Obligatory Covid-19 update

Just as things were coming together for us to head back to Nigeria (about a month later than we had hoped), things have got a little lively and unpredictable with this troubling Coronavirus/Covid-19. Airlines are still flying to Nigeria, but it’s possible in a month they won’t be. So it’s looking increasingly likely we may get stuck in the UK for even longer.

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Not *that* that

Did you know that English has 2 that’s? Do you care?!

Or, “No, ὁτι is not a demonstrative”

Greek alert!

This should make sense even if you haven’t a clue what ὁτι means. Modern Greeks would say it like ‘otty’ and some ancients would start it with an h, ‘hotty’.

Extra Greek

It’s been a privilege to come alongside some students learning NT Greek in Nigeria and try to help them on their way. There’s always something for me to learn. A surprising one was when I asked one student what kind of word Greek ὁτι is. Straight away he replied ‘demonstrative’. It took me a while to figure out how on earth he could have got that. A demonstrative is a pointing word — identifying something that we already know about, whether near or far — which either acts with a noun or replaces it, as a demonstrative pronoun ‘that thing’. But ὁτι is usually called a complementiser — introducing the content of speech, or thought or a reason behind something. It operates on whole clauses, not nouns or noun phrases.

After a while the penny dropped and I smiled (a little wryly). Quite likely this fairly sharp student had been introduced to ὁτι through a gloss: ‘that’, as in “He said that we went.” (perhaps something like εἰπεν ὁτι ἐρχομην). Then when asked what part of speech or what kind of word ὁτι was, the student reached into his knowledge of English grammar drummed into him at school. The English word ‘that’ is a demonstrative (adjective). So of course it’s simple.

Greek ὁτι → English that → demonstrative

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Ishɛ translation update: I’m a wondering about ‘amma’…

Years ago when starting work with the Koro Ashɛ translation team (whose language is called Ishɛ) the translators asked me about an issue they had. There were too many Hausa words in it. In particular the word ‘amma‘. It’s a common conjunction rather like English ‘but‘ and you do actually hear it frequently in conversation. Many Nigerian languages surrounded by Hausa end up picking it up and appropriating it for their own uses. So that gives us quite a challenge: how should we decide what is too much and when it should go? Some teams end up creating a ‘pure language’ equivalent. But that introduces further issues. Essentially none of us could properly answer the question without looking carefully into how this word ‘amma’ is currently used in Ishɛ storytelling, teaching and conversation.

That’s what we have done for the last 2 years, and the results were rather interesting.

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Rowbory family & ministry update 2019

Merry Christmas, everyone!

We’re enjoying being around friends and family in the UK for Christmas for the first time in 4 years, but missing our friends and co-workers in Nigeria.

We have now been in the UK for nearly 6 months, and had various plans for our time here which haven’t exactly worked out, but we’re making progress. We hoped to catch up with supporting churches, update them on our work in Nigeria, and hopefully get a little opportunity to arouse some interest in supporting our Nigerian missionary colleagues. David was also hoping to continue doing translation consultancy remotely supporting the Ashɛ translation team.

Here’s a quick update on what has actually been happening.

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Are we gospelly?

A rare guest appearance from Julie! (Perhaps I’ll persuade her to contribute more here.)

Sometimes we may think we have thought of something for the first time and it turns out that someone else got in there before us. In Bible translation work nowadays we are committed to using local languages to express Biblical concepts, but in modern English a lot of our key Biblical terms are very Latinate: jusitification, sanctification, redemption, resurrection. It almost looks as though, when Christianity was taking hold in Britain that English wasn’t seen to be sufficient to express these ideas. Or was it?

I’ve been having a look at Christian vocabulary in Old English and that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all. (Old English was spoken for over six centuries and the precursor of Modern English, with some Latin, French and other languages thrown in along the way.) Old English, a bit like modern German, could easily make new words by combining old ones; and it seems that Christians of the time often used words that were already in the language to express Christian ideas in ways that would be clearly understood. Then somewhere along the line people lost their nerve, decided that English really wasn’t the proper way to talk about these things and we have been left with Latin ever since.

Have a look at the table below.

