Translation for and in Performance: Fusion of Horizons of Hebrew psalmist and Zulu Translator-Performer in the Zulu “Performance Arena”

  • June Frances Dickie UKZN
Keywords: Psalms, Community translation, Zulu, Performance, Orality


This empirical study explores whether indigenous Zulu praise-poetry can inform the translation of biblical praise-psalms. Zulu youth (“poetry fans”) were invited to learn about Hebrew and Zulu poetics as well as the process of Bible translation. Then they made their own translations and performances of biblical praise-psalms, following the Literary-rhetorical approach of Ernst Wendland.

The results show a strong Zulu imprint from the source to the receptor text, although the original message is retained along with some of the poetic features. The literary and rhetorical power of the Hebrew is transformed into images and thought patterns that come alive to the Zulu mind while still being acceptable (to them) in terms of biblical accuracy. The performances of the translated texts (using rap, song, or spoken poetry) utilise prosody to deliver the message, thus requiring some adjustment to the texts. The audience enters into the experience, impacting the performers. Thus, there are four “voices” apparent: those of the original author, the Zulu translator, the Zulu performer, and the audience. A rich texture of cultural beauty emerges as the Hebrew and Zulu horizons merge in a panorama of literary beauty and rhetorical power.

Author Biography

June Frances Dickie, UKZN

Ph.D graduate, UKZN (2017)

Bible Translation Consultant, Wycliffe South Africa


Barnstone, Willis. The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice. New York: Yale Univ. Press, 1993.

Brueggemann, W. and Bellinger, W.H. Psalms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Cope, A. Trevor. Izibongo Zulu Praise Poems. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Dargie, David. “Problems of Music Literacy: Gains and Losses; with particular reference to Xhosa music.” Pages 249-260 in Oral Tradition and Literacy. Edited by Richard A. Whitaker and Edgard R. Sienaert, Durban: Natal University Oral Documentation and Research Centre, 1986.

Foley, John M. The singer of tales in performance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Gadamer, H.-G. Truth and method (2nd rev ed). Translated by J. Weinsheimer and D.G. Marshall. Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1991.

Nida, Eugene A. Fascinated by Languages. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003.

Soukup, Paul A. “Understanding audience understanding.” Pages 91-107 in From one medium to another: communicating the Bible through multimedia. Edited by Paul A. Soukup and Robert Hodgson, Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1997.

Wendland, Ernst R. LiFE-Style Translating. Dallas: SIL, 2006.

West, Gerald O. “On the necessity of translation”. Paper presented at Nida School of Translation Studies, Misano, Italy, 2016.

X (author)

Y (author)