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… translating the Bible for the Sabaot people of Kenya No.1

Sabaot Bible dedication

Reading Peter Brassington’s blog on the subject of linguistic false friends has prompted me to blog. In the era of fake news and alternative truth (yes, Peter does mention Donald Trump in passing) it is crucial that everyone, from politicians and journalists and pundits to linguists involved in Bible translation, communicates the truth clearly.

Years ago I was part of a multi mission agency tour of N. Ireland university Christian Unions. Our theme for that year was Bible translation. The Sabaot project in Kenya was a very interesting one and inspired me to write a dialogue encapsulating the dangers of assuming that people understood what others thought they understood… if you see what I mean.

Read on..

To be performed by two readers…
ONE: Okay, so what the verse actually said was “Jesus ordered his disciples to enter the boat.”
TWO: … but on Mount Elgon in Kenya there are no boats.
ONE: And because of this…
TWO: (and other linguistic difficulties)
ONE: …most people thought it meant:
TWO: “Jesus Ordered His Teachers To Plant Milk”
ONE: …which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and probably didn’t encourage them to read the rest of the story.
TWO: That was one of the discoveries made in a survey to find out how well the Sabaot people of northern Kenya understood the Swahili New Testament.
ONE: “And we thought that our people knew Swahili well!”
TWO: said a local headmaster involved in the survey.
ONE: Testing a second passage,
TWO: the team realised that the people had no understanding at all of the Swahili words for biblical concepts such as mercy or grace.
ONE: They did know market Swahili,
TWO: but just because you know how to buy a goat using another language
ONE: doesn’t mean you understand sanctification or justification!
TWO: Until there was a written form of Sabaot,
ONE: God only seemed to speak in someone else’s language.
TWO: This made the meaning hard to understand and also raised uncomfortable questions for the Sabaots.
ONE: Was theirs not an important language?
TWO: It was neither a language of education nor of the church.
ONE: Were they an important people?
TWO: Could God understand them when they prayed in Sabaot?
ONE: Did God even listen?

But there’s a good outcome to this story…
Francis Kiboi says, “Before the Scriptures came to my people, Jesus seemed to be distant and foreign. But now that we have the Scriptures in the language, he is walking with us on this mountain. God is with us, and he is Sabaot!”

… and an even better one in a part 2 blog to come!

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ghost-of-christmas

Why might you like this cartoon?

  1. You might be a Charles Dickens fan
  2. You just like the drawing
  3. It’s kind of quirky…

    Bible translation stats Oct 2016

    Bible translation stats Oct 2016

OR

Is it because you appreciate the linguistic humour?

If you do like it, you might also like to do what Wycliffe Bible Translators do ie linguistics – at least some of us do.

Take a closer look at linguistics with Wycliffe

#endbiblepoverty

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Sometimes we get a sentence back to front and we have difficulty understanding it, never mind the person listening to us or reading our e-mail. Sometimes however, a sentence needs to be translated back to front to enable the readers / hearers of the receptor language to understand.

Translation puzzle

And that’s exactly what my colleague Ed Lauber is saying in his post Put the most important last a week or so ago.

Consider these two sentences:

Why she married him I really don’t know.
I really don’t know why she married him.

The first carries a lot more emotional content than the second. If the person speaking wanted to make clear their complete disagreement with the woman’s choice, the first sentence works better. It puts “why she married him”at the front whereas it would normally come at the end – something grammarians call fronting.

But not all languages use fronting for emphasis. Languages here do the opposite. My boss in Ghana and the Director of the national organization we work for, GILLBT, says that the organization has a three-fold heritage – language development, literacy and Bible translation. On more than one occasion I have heard him mention to other Ghanaians that it is important to put Bible translation last because it is the most important. That’s because in Ghana, the most important words come last. It was the same way in Congo – the most important words came at the end.

Recently, I sat in for part of a workshop on the translation of the book of Romans. A translation consultant was giving instructions to translators from five languages. One piece of advice he gave concerned the following verse:

Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves (Romans 14:22)

He asked the translators to think about how to translate this verse, specifically where they would put the word “blessed”. They indicated that they would put it at the end, something like:

The one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves; he is blessed

Why? Because the important bit needs to come at the end in the languages here. The consultant warned them not to weaken the verse or make the translation awkward by keeping the word “blessed” at the front. He mentioned that the same thing applies when translating the beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
(and so on) (Matthew 5:2-12)

Blessed with emphasis are the first words in English. In the languages of Ivory Coast, the last words are the ones so blessed.

Seems like having the last word last is important!

Could you find linguistic puzzles like this interesting? Have a look here.

Or what about a wee taster First Steps at venues throughout the UK. The N. Ireland one will be 25 February 2017 at Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church – and someone has signed up already!!!

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Caitlin Hamilton was one of four students from N. Ireland who attended Wycliffe’s Two Week Stint programme in the south of France this past summer. We invited Caitlin to write a blog for us and here it is. She starts by tracing her journey with Wycliffe…     

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I will never forget the moment I walked into a boulangerie in the south of France to ask for 18 baguettes! The boulangerie was in Charmes-sur-Rhône, a little village in the Ardèche area of France. The reason I was there was because I was taking part in the Two Week Stint.

It started on Sunday the 17 July 2016, when I arrived at the gîte to find this group of then strangers, now friends, all standing around outside and talking. Well, you could say it started that morning when I left the house at 6.30 to get the bus for Dublin. After a lift, a bus, a plane, a tram, a train, another bus and a lift from the bus stop, I was finally there, ready for the two weeks to begin.

