Like a postscript to last year’s quadricentenary of the King James Bible and what I said last time about the importance of religious translation, comes this news from Norway – astonishing enough for The Guardian Unlimited to feature it on its front page (the emphasis is mine).
"The first Norwegian translation of the Bible for 30 years topped the country's book charts almost every week between its publication in October and the end of the year, selling almost 80,000 copies so far and hugely exceeding expectations. Its launch in the autumn saw Harry Potter-style overnight queues, with bookshops selling out on the first day as Norwegians rushed to get their hands on the new edition.The sales figures have to be seen in relation to the size of Norway's population, which totals less than five million.
"'We only printed 25,000 to start with and thought it would last six to nine months, but it was launched mid-October and by the end of the year it had sold 79,000 copies – it's just incredible,' said Stine Smemo Strachan, who worked on the project for the Norwegian Bible Society. 'It has only been knocked off the number one spot once.'
"A 'literary' version with no chapters or verse divisions which 'reads like a novel', has also been published and has 'sold incredibly well', said the publisher."
"According to official data, 80% of Norway's population of belongs to the Church of Norway, but not all the new edition's purchasers are thought to be buying it for strictly religious religions. 'It certainly can't just be actively religious Christians who are buying it because it just wouldn't make these numbers,' said Smemo Strachan.Why a new translation? For reasons that are common in modern Bible translation: changes in the target language, in this case Norwegian, that make the existing translations seem old-fashioned and stilted – though that hasn't harmed the King James Bible much; and the new knowledge about ancient Palestine that has been brought to light by the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"Nor are last summer's murders in Utøya and Oslo viewed as a reason for the record-breaking sales. 'It's hard to tell: obviously it has had a great impact on the country and people here,' said Strachan. 'But the success is being attributed to the fact that its publication is seen as a cultural event, and to its readability.'"
Obviously this blog can't examine the translation itself, but it can, as is its wont, take a look at the translators. Like most Bible translations, this one was the product of teamwork. There were three "full-time translators." We take this to mean Professional Expert Translators. They were probably needed in order to coordinate the work. In addition, there were "thirty consultant translators, priests and academics, who translated the Greek and Hebrew." These must have been well-acquainted with previous translations and were therefore either non-professional Expert or Advanced Native Translators. So far, a conventional make-up of a major Bible translation project. But then comes something new:
"a team of 12 literary authors including Knausgård and playwright Jon Fosse then smoothing out that text. 'Obviously it was very important to get the right translation but they also wanted it to be readable, to make sure it was good literary language,' said Smemo Strachan. 'None of these authors are religious - they are all just very good literary writers who thought it would be an interesting project to be involved in.'"So out of a team of 45 (just slightly fewer than for the King James Bible), there were only three Professional Expert Translators; and of the rest, 12 had a function that is found often in translating but is rarely mentioned, that of the monolingual target-language style editor. As we see in this case, its importance is far from marginal if a translation is to succeed with the public.
Last but not least, the publisher. This translation wasn’t sponsored by a King or a Papal authority but by a bible society, the Norwegian Bible Society. They had enough profits on hand from the sales of the previous translation to finance this one. Most of the bible translations in Protestant countries are produced by bible societies. Bible societies are institutions that go back to the Bourgeois Revolution in early 19th-century Western society: the British and Foreign Bible Society was founded 1804, the American Bible Society in 1816, and so on. They’re among the most enduring and productive of all translation publishers.
Alison Flood. Bible becomes 2011 bestseller in Norway. Guardian Unlimited, 3 January 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/03/bible-2011-bestseller-norway.
Bibel 2011. [The Bible in the two main Norwegian language variants, Bokmål and Nynorsk]. Hans-Olav Mørk, Head Translator. Oslo: Norwegian Bible Society, October 2011. http://www.bibel.no/nb-NO/sitecore/content/Home/Hovedmeny/Nyheter/Nyheter/Nyheter2011/Nyhet32-11-english.aspx.
Stein Mydske. Bible 2011 launched in Norway. Bibel.no., October 2011. http://www.bibel.no/nb-NO/sitecore/content/Home/Hovedmeny/Nyheter/Nyheter/
Norwegian Bible, Standard Edition, 2011. Source: Fonts in Use, http://fontsinuse.com/norwegian-bible-2011-editions/. This source is a very interesting article showing the great care that was taken over the selection of type fonts, another factor in marketing success because good typography gives an instant feeling of high quality.