nida school of translation studies
An Initiative of the Nida Institute

SBL 2012 International Meeting - Amsterdam

22 July 2012 - 26 July 2012

The Romantic Turn in Bible Translation

Prof. Lourens de Vries, VU University Amsterdam

Nida Lecture at Society of Biblical Literature's International Meeting, Amsterdam


1:15 PM to 2:45 PM

Lourens de Vries is professor of General Linguistics at the VU University Amsterdam where he also holds the Netherlands


Bible Society Chair of Bible Translation. His research interests include the history and theory of Bible translation in the broader context of translation studies, linguistic aspects of Bible translation processes, and the study of Papuan and Austronesian languages. His articles on translationand linguistics have appeared in The Bible Translator,  Studies in Language, and the International Journal of the Sociology of Language and in other respected journals and anthologies.  

            Ideas on language, culture and translationof the Romantic nineteenth century had a lasting impact on Bible translation. Romantic themes that continue to fascinate and inspire include the idea of unity (e.g., unity of language and culture, of form and meaning), the primacy of diachrony (e.g., focus on roots of lexemes, etymology), a dialogic hermeneutics, and views of ancient epic-length texts as basically ‘oral,’ ‘concrete,’ ‘formulaic,’ and ‘poetic.’  Romantic reflection on translation breaks with classical genre theories (historia, poetica et rhetorica), and with classical representational views of language and constructs translation of ‘higher’ texts (science, religion, poetry, philosophy) within a framework of Romantic expressive views of language as an endeavour to let the reader emotionally and intellectually experience the otherness, the unique Geist or spirit of every language and every author (Van der Louw 2006, Berman 1984, Venuti 1995). There is only one method of  translation for all genres of ‘higher’ texts, viz. the method that facilitates an interpersonal encounter, deeply felt and experienced,between the educated and sensitive reader and the Geist of the author as mediated through the Geist of his or her language (Sprachgeist).

These Romantic views on language, translation and on ancient peoples and their texts is reflected in translation practices designed to create ‘Romantic Bibles’ such as root and stem concordance,  colometric text divisions, name translations, and making translations ‘oral,’ ‘physical,’ and ‘concrete’ to reflect the Romantically construed Ur culture of the Israelites. The ‘Romantic Turn’ continues to inform translation practices in the twenty-first century, both in the creation of modern, exoticizing ‘Neo Romantic’ Bible translations and in the form of a fierce polemic against Bible translations that stand in a more naturalizing tradition.

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