Category Archives: Language

The Crown of Life

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:

Continue reading The Crown of Life

Man Booker Prize: Thoughts on translating

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.

Form and Function

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.

Hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I.jpg
By Jon Bodsworth – http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/british_museum_29.html, Copyrighted free use, Link

Continue reading Form and Function

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

Making the most of being confused

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.

Continue reading Making the most of being confused

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?

Correct Beer

For several months we were all mildly tickled by a massive billboard advert we would pass on our way back from church each Sunday.

In astonishing simplicity it proclaimed “Correct Beer” in huge lettering beside a row of bottles. I was about to snap a picture but just before I did they changed the advert. (Fortunately Google is my friend and here we are:)

Why were we amused?

Because everyone knows (even our children) that the choice of beer isn’t a correct/incorrect kind of choice, but a preference. “Correct God” maybe, “Correct Answer” when you have claimed that 2+2=4, but not “Correct Beer”.

So then why was that phrasing chosen?

Taking note of how I have heard Nigerians use the word “Correct” it seems to be focussed less on a mathematical notion of rightness than on a general affirmation that something is good and praiseworthy. It’s not simply something that can be verified scientifically or a fact which is demonstrably true. And thus clothing which is smart might be described as “Correct Dress”. (I am often complemented by checkpoint soldiers/police on my wearing of “native dresses”, but that’s another story.)

In other words, “Correct” in this Nigerian English means something like “Best” in my own dialect and the praiseworthiness of the beer is just an assertion of the advertiser’s opinion. If in fact the choice of beer was a correct/incorrect matter, then really there would not have been so much need to advertise it; it would have been self-evident.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think there may be a link with this post on the idea of a ‘correct text’ and biblical inerrancy, but I haven’t explored that yet.