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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Scripture Engagement department of SIL Nigeria is involved in an exciting movement that is helping people engage with mother tongue Bible translations! This video introduces Scripture Listening and Reading Groups (SLRGs) and the impact they are having in language communities. Continue reading Scripture Listening and Reading Groups→
Looking back I sometimes think I spent large chunks of my childhood not really knowing what on earth was going on, and being quite aware of it (yet not particularly troubled by it). And I’ve come to realise that being confused, and being aware of being confused is actually quite a helpful thing. In particular, where translation is concerned – and Bible translation is my own focus – I think there’s a lot you can learn from situations where you are confused. And rushing to sort out the confusion may well make you miss a wonderful learning opportunity. Are you confused yet? Let me explain with a riddle:
Living in Nigeria I’ve often heard friends talking about ‘licking an orange’. That just sounds odd to me. But watch someone ‘licking an orange’ and they are really ‘eating’ the orange.