Christo H J van der Merwe (Stellenbosch University): The new Afrikaans Bible. An ‘active retranslation’ with a negotiated difference.

Currently there are at least seven translations of the Bible in this relatively ‘young’ language. Of these, three are published by the Bible Society of South Africa (=BSA) and four by a private publisher. Another one, a ‘direct’ translation, has just been completed by the BSA. The dynamics of Bible translations differ from that of secular literary works, and may differ from country to country. Nevertheless, even though the past history of the translation of the Bible in Afrikaans testifies against the Retranslation Hypothesis, this project is more source-text and -culture orientated than any of the other active retranslations of the Bible in Afrikaans.

When conservative churches asked the BSA in the 1990’s for a revision of the 1933/53 word for word translation – because they had issues with the dynamic equivalent 1983 version – a new translation model had to be negotiated. Going back to any type of formal equivalent version could not be justified. A model based on the views of Christiana Nord and Ernst-August Gutt was formulated, and after negotiations with the churches accepted and labelled as a ‘direct translation’. A direct translation is not a word for word translation, but one that tries to accomplish the impossible, viz. translating the source text as if the authors are quoted ‘directly’. The aim of this presentation is to discuss 1) some of the implications of such an impossible ideal for the translation of an ancient religious text, and 2) how these challenges were addressed in this project. In this regard, I focus on how insights from cognitive linguistics into the culturally and situationally embeddedness of meaning, as well as current insights into the polysemy of both lexical and grammatical expressions, have been ‘operationalized’ in the project – a project that could be described as ‘a negotiation between two construals of meaning.’

About the speaker

Christaan Hendrik Jacobus van der Merwe is professor in the Department of Ancient Studies and director of the Centre for Bible Interpretation and Translation in Africa at Stellenbosch University. He is also the editor of the Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages. Since 2017 he is a research affiliate of the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Cambridge. The focus of his research is the semantics and pragmatics of Biblical Hebrew and the challenges of Bible translation. Since 2000 he focuses on the value of insights of Cognitive Linguistics for the description (and translation) of Biblical Hebrew. He published 56 articles in accredited journals and 16 chapters in books. He has supervised 17 master- and 24 PhD degrees. He was editor of the Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible and co-authored A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Sheffield Press: Sheffield 1999). A thoroughly revised and expanded second edition of this grammar appeared in 2017 (Continuum: London). He served as Hebrew language expert of the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf (1998-2005). From 2005 to 2020 he was part the editorial committee of the new translation of the Bible in Afrikaans.