Akurumi: a new translation team

A fellow translation consultant met with the new Akurumi Bible translation team last week. After checking some draft of Luke together, they made a video for one of their supporting churches. What they say is true for many communities in Nigeria. Well worth a watch:

The Akurumi Translation Project from benandren on Vimeo.

Posted in Bible Translation, Minority Languages | Leave a comment

Some of our music

From time to time we write music. Or maybe that should be we used to write music before 3 lively girls took over our lives and started providing a different soundtrack. I meant to rework the music pages of our old site, but that never happened, so here we go with an interim page of some pieces. We’ll be glad to take the credit if you love anything there and will of course blame your poor taste if there’s anything you don’t like.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Rebekah on backing babies and wearing headties

We sent some Nigerian clothes, snacks and photos to a British primary school doing a focus on Africa. Here’s a brief video we made to explain how you back a baby with a wrapper and wear a head tie.

  • Head of wardrobe: Julie Rowbory
  • Assistant costume designers: Elizabeth and Abigail
  • Model: Rebekah
Posted in Family | Leave a comment

I don’t really understand it so it must be great!

Journalists love writing about themselves and Nigerian journalists are no exception. I came across this gushing report on the Nation’s awesome achievements whilst searching for a turgid (but apparently award-winning) article on threats to Nigerian languages from the dash to English. I’m honestly trying not to be unfair here and to allow for the possibility of Nigerian English grammar and idioms being significantly divergent from British English, but I still would struggle to give this article more than a B–.

“But surely it deserves more,” I hear you cry, Continue reading

Posted in Language, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas 2014 Newsletter

Download the printable PDF: Monthly Museletter 40

Christmas Greetings from Jos!  Yesterday we had our office Christmas celebration not just with colleagues but with their families too. Our group has certainly kept growing over the last year. Last year’s party met in our back garden. This time we met in a hall (on the compound we moved to in February) to enjoy scripture, songs, carols, prayer, games and food together. We’ll write more about our office and colleagues in the new year. Apart from celebrating Christmas it’s also the end of semester at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN) where David has been teaching in the Bible Translation Dept. Continue reading

Posted in Bible Translation, News | Leave a comment

“Are you OK?” — Sudden Suffering at Christmas

Sometimes the words “We’re OK” are a little unsettling, in particular when the message comes out of the blue and you didn’t realise anything was wrong or that your loved ones might not have been OK. We sometimes end up sending such messages but a few days ago were on the receiving end.

Having had a twin bomb attack in our city (Jos) a couple of weeks ago, and having fielded  kind enquiries from friends as to our safety, it was a strange reversal to end up hearing “We’re OK” from family in Glasgow after the George Square bin lorry accident. However, from here in Nigeria, the drama of the aftermath seems a little surprising. Perhaps it’s because we drive past horrific traffic accidents pretty frequently and regularly hear of Islamic violence affecting our communities and friends somewhere in Nigeria. And perhaps Glasgow is a much more tranquil place with less suffering.

Inevitably Facebook and Twitter, and the comment sections of news feeds, light up in such times with instant reaction. Leaving aside the ‘shock jocks’ who use tragedy to exhibit their immaturity, it seems you get something of an insight into a society’s religious outlook and their attitude to suffering.

Why – aside from the busier streets – is it particularly bad that this happens at Christmas? Continue reading

Posted in Sociology | Leave a comment

More or less: thoughts on the spread of education in Nigeria

Here are a collection of my observations and insights gleaned from friends and colleagues Nigerian and foreign, regarding the history and the result of the spread of education in Nigeria.

It is frequently observed that there is greater access to education than ever before in Nigeria. Sometimes people claim then that Nigerians are better educated than ever before. Somewhat optimistically and logically then, I and others have concluded that the immense task of developing Nigeria’s languages and translating the Bible should be more achievable now and faster than ever it could have been in the past.

I am starting to think that this is sadly naïve. The true situation is more puzzling and more complicated than the simple narrative of ‘Nigeria is better educated than ever before’. Continue reading

Posted in Language, Sociology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The inevitable magnetism of intersemiotic vacuousities (or why people love nonsense)

Every discipline attracts jargon. Why?

Cynically we might say it’s because they want to make themselves look important and keep outsiders from understanding what they’re saying. Sometimes that is the case or becomes true, but less cynically it seems to be a natural byproduct of spending a lot of time thinking and talking and writing about one particular subject or area.

Focus on one area for enough and spend time with others doing the same and you often want precise or particular ways of separating or grouping things. We find that general words don’t give us the tools we need – they’re either too specific or too general or they don’t express things the way we want. So we reach for other tools. Frequently in the English-speaking world we dip into Greek or Latin, occasionally making sorties into French and undergoing formación in Spanish to find just the right words to say what we want to say. Either we find another language has a more precise/general word for what we want to describe or we cheerfully portmanteau or build new meanings on these linguistic green-field sites. What is fantastically seductive about such new territory is that the terms are completely empty of meaning to most people. Using pristine new expressions, unsullied by confusing connotations or associations we can fill the word up with our very own definition and have it mean exactly what we want it to mean: no more, no less.

