Out of Context

Increasingly often I seem to be learning that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t understand. There’s a particular kind of things I’m learning at the moment – English as a Language of Wider Confusion. Words that I’ve been using turn out to mean different things to my hearers than I intend and I keep realising that I’ve probably been misleading people completely unwittingly.

So far BUSH and JARGON have fallen. The latest victim is CONTEXT.

Continue reading Out of Context

Principled Principal Principles

One long term characteristic of Wycliffe Bible Translators (and the field arm SIL) that I appreciate is a drive to continuous reassessment and improvement of what we do as we try to translate the Bible for churches around the world and help communities develop their language along the way.

So over the last few weeks a number of us translation consultants and linguistic specialists have been considering principles for translation. In particular we have been trying to think through the thorny issue of how in training translators we can help them not only learn one way of translating but consider which ways might be more useful than others. While most translators naively come to the task imagining there is one true way to translate something and that our job is to teach them that one true way, most people who have tried their hand at translation at all seriously reflect that there are many ways to skin this particular cat. Continue reading Principled Principal Principles

God and the Bible: Beware a Qur’anic view masquerading as ‘conservatism’

It is reasonably common on the interwebs to come across people complaining (vigorously) about Bible translations.

There’s one aspect to these debates that I’ve often found peculiar but I had been unable to pinpoint the problem until recently; statements like this: Continue reading God and the Bible: Beware a Qur’anic view masquerading as ‘conservatism’

Avoid frustration: Choose your translation brief to suit the multilingual situation

Somewhat late in the day it is dawning on me that a lot of frustration can be avoided if Bible translators (and their supporting personnel) agree and make their translation brief* explicit early on in their work. Secondly, that translation brief would best be informed by understanding the sociolinguistic/multilingual situation the translation is entering.

Translation brief: a plan for how you are going to approach a translation consistently (rather than haphazardly); the principles that guide a translation.

Perhaps I’ll get round to writing more about this, but let me give some examples. (If some seem flippant, it may be that I have done that deliberately, to provoke thought.) Continue reading Avoid frustration: Choose your translation brief to suit the multilingual situation

Improving [Hacking] Paratext’s Interlinearizer

Some people who look at my Paratext interlinearizer window are somewhat surprised by the display.

What I really like about the Interlinearizer in Paratext is that you can adapt the HTML which powers the display by adjusting the files in the C:\Program Files\Paratext 7\Interlinear folder. Here’s what I’ve changed and why: Continue reading Improving [Hacking] Paratext’s Interlinearizer

The Crown of Life

Occasionally I end up staying with children in Sunday school at our church in Jos and so sometimes end up hearing some of the stories and memory verses. Memory verse are a fundamental part of Sunday should for children in Nigeria and they will often patiently practice and repeat them for 20 minutes or so until children can repeat it. This has often given me an opportunity to ponder translation issues in those verses.

James 1:12. Blessed are those who persevere under trial because when they have stood the test they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

(Whatever translation the Sunday School used, quite likely NIV.)

There are some terminology and logic problems I think my 4 and 6 year old children would struggle with here for this to be meaningful. Despite liking indirect communication, I do prefer to keep the tough parts for the most important and meaningful part of the communication so that the effort of understanding pays greatest suitable dividends. So this is one effort:

Continue reading The Crown of Life

Man Booker Prize: Thoughts on translating

I’d been very struck by snippets on BBC World Service about the difficulties and yet power of translating books. Here are a few interviews. There are things here for Bible translators to reflect on.


I must admit though that ‘Judas’ I found rather disappointing and annoying in the clip we were played. It seems rather like just another attempt to be self-consciously ‘bold’ by contradicting what’s in the Bible. Sometimes you just need to say that it’s not big and it’s not funny or even terribly clever. But there may be more to it than the clip revealed.

Form and Function

For hundreds of years people had access to well preserved Egyptian hieroglyphics without knowing what they meant. The Rosetta stone helped to break the code and since then the meaning has been deduced, though we still don’t know exactly the sound of the words. This is a great reminder of how important it is that we don’t merely pass on the appearance or letters of the Bible – or anything important – but also the meaning. And similarly it’s important for future generations to have access to the past that we pass on not just the meaning, but also the appearance or form.

Hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I.jpg
By Jon Bodsworth – http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/british_museum_29.html, Copyrighted free use, Link

Continue reading Form and Function

Languages of Wider Confusion: Cameliously?

Looking through a thesis for a friend at Kagoro seminary I was stumped by one particular word: ‘cameliously’. The context? “The instrument used in this research was carefully, cameliously designed…” Are you any the wiser? I wasn’t and I consulted various dictionaries and asked friends. No-one had ever heard of the word. Various possibilities were suggested including things to do with chameleons. That seemed unlikely since the word didn’t really look like that. Finally I gave up and asked the student directly. Grinning, Ezekiel confessed he had actually made it up and intended it to be ‘like a chameleon’.

But what would ‘cameliously’ (or ‘chameleonly’) mean? Continue reading Languages of Wider Confusion: Cameliously?