STORIES IN TRANSLATION (2015-19)
Working with the Nida Institute has been one of the most fascinating experiences of my career. The institute is named after Eugene A. Nida, one of the foremost translation theorists of the 20th century, who did most of his pioneering work in the field of Bible translation. While the field of Translation Studies continued to theorise translation, however, the Bible Translation sector (a huge global industry worth upwards of $1bn per year) increasingly cocooned itself from those developments – largely to protect its religious commitments.
The Nida Institute found itself at the intersection of these two worlds and pursued an uncompromising strategy to bridge them. By the time I joined the team in 2015 it had achieved an astonishing feat: it was widely regarded as one of the foremost trainers of Bible translators in the world AND had established itself as a world-leading institution for the development of Translation Studies as an academic discipline. It was the only institution in the world seriously translating each to the other.
My work with the Nida Institute was in the area of cultural translation with a focus on narratives. One major development in Translation theory that the Bible sector resisted was treating the ‘interpretation’ of the Bible as an act of translation. Back in 2015 I was deeply embedded in the global Bible sector so I designed workshops to explore this theme with various groups – with participants as diverse as a Catholic Archbishop in India and fiery Pentecostals in Chile. It was a fascinating experience which included substantial cross-cultural facilitation, made all the more difficult by the perceived risk involved in the subject matter.
When I decided to move on from the Bible sector in 2016 I continued to work with the Nida Institute, but increasingly focussed on the intersection between Translation Studies as an academic discipline and the translation of narratives in everyday settings. As I began to develop the Labyrinth project, it became useful as a case-study in translating city spaces. I presented my work as part of workshops in South Africa, the US, and Italy, all of which drew a range of diverse, deeply invested participants.
I’ve been privileged to work with some of the world’s leading Translation scholars at the cutting-edge of the discipline, one that is full of creativity and commitment to other-ness. It was this experience that led to my pursuing a PhD in Translation Studies at Queen’s University Belfast.
Through my time with the Nida Institute I realised that most of my work can be described as translation. Not the bi-lingual type that the word usually evokes, but a broader sense of working across boundaries or borders. I help people translate themselves to others, translate academic-speak into ordinary langauge, translate big cultural narratives into specific contexts, and translate in actual border zones through my work in contested physical spaces. Unexpectedly, it turns out I am a translator.
Funding cuts (forced through by powerful conservative forces in the US) have put an end to the Nida Institute’s era of innovation – and my involvement. But it was a great privilege to be part of this chapter, one that may never be repeated in either Translation Studies or the Bible sector. The legacy, however, certainly lives on and I am proud to have played a part in developing it.
“Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some tremendously talented and likable people. Matt Valler is one of them. He has a wonderful, confident spirit. He is a mature and honest human being. He values difference. He is concerned for those around him, for the political, social, economic and ecological contexts in which he lives and in which he feels responsible to make a contribution.
In academic and training situations in which we’ve collaborated, and as a scholor-in-training, Matt exhibits a natural ability to traverse traditional disciplinary boundaries, to put diverse discourses into conversation, in order to shed new light on old problems and to test standard conclusions. Crossing such boundaries involves a certain kind of risk, and the investment of creative spirit and energy in the pursuit of new lines of study, and Matt’s projects give proof of the returns that may come.”
“Matt is a joy to work with. He invests deeply in the people with whom he works, listening to what they are after, and then demonstrates an agile intellect as he pieces together how best to deliver. Matt’s work is fundamentally human, connecting people’s individual and community stories to ever broadening narrative arcs of humanity and the environment. I enthusiastically recommend Matt!”