Category Archives: Minority Languages

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: 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

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.

Languages of Wilder Confusion: Of Step Mothers and Aunts

One of the Koro Ashɛ translators sadly just heard he lost his step-mother. I offered my condolences and (I really should know better by now than to do this, but) I asked somewhat crassly when she had become his step-mother.

At that point he looked confused.

But of course, I’d asked a silly question. I was thinking that perhaps his mother had died and his father remarried, but no, I was quite off-beam. This was his father’s immediate brother’s wife. All the wives of his uncles are called in Ashɛ-style English ‘step-mothers’, as are co-wives in polygamous households. I guess I would say ‘aunt’ but I get the impression that the relationships just work differently and a paternal aunt by marriage is quite a different thing from a maternal aunt or even a father’s sister.

Local language Bible studies at seminary

These days in Nigeria it seems that formal education is pretty much exclusively an English-only affair and seminaries are no exception. So the experimental elective Sociolinguistics for Pastors running in ECWA Theological Seminary Kagoro has sought to shake things up a little. And with the encouragement of Provost and Chaplain, we have tried to encourage the setting up of some local language Bible studies, to complement the existing English language Bible studies.

A survey of languages and interest in local language Bible study led to the formation of around 20 groups, some with large numbers of students, some with just a handful, and leaving others where only 1 or 2 students in the seminary reported ability in that particular language.

Continue reading Local language Bible studies at seminary

A time to plant or a time to kill?

Several people balancing on each other to form a very precarious looking human tower at the Gworog traditional festival 2014
Human tower at the Gworog traditional festival 2014: Writing Gworog can be rather precarious too!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about the Gworog project. That’s largely because the project has faced personnel management issues and then a funding crisis, and then technical problems and they just haven’t had much for me to work on. I’ve also been pretty busy. But yesterday I had a (nother) meeting with the Gworog translation coordinator and 3 other linguists and literacy people to help come up with a plan for a really necessary meeting.

Perhaps to you “Community Orthography Consensus Meeting” doesn’t necessarily sound like the world’s most exciting knees-up but it could really be a matter of life and death.

Let me back up and explain a couple of things about the Gworog language. Continue reading A time to plant or a time to kill?

Languages of Wilder Confusion: hidden dangers for international collaboration

I’ve appreciated the numerous short, thought-provoking articles Jim Harries has written (and also here) on topics of cross-cultural communication. One that got my attention recently was Building Castles in the Sky: A case for the use of indigenous languages and resources in Western mission-partnerships to Africa, particularly in the light of 2 realities which are close to home for me:

  1. For my work as a Bible translation consultant (in training) I am reliant on using languages of wider communication (mostly English, with little bits of Hausa) to discuss the meaning of parts of the Bible and help translators check and improve their work. I am very aware of the dangers and pitfalls that this entails.
    1. (Why is this a reality for me? I’m rather slow and poor at learning to speak languages, and work with far too many languages to attempt it.)
  2. There is a real push amongst some Americans who want to “accelerate Bible translation” to resource and partner directly with local churches around the world and to cut out the missionary middle man, as it were. This is possible because more and more non-Western partners are able to communicate in Western languages of wider communication(English, Spanish, French).

Jim warns that great danger lurks here.   Continue reading Languages of Wilder Confusion: hidden dangers for international collaboration

Making dictionaries serve translation

My paper Making Dictionaries Serve [Bible] Translation is here on Academia.edu open for comments. Below is the abstract and introduction.

Making dictionaries serve translation

David Rowbory, Translation Consultant in Training, SIL Nigeria

A paper presented at the 2015 Bible Translation Conference hosted by GIAL Dallas, Texas, 16-20 October relating to the sub-themes Technology and other Tools, Theory & Practice and Translator Training.

Abstract

John Roberts has lamented the tendency of Bible translators to ignore lexicography until after a New Testament has been completed and printed. The consequence is that while the translation process necessarily reveals much of the lexical richness of a language, few dictionaries are ever finished and little of the effort of creating such a dictionary ends up benefitting the translation itself. It does tend to be a peculiar minority of people who attack the task of lexicography with relish, but I want to outline the many ways that a working dictionary can and should support better writing. Recent developments have eroded many of the difficulties which have hindered the development and use of dictionaries. There is no need to typeset a full dictionary before it is used; software-based dictionaries can be useful even when incomplete. Rather than throwing knowledge away, every translator or pioneer writer should see the dictionary as a place to store the riches of their language and conserve the fruit of their wrestling with the language. Mother-tongue translators need dictionaries too. Where a diverse range of community members contribute their knowledge of the language to make a good, growing, living dictionary it can provide consultants, reviewers and translators alike with a wider evidence base for their decisions than mere individual opinion. I survey recent developments that make dictionary development more achievable than ever before, and propose procedures for Bible translators to use and maintain a dictionary with examples from projects that have done this.

Continue reading Making dictionaries serve translation

A little plug for Wycliffe in Nigeria, from a British MP

A search on the internet often throws up surprising results and one was the mention of the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators in Nigeria, by Lib Dem MP Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion.

In talking about why it’s important for Christians and governments to engage in international aid, page 59, he mentions “Wycliffe Bible Translators teaching literacy, helping to grow local cultures and educating people in their native language.”

I’m intrigued to know how he found out about it since it’s fairly quiet and long-term work.

Liberal Democrats Do God book cover
Liberal Democrats Do God

 

Research in progress: Making dictionaries serve translation

Here’s an abstract that has been approved for presentation at a Bible Translation conference:

Making dictionaries serve translation

John Roberts has lamented the tendency of Bible translators to ignore lexicography until after a New Testament has been completed and printed. The consequence is that while the translation process necessarily reveals much of the lexical richness of a language, few dictionaries are ever finished and little of the effort of creating such a dictionary ends up benefitting the translation itself. It does tend to be a peculiar minority of people who attack the task of lexicography with relish, but I want to outline the many ways that a working dictionary can and should support better writing. Recent developments have eroded many of the difficulties which have hindered the development and use of dictionaries. There is no need to typeset a full dictionary before it is used; software-based dictionaries can be useful even when incomplete. Rather than throwing knowledge away, every translator or pioneer writer should see the dictionary as a place to store the riches of their language and conserve the fruit of their wrestling with the language. Mother-tongue translators need dictionaries too. Where a diverse range of community members contribute their knowledge of the language to make a good, growing, living dictionary it can provide consultants, reviewers and translators alike with a wider evidence base for their decisions than mere individual opinion. I survey recent developments that make dictionary development more achievable than ever before, and propose procedures for Bible translators to use and maintain a dictionary with examples from projects that have done this.

I thought I’d share some of my rough research and open up some questions and loose ends here in public while I’m preparing the paper.

Current Status of work: Literature & research review

I’m investigating times in the distant past right up to recently where dictionaries have made a contribution to Bible translation, whether positive or negative.

Some interesting stories so far

From translation consultants and translators.