Category Archives: Language

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.)

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!

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.

Why discourse study makes great translator training

2018 was something of a departure from normal patterns for Ashe and for me. To the surprise of many, I did almost no checking of translation with Ashe, but focussed on studying 6 Ashe stories – some true, some folk tales. I had reasons to think this was absolutely necessary, and even though it’s taken much longer than I had hoped to get this far, I’m encouraged by the fruit and the potential we are starting to approach to do better Bible translation as a team.

The Frustration of Skipping the Discourse Study

I (David) had checked a lot of the translation of Luke’s gospel in Ishɛ from 2016-2017. We used back translations (explain it in English) to understand what the Ishɛ language was meaning, but often I really wanted to ask questions about translation choices that the translators were not able to answer adequately. All they could do was to say ‘this word in Ishɛ means this in English’. I was never satisfied with that but there was no more we could really do. 

Continue reading Why discourse study makes great translator training

A Host of Problems

In the course of trying to compare the style of natural storytelling in Koro Wachi language with what’s in the Bible, we looked at a seasonally appropriate passage:

 

“That time, angels that accepted strangers in heaven many appeared and they came with the angels.”

Luke 2:13, the Koro Wachi translation draft, as explained in English.

That’s how the Koro Wachi translator explained the current translation of Luke 2:13. I must admit I was somewhat puzzled as I asked about each word of the Koro translation in turn. It wasn’t what I was quite expecting. Suddenly the penny dropped! Of course! Who welcomes strangers but a generous “host”? And this is what the original Koro Wachi translator understood when he read Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared… in his NIV Bible. If these were heavenly hosts then they must be angels welcoming people to heaven. It all makes some kind of sense.

But of course it’s based on a tragic misunderstanding of the NIV English. Had the original translator looked at the Good News version ‘a great army of heaven’s angels’ then they may have done better, but how were they to know what to choose? Since ‘host’ (one welcoming guests) is a familiar concept and ‘heavenly host’ features in not only the NIV but in the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NASB (even the NLT!) why would a bilingual translator who considered himself to know English adequately suspect anything could be wrong?

Continue reading A Host of Problems