Sociolinguistics of Interlingual Communication.
Eugene A. Nida.
Brussels: Les Éditions
du Hazard, 1996 (Collection Traductologie). 118 pp. ISBN
published in The Translator (Manchester: St Jerome)
3/1 (1997), 102-103.
This is an attractively
produced small monograph by one of the long-term heavyweights
of translation studies. Although one might suspect Nida
would have little left to say after his classical texts
on Bible translation and his theory of dynamic vs formal
equivalence, here we find him becoming even more engaging
and entertaining, somewhat less technical and theoretical,
in an attempt to open wider horizons for translation studies
and translator training. Even on the technical equivalence
score, Nida now allows for a vague range of possibilities
between a maximum and a minimum (114), thus considerably
dilating his earlier positions. Yet there is far more here
than strict translation theory.
The book offers
a meandering path through the main issues in (American)
sociolinguistics and indeed in general theories of language
use, mostly on the level of a leisurely introductory course.
Despite the title on the cover, the central concern is later
described as ‘the sociolinguistics of translating’ (59),
organized around five main themes: the sociological and
psychological roles of language, the relation of language
to focal or core elements, the tension between structure
and creativity, the different levels of ‘involvement and
investigation’, and the close link between language and
culture. Abundant examples are drawn from ethnography, classical
and modern literature, and modern science (Nida’s fields
of interest are by no means limited to Bible translation),
displaying an acute awareness of cultural difference in
a profoundly multilingual world, with no simple relations
between languages. Indeed, this sociolinguistic world is
full of cultural overlaps and asymmetries, thus significantly
altering the language-to-language frame of many other approaches
to translation. Further, Nida’s sociolinguistics recognizes
and respects the individual’s use of language, seeing creativity
as ‘a personal achievement’ (51), and in the same breath
remains laconically critical of many apparent achievements:
“Some people have acquired the habit of speaking without
actually saying anything” (51). This is not the case of
Nida, who not only has much to say but also takes obvious
pleasure in the saying.
One might regret,
of course, that the style and format of the book exclude
properly empirical evidence. I would very much like to see,
for example, quantitative reasons for assuring us that the
United States has so few schools teaching translation and
interpretation because of the “number of highly trained
immigrants who are often able to serve as translators and
interpreters” (62). Here, and in many other cases, we simply
have to rely on Nida’s wealth of experience.
of this monograph does not lie in its presentation of any
new ideas as such. It is instead useful in that it insists
linguistics can still be of crucial concern to translation
studies, and that sociolinguistics might provide some of
the most practical insights. This makes rubbish of claims
to separate translation studies from linguistics, be it
through a ‘cultural turn’ or simply by turning one’s back.
Nevertheless, most of Nida’s sociolinguistics remains of
a kind that concerns source and target texts rather than
translators or translating; there is little mention of translation
as a specific mode of code-switching or as one of several
options for communicating across intercultural space. In
the end, although Nida’s purpose is to open up sociolinguistic
notions as a general frame for translation, a sociolinguistics
truly of translating could paradoxically turn out to be
a rather more precise affair.
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- Last update
11 March 1999