Latin Modern English Old English Modernised Old English
resurrectio resurrection ærist rising
justificare justify rihtwísian righting (we still have the word ‘righteous’ from the same root)
redimere redeem/redemption liesan/alisedness   abycgan loose/release, buy
sanctificare sanctify gehalgian to make holy (holy and hallow are both from Old English)
incarnatio incarnation  inflæscnes infleshness (or perhaps inbody-ing)
trinitas trinity þriness (thriness) threeness
gratia grace giefnes/gifnes giveness (the Old English word is closely related to ‘forgiveness’ and ‘gift’)

Now some Old English words have stuck. We still talk about church (cirice), but something to do with the church is ‘ecclesiastical’ and not ‘churchly’ (in Old English they had ciriclec). We have ‘heaven’ (heofon), ‘sin’ (synn), ‘holy’ (halig), ‘forgiveness’ (forgifnes) and ‘worship’ (weorþscipe – a noun denoting something with worthiness or excellence), and ‘God’ (God).

And, of course, we still have ‘Gospel’. The Old English for that was ‘Godspell’, made of god (‘good’) and spell (‘news, account or story’). But nowadays we have an ‘evangelist’ rather than a ‘gospeller’ (godspellere). The ‘gospeller’ might go around ‘gospelling’ (godspellian).

So many of our Christian terms are fairly meaningless for the unchurched in modern Britain. Most people don’t think of ‘undeserved favour’ when they hear the word ‘grace’, for example. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out the Anglo-Saxons’ book and consider how we can express the good news in really down-to-earth language, in English as well as in many languages throughout the world where the speakers don’t yet have Scriptures or key Biblical terms. That’s one way for us to be ‘gospelly’ (godspellic).

What progress in 8½ years in Nigeria?

It’s good to look back on what we hoped to do when we first went to Nigeria in 2011 and assess our progress. My hope had been that I’d go with my English, knowledge of Bible and theology and Biblical languages, and meet translators who spoke some English, as well as their language and rather than me learning to speak their languages (badly), I’d just help them in whatever ways they struggled to understand the Bible, point them in the right direction and check their work before publication.

That still is my goal in many ways, and it’s what many of the translators expect but we’ve come to recognise 2 major flaws in that approach: 

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12 years 4 months + 19 days since we were commissioned

It’s 12 years, 4 months and 19 days since we were commissioned in the Buchanan Street building just before we headed to Kenya. Much has changed since then hasn’t it? We went to Nairobi to begin 2 very useful years of study and training in Bible translation. We were overjoyed when Rebekah joined us after a year, putting paid to Julie’s study plans. Rebekah was 9 months old when we came back to Glasgow. Elizabeth’s arrival slightly delayed our departure for Nigeria but finally with a 2 year old and 6 month old in tow, we headed out in February 2011, arriving as unpredictable elections loomed. We always remember those who came to see us off at the airport (along with all our baggage). We felt very loved. We looked forward to the ministry that we had ahead of us but it was hard to leave friends and family behind. Especially church family.

Julie’s first visit to Nigeria in December 2007
The sermon from our 1st July 2007 Commissioning service. Full reading etc here.

Every so often we listen to that commissioning service from 1st of July 2007 and we’re inspired by our pastor Willie’s message that day. We had been looking at what a true missionary church is, and looking at 2 Timothy 4, Willie said a true missionary church actually prepares and sends missionaries. It would have been very easy for the church in Antioch and in Ephesus and elsewhere to turn in on themselves, leaving outreach to far-flung places to a later time, perhaps when everything was more stable. But no, Acts makes it clear that Jesus wanted his followers to go into every nook and cranny of the world, no longer just waiting in Jerusalem for people from all nations to come by, but going out. And when the first apostles seemed to neglect that, then God forced them out with a bit of persecution and then the prompting of the Holy Spirit to propel Paul and Barnabas on several surprising trips.

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Discourse Analysis and Translation: an introduction

I’ve been doing lots of ‘discourse’ study recently and some people have asked how they can find out more about it.

The people to read:

My summary:

It’s all about the wood and the trees, but especially the wood.

We all know the meaning of a sentence is greater than the sum of its words, and there’s more to the packaging of words together than syntax. We know you can’t safely match a word in one language with one word in another, or to do that with syntactic constructions.

Choice implies meaning: What we want to do instead is understand the choices an author had, and reconstruct why the chose the options they had rather than another. Every language has its own mix of syntactic requirements and permitted ‘stylistic variation’. We vary the style to help our hearers or readers understand well what we’re trying to say, how the parts connect, what our main point is and what’s part of the background or the basis.

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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.

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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!