Category Archives: Language

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

Biblish Idioms: Hearts melting

Here’s a challenge:

Read this first sentence:

Our hearts melted as we saw them approach.

Then consider what we expect to come next…

Does your heart melt?

Which seems more suitable?

  1. The little children looked so cute, we couldn’t be angry any more.



  2. The warriors were armed to the teeth and utterly fearsome.


They’re quite different aren’t they?

The English idiom of hearts melting indicates an outpouring of compassion, doesn’t it? It’s when we say “aww, how sweet!”

Several times we read in the Bible of hearts melting. It’s a common enough idiom, occurring at least 13 times, by my count in the ESV.

And as soon as we heard it [what the Lord did and what you did], our hearts melted

Joshua 2:11, ESV

Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we…

Deuteronomy 1:28, ESV — NIV has ‘lose heart’ here.

The context (most of which I’ve removed above) generally makes it clear that what is meant is terrified paralysis. That’s not quite the same as the English meaning is it?

It would probably be better to have our hearts fell, we lost heart, we were gripped with terror, or we quaked in our shoes/boots.

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

In Christ

I had an interesting chat over the summer with someone wrestling with how to communicate ‘in Christ‘ in his location/language. This is an ongoing and troubling translation issue, because clearly ‘in Christ’ is an important topic in Paul’s writing and yet a little difficult to talk about clearly because it’s actually rather odd English.

‘In Christ’ is a somewhat literal rendering of the original Greek ἐν Χριστῳ and quite possibly a Hebrew/Aramaic original concept may underlie it.

Continue reading In Christ

Languages of Wilder Confusion: Win

Would you encourage Christians to want to win people for Christ? Yes! Would you suggest they fight and kill them to do this? What?!! And yet that could very easily be a conclusion people reach. How?

Well in Nigerian English people use ‘win’ where British English uses ‘defeat’.

School exercise book with the slogan: Education is the only tool to win all the violence
Education is the only tool to win all the violence

Source 1: Sunday school ‘this small group of Israelites were going to win the bad bad people’. (about Gideon)
Source 2: Education is the only tool to win all the violence.

(I wonder how the book “How to win friends and influence people” goes down.)

It’s not that one meaning for ‘win’ is right, but if we don’t recognise the differences then it’s a recipe for silent disaster; we may not notice any misunderstanding has happened.

(You should perhaps read Languages of Wilder Confusion)

Languages of Wilder Confusion

Most people around the world speak more than one language.

That shouldn’t be news, but in the English-speaking monolingual world, we may need to remind ourselves of this fact.

One language may be used at home and informally, but in a multilingual world, it’s useful to be able to communicate with people who speak different languages. People with different home languages might share a common language or a ‘trade language’ (especially for the marketplace). These are known as ‘languages of wider communication’. English is obviously one, and so is Hausa (used in northern Nigeria), Mandarin Chinese (for China), Spanish etc. Unfortunately while I can greet people and buy my tomatoes using Hausa, when I try to go much deeper in the language I come up against a problem. Any Language of Wider Communication is also frequently a Language of Wilder Confusion.

Continue reading Languages of Wilder Confusion

Naboth: A Faithful Farmer in God’s Vineyard

Just under 2 weeks ago we were shocked by the news of a colleague’s sudden death.

Naboth Musa was only 23 years old, but had been a tremendous answer to prayer for the venerable Duya Bible Translation project. Most recently I had helped get him and his colleagues set up to record several books of the New Testament in Duya language ahead of a month of community testing, and he took to it surprisingly quickly.

In the photo above you can see Naboth with his Duya team-mates and their consultant and advisor Mark Gaddis.

Continue reading Naboth: A Faithful Farmer in God’s Vineyard

Bible translation: A solution seeking a problem?

Here’s a quick thought:

Why do we so often struggle to start and maintain Bible translation projects and encourage the use of completed scriptures? Is it possible that we’re offering a solution to a problem that few really recognise?

WANTED! A Problem for my Solution REWARD!

And some followup questions:

If it’s not obvious to pastors and people that translating the Bible is a Good Thing™ then should we launch into it anyway? If we can only encourage a nibble of interest by dangling the carrot of ‘language preservation’ or ‘raising language status’ is it then a good idea to set a Bible translation in motion? What’s the point of taking years to build a lifeboat that no-one sees the need of? Build it and they will come? Really?

Discuss.

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