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.
One of my favourite short articles about Bible translation was written 56 years ago by Constance Naish and Gillian Story working among Tlingit people in Alaska. They reflect on how the interpreters for the first missionaries there 100 years ago (mis-)understood the Bible. It’s comic and tragic and repeated in some similar way every day in parts of Nigeria. As we work with people to study their language and the Bible we gradually get to unpick some of the confusions which in our case have often been baked into the reading of the Bible for a few generations, now.
The original article is hard to find, so I’ve re-typed it here.
“The Lord is my shepherd…” and I am His sheep—isn’t this the sense in which we understand this phrase as the result of long familiarity with the Twenty-thrd Psalm? But couldn’t it mean instead, “The Lord is the one who herds sheep for me?” It was in some such sense that a Tlingit interpreter for some of the early missionaries understood it. His interpretation of the opening verses of this Psalm was later translated back again from Tlingit into English like this:
The Lord is my goat hunter; I don’t want Him. He knocks me down on the mountain: He drags me down to the beach…