Pray Tell begs to differ

Pray Tell is grateful to America Press for its coverage of the important news concerning the new commission that Pope Francis has established to review and re-evaluate Liturgiam authenticam.

In the January 26 story by Gerard O’Connell, however, we noticed a quote of something which Archbishop Arthur Roche said in 2014, which suggested that our translation principles have changed because dynamic equivalence is now “outmoded”:

He [Archbishop Roche] explained that “dynamic equivalence” was achieved when a translator detached the “content” of an utterance from the “form in which it was expressed.” But this approach has become “outmoded,” he said. Over the last 40 years, specialists in language “have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking.” The Holy See in “Liturgiam Authenticam” opted for “the formal equivalence,” he stated.

Pray Tell challenged this talking point back in 2011 by consulting a specialist in translation.

In a June 6 post entitled “Academic Justification for Liturgiam Authenticam?”Anthony Pym, President of the European Society for Translation Studies, wrote:

I am asked by the Pray Tell moderator if academic translation theory has changed in recent decades. Without any doubt, it has.

I am asked if the changes support greater literalism, as has been claimed in the debate over 2001 Vatican document Liturgiam authenticam. My answer is a resounding “Huh??

He goes on to describe several schools of thought that have developed in translation theory, but tempers any easy dismissal of “dynamic equivalence” with this summary statement:

Does this mean that we are all reacting against Eugene Nida and his concept of dynamic equivalence, supposedly embodied in the prior doctrine of Comme le prevoit in 1969? Not at all.

You can read the whole thing here.


  1. Years ago, talking with Huub Oosterhuis (the Dutch poet whose texts I traslate for Bernard Huijbers’ songs), we discussed the problem of earlier translations of his works. In his opinion, they were all lacking. Yet to this day I meet opposition when I dare ‘tinker’ with a ‘cherished translation’. First of all he warned, translation should never be merely transliteration, finding a corresponding word in the new host language. Nor might the context be of much help. Huub explained that in most, if not all languages, there is a secondary language which underlies the text, and the translator should be sensitive to the meanings behind the meaning of each word or concept. An example is the song which has been badly mis-translated as ‘What is this place?’ First of all, the title of the song is much simpler and humbler and does not even admit of a question, ‘A Song for the Place of Gathering’. It begins ‘zommar een dak’ which means ‘it’s only a roof’. In verse 3, the phrase ‘tafel voor een’ has been completely misunderstood as ‘table for one’. or even more remotely ‘and we accept bread at his table’. The Dutch phrase ‘tafel voor een’ means ‘it’s self-evident: it’s the one times table in math’. In other words, in context and second language, it means: ‘it’s clearly obvious, the great mystery isn’t transubstantiation but the fact that people have gathered every week for 2,000 years now’. So those who would argue for a literal, lingustic translation of a word or phrase are too myopic to understand the meaning of the text. It’s not only that words may have several meaning, it’s also that any meaning can have several nuances. Mandating that a text should adhere closely to the literal sense of the original can more often be the kiss of death. LA may appeal to purists with little or no imagination, but it provided a great disservice to the Church where the living language of the people had been mandated by a General Council of that same Church.

  2. This morning I received a request to tidy up a literal translation from Polish to English. The request came from a younger confrere, a NT scholar who specializes in Pauline Literature. I’ve become familiar with his work over the past four or five years, including preparing an English translation of his doctoral thesis for publication, but to do justice to the text it will mean, getting inside his mind, so to speak. It’s challenging work that takes one beyond the translation norms that are at the core of Liturgiam Authenticam.
    As a personal project I am writing, in Japanese, a series of commentaries on the Collects and Prefaces. The next block will be Holy Week and the Easter Season. I work with the Latin, the English, old and new translation and the Japanese. Sometimes I shake my head at the Japanese translation in the current Missal we use, but also appreciate the struggle the translation team had expressing in Japanese concepts that are deeply rooted in Western culture, but not necessarily familiar to those born and brought up in Japan, in a culture deeply influenced by Buddhism.

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