In other words, we are just a sliver away from Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

There is the slight problem that no-one understands what you mean unless you tell them, but that is the price we may judge is worth paying for clarity and precision. But what if other people start using your term and twist and adapt it for other purposes? What if people understand things differently? What if the cognitive effects achieved by the implicature are contrary to your intent? Well, then it’s back to the Greek and the Latin to find a new, pure, empty term to fight another day.

Is there another way to communicate without losing people? Can we communicate using common-or-garden words and phrases? Yes, I believe we can, and I believe it is worthwhile. Running after some security in an empty and pure term may well just lead to confusion rather than clarity. Sometimes I have a suspicion that we end up finding far too much security in jargon and can even deceive ourselves that we understand more than we really do. Being forced to use ordinary language or even simple language to explain or describe or talk about something is a challenge. But perhaps it’s not hard for the reasons we often think.

Perhaps it’s actually hard because explaining something clearly and simply means we have to understand it very, very well. Regurgitating jargon is something anyone can do.

Any fool can make something simple seem complicated. What takes genius is making something complicated look simple. So, whither inter-semiotics?

Posted in Language | Tagged | Leave a comment

Renewing Car Particulars (in Jos)

Notes on the process made by David Rowbory August 2014, (VW Golf 3)


  • Cost: ₦8835 Time: 2 hours, much to-ing and fro-ing between desks

  • Where: Plateau Board of Internal Revenue, Ahmadu Bello Way, Jos

  • What’s required: Current particulars (maybe TIN), A mobile phone.

  • What would have made it faster:

    • knowing where to go.

    • having a MasterCard card to pay at their POS system.

  • What you leave with:

    • Vehicle Licence sticker

    • Roadworthiness receipt

    • Roadworthiness certificate

    • Certificate of Insurance (Third Party Only)

    • Revenue Receipts: Motor Vehicle License, RoadWorthyness cert, SMS alert, Insurance Premium

In detail:

  • Take Old Particulars to left-most window on front of the building and say you want to renew them.

    • You should receive 2 printed papers (invoices) detailing the costs for Vehicle License, Road-worthiness, Insurance.

  • Take these invoices to the POS window (rightmost) and pay the amount specified ideally via MasterCard.

    • You’ll give your phone number and will collect a confirmation by SMS.

    • For me it was slower because I paid cash to someone who then deposited it in a bank and someone else used their card. Having a MasterCard (not Visa, as Aug2014) would have saved about 30-45 mins.

    • You will collect a payment receipt.

  • Take the invoices + payment receipt to the receipt office (inside centre door, past VIO, then left just before the big desk, then along to the end on the left)

    • Give the invoices/receipts and you’ll get official receipts printed for you.

  • Go to VIO (through front door on the left, or at the window to left of the central door)

    • Collect the roadworthiness receipt/certificate, doing whatever they ask you to do!

  • Take all papers to the large hall (past the big desk) where you buy 3rd-party insurance.

    • Give the bundle of receipts to someone who will ask again for a phone number and enter details.

  • Take the insurance paper and go again to pay (₦500) at the POS (rightmost window, on outside of building)

  • Take POS receipt to the 2nd Left window

    • They’ll ask for a phone number and you’ll get an SMS confirmation that all is done.

  • Shi ke nan! That’s all.

Posted in Administration | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Corpses or Dead People

The Gworog Bible translation team have been doing some community testing on Luke 22-24. It seemed to be a fruitful exercise though not always making things easier. In particular there’s a tricky issue about corpses and dead people.

What’s the difference between the two? Luke 24 has two ‘men’ asking the women why they are looking for the living [person] among the dead [people]. With one way of translating that into Gworog, people are somewhat puzzled because it sounds like they are rifling through a pile of corpses (but there was only Jesus’ body there). However, the other option sounds like the women are surrounded by ghosts or in a place inhabited by the ‘living dead’ or the ancestors, in traditional religion. Using the words for ‘people’ and ‘dead’ together normally means ghost/ancestor, and at least traditionally evokes all sorts of issues which are a big distraction from what Luke 24 is saying.

I have a feeling there will be a way we can resolve this, but it’s not immediately obvious to me at the moment. I’m glad though that the team had the opportunity to see the value of testing in letting issues and misunderstandings arise and be addressed before the text is issued for wider use.

IMG 0830
(Gratuitous picture of passing Fulani migration on the way to Gworog land.)

Posted in Bible Translation | Leave a comment