words also remind us all that translation is more than a science and an art; translation, like everything else we do in this life, should be done in submission to the ultimate Author of the biblical texts. It should be by his grace and his strength that we wrestle to produce the most beautiful, accurate translation possible given our strengths and skills. For me, even something like Bible translation falls under the sphere of Philippians 4:13. For me, translation is part of the πάντα.
Nida, Eugene A. Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1964.