All posts by david

Did you know… Mary Slessor

Did you know, that… a corner of Nigeria featured on a British banknote for many years all because of a lass from Dundee?

An Ambulance bearing Mary Slessor’s name seen in Jos, northern Nigeria
Seen in Jos, an ambulance of some kind seems to bear Mary Slessor’s name.

Over the years in Nigeria as I’ve got to meet people from different places and we have talked about where we’re from, it’s been notable how many people know (roughly) about the tiny and insignificant nation of Scotland. They know Scotland because of the notable Scottish missionaries who came and made a big impact in Nigeria. In Kagoro (Kaduna state) everyone talks about Mr Archibald who was Scottish and who set up the Boys Brigade in Kagoro as an early way of sharing the gospel with children and families.

But few Scots have had quite the lasting impact on Nigeria and have built there for Scotland a greater reputation than Aberdonian/Dundonian Mary Slessor.

Continue reading Did you know… Mary Slessor

Languages of Wilder Confusion: Keep

The simple word keep couldn’t easily be confused could it? And yet in Nigerian English it refers to storing something somewhere — putting something away.

So a friend told us about a time when a neighbourhood child came to her house and was playing with a little toy and the friend said she should keep it. It turned up again in a cupboard because the child had carefully ‘kept it’ away where they thought it might go.

Here we have the two competing definitions then:

  1. keep: to put something away where it belongs.
  2. keep: to maintain possession of something.

Just think about that every time you use keep. At least when I’m in Nigeria I have to think about it!

Languages of Wilder Confusion: Big Words, Big Trouble

Listen to this post read by David.
There’s also a higher quality version you could listen to if you can spare the bandwidth.

What I like about English,” a student pastor told me at the end of one class, “is that you have so many special words for things, so that means you can think and talk about so much more than we can in our own languages.”

Student pastors in Kagoro Seminary

This sounds fairly convincing. English has a word ‘justification’ and so it’s easy to talk about it — easier than trying to talk about the same thing in a Nigerian language, at least. It’s not just religious terms but science too: how would you teach people about hydration or polymers or anatomy. This is commonly a justification for rushing kids to English in school and abandoning the foundational languages they come with. There are no words for these ideas in the home languages and we have no textbooks (and don’t intend to write any) in local languages for children to memorise. So far, so convincing, but of course that’s only part of the picture. Leaving aside the slightly questionable Sapir-Whorf exaggerations, the argument relies for its adequacy on two questionable assumptions which no-one really questions.

  1. Education is chiefly about learning big words and regurgitating their definitions to pass tests, get a qualification and thus get a salaried position.
  2. If we all use the same terms, then we’ll all understand the same thing. Shi ke nan! (Kinda Hausa for Slam Dunk!)

I’ll leave aside the educational philosophy issue for now and tackle the second.

What’s the Ishɛ word for ‘OO gauge’ locomotive? For rolling stock?
For model trees? For ‘you’re off your head’? 🙂
Continue reading Languages of Wilder Confusion: Big Words, Big Trouble

Another ‘eggcorn’ or ‘cat phrase’: Hand your head in shame

Reading a comment here criticising Apple the writer finished with a surprising rhetorical flourish:

“Go hand your head in shame, Apple: you’re still not doing software engineering right.”

Now, when you’re lambasting someone for doing something stupidly wrong, wouldn’t you try to make sure you don’t do the same thing yourself? Of course in true Dave Gorman fashion I turned to my live English Corpus (Twitter) to check and sure enough “Hand your head in shame” is a thing. Well, I guess if you can’t get the hand of English idioms, it’s not a handing offence is it?

(PS: In case you don’t know, it’s supposed to be Hang your head in shame. But maybe face-palming is more common these days.)

A systems approach… Systems Engineering can help healthcare and maybe Bible translation too?

In a fascinating lecture from my alma mater (Trinity Hall, Cambridge), Professor John Clarkson talks through how he cut his teeth on engineering challenges that gave him a ‘systems approach’ to all kinds of other problems. He applies what he’s learned to a process for improving healthcare.

I think there’s something here for Bible Translators to learn from too, since often we are aware that we could and we must do things better.

One of my favourite quotes from this is around 40 minutes in: ‘Common sense is not common’. The other quote I love is ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ I think that’s often what I as a translation consultant am trying to do when translators propose a particular translation. ‘How could someone possibly misunderstand or misuse this?’

Continue reading A systems approach… Systems Engineering can help healthcare and maybe Bible translation too?

Did you know… William Tyndale

It’s rather easy for us to forget that some things very familiar and obvious to us are not so widely known. So we’re going to start a regular ‘did you know’ section to our newsletter, so you can show off to your friends be well informed.

Did you know, that…

A hundred years or so after John Wycliffe stirred things up with his translation of the Bible into English, a young priest from he English countryside called William Tyndale picked up the baton translating the Bible into English which is much more modern, punchy and accessible to a modern audience than Wycliffe’s. The language had changed a lot, Luther had set a reforming cat among the established church’s pigeons and the printing press enabled his translation to spread far and wide. He was tracked down and murdered before he had finished his translation, but like many reformers he prayed for God to change the hearts of kings and within a few decades his translation was the basis of much of the best parts of the ‘King James’ official translation.

Here’s a fascinating interview with Ben Virgo and Melvyn Bragg who are both fans of Tyndale:

Continue reading Did you know… William Tyndale

Did you know… John Wycliffe

It’s rather easy for us to forget that some things very familiar and obvious to us are not so widely known. So we’re going to start a regular ‘did you know’ section to our newsletter, so you can show off to your friends be well informed.

Did you know, that…

Wycliffe Bible Translators is named after the Yorkshire-born Oxford scholar John Wycliffe. He was born about 700 years ago and has been considered a forerunner of the European reformation. He translated the Bible into English, but since the printing press hadn’t been invented (in Europe) yet, every copy needed to be painstakingly hand-copied. And very few English-speaking people knew how to read or write any language at that time! So Bible translation, preaching and literacy needed to go hand in hand. It’s still true today. But publishing is considerably easier!

August 2019 Newsletter

Back ‘Home’ in the UK for 9 months we face many changes while colleagues in Nigeria help the Ashɛ and Wachi and other teams prepare for a crucial training event in September.

We’ve spent the last 6 months nearly managing to finish writing a newsletter, and then getting delayed with bits and pieces of work or technical difficulties so that then what we had written seems not so fresh any more. So, I’m laying all that aside and we’ll do something of a catchup and review of the last 3.5 years in Nigeria later on, but here’s an update about what’s going on now.

We’re now in the UK! 

That hopefully isn’t too much of a surprise to many, but given our lack of communication you would be forgiven for losing track that we’ve been in Nigeria since March 2016 except for the occasional brief trip back. So we are due a furlough or ‘home assignment’ and wanted to time it so that the big 3 girls can slot into school at the start of a school year. They have just entered P7, P5 and P3 in Glasgow. Rebekah was shocked as she realised that little Abigail is now a big Primary 3 — just what she was in when she left Shawlands Primary school. 

Continue reading August 2019 Newsletter

Village visit

  • Storytelling and Ishɛ language service in Gari

In late April, four of the Ashɛ translation team were in Gardi — deep inside Ashɛ land — to greet chiefs and others, and to participate in an Ishɛ language service on the Sunday.

While Arams often complains about how things aren’t as they used to be, many children and adults swamped Moses’ house to look at the strange visitors and to listen to the Ishɛ story that we’ve studied together and which Arams told to the attentive audience.