Or then again, maybe it started even before that. I first heard of Wycliffe through church. I love languages, so when it came time to do work experience in lower sixth, my first thought was Wycliffe. I spent a fascinating week in the Belfast office, where I learnt translation wasn’t as simple as you would think. I was so taken with the work of Wycliffe, that I brought a friend along to the First Steps a few weeks later. Ever since I had been considering coming on the Two Week Stint, but the timing had never been right – until this year. I’m very thankful that I was able to get a travel scholarship at Queens: God is good.

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Each morning began with worship, prayer and Bible teaching

Over the two weeks, we spent time together each morning in worship and Bible teaching. Our focus was on Acts, that God is on a mission. I really enjoyed the chance to worship together with this group of people from so many places, singing in both English and French as we praised our Lord. Then, each morning, we spent time learning more about the work of Wycliffe, and what is involved in Bible translation. We spent three days on each of linguistics, literacy and Scripture Engagement.

Linguistics covers a wide range of areas including: sounds, how language is written down, grammar, and meaning, and all of this is vital in producing a translation that can be read, can be understood, and makes sense. I found it fascinating, especially since we were using a real African language, Mankanya, as an example. Literacy focused on the importance teaching people to read their own mother tongue, and various methods which can be used to do this. The last topic we studied was Scripture engagement. This encourages and equips people to use the Scripture and to understand it, for example, by encouraging churches to read the Bible in the local language.

Teaching

Teaching

I really enjoyed the fact that all of the camp was bilingual, in French and English. It was a great chance to practice my French and I’m feeling a lot more confident about speaking French now. Throughout the two weeks there were a number of French classes, which I found really useful as they focussed on practical things like giving your testimony and praying in French. This will certainly be useful next year as I spend my year abroad in France.

Learning

Learning

It wasn’t all classes though! Every afternoon, and at the weekend, we had free time to spend as we wished. A couple of afternoons were spent having fun by the river. We also went into the local city to explore, went to a Reformation museum, visited an impressive castle overlooking the area, went on a guided tour around some caves, and went around a maize maze. We had a lot of fun in the evenings too, chatting, playing games, and one night we even had a ceilidh!

Reformation museum visit

Reformation museum visit

The Two Week Stint was an amazing opportunity, and I enjoyed it so much. It was great getting to spend time in such an idyllic place with some lovely people while learning about the work of Wycliffe.

This article also appears in the September edition of Wycliffe News which can be ordered by e-mail or post here

My thanks to Caitlin for this guest blog about her Two Week Stint experience .
Photos © Knut Burmeister, ALLTAG  http://foto.alltagmedia.de/
For information on Two Week Stint 2017, keep an eye here

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Wycliffe:Live is an October fixture in N. Ireland. It’s when the Wycliffe family of members and supporters – and people exploring what we are about – get together to share what God is doing through Bible translation and literacy and lots of other things around the world.

This year we decided to have a dinner – and so we needed a menu!

WycLive Dinner menu

Apparently we eat starters as a taster, as a light dish to get our stomachs ready for the main event. But that’s more of a habit than an essential. In Bible translation it’s crucial! Without language survey, linguistic analysis and phonetics expertise to create an alphabet, we’re stuck.

Jennifer “Niffer” Love provided our starter on Wednesday evening 7 October at The Mount in Belfast and talked about her pre-translation work with a language group in Nigeria.

Niffer

So with stomachs prepared, the food menu took over…

MainThe main course was a video It Starts in the Strangest Place which lists the various impacts of mother tongue Scripture on communities – take a look and see how many impacts you can spot!

Time for desserts. Don’t you love to have a choice of desserts? Like starters, some people may think that desserts are optional. For me a dessert is a no brainer – and in our Wycliffe:Live Dinner menu, it is essential. Desserts are the crucial support roles without which Bible translation just doesn’t happen: teaching, IT, finance, administration and many more.

On the night, Sharon told us about her two year stint working in finance and project management in Côte d’Ivoire while Elaine talked about teaching with the Institute for Development of Languages and Translation in Nairobi last summer – 30 students, 11 teachers, 14 nationalities, 32 mother tongues, 1 God and Father of all. Sounds like a starter for Revelation 7 verse 9…

“a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb

No meal is complete without a takeaway. Cue James Poole, Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland. James told us that he had the best job in the world! He also said that the best thing in the world is being part of a local church – and local churches need God’s Word in their heart languages. And so, as members of local churches, we were challenged to be local churches providing the Bible for local churches everywhere. Some takeaway…

IMG_1910 crop

I’ve written a few other blogs about Wycliffe:Live – for example in 2011 it was Going Backstage: behind the scenes in Bible translation. You can read about it here, here and here. And here’s the poster from back then…

WycliffeLive 2011

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Wyc Live MenuThis whole Wycliffe Menu idea was born out of desperation on the morning of the day that we needed to assemble our stand at Bangor Worldwide 2015. We wanted something a bit different and we ended up with a table for two with cutlery and mugs – and a menu! You can read our menu on the left above and see Ricky Ferguson seated and waiting for customers on the opening night of the mission exhibition at Bangor below.

Ricky at Bangor Worldwide

Wycliffe:Live has been an autumn fixture in the Wycliffe calendar in Ireland for many years, but for 7 October 2015, we have planned something different – a dinner priced £17 per person.

Monday 1 June past was a significant day for us. We moved to our new office in The Mount Business and Conference Centre in Belfast. Ricky Ferguson became the new NI Church Engagement Team Leader. Alf Thompson joined us as part of Wycliffe UK Communications Team and James Poole had been the new Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland Executive Director for just over a year.

So with a new office location and new team members, but the same passion and vision that every language group in the world should have access to God’s word in the language they understand best, we want to spread the word about…

Wycliffe:Live Dinner

Our theme is a Wycliffe Menu of news and stories of what God is doing through the work of Wycliffe and our partners worldwide interspersed with a meal.

Check out the details on the poster at top right in this blog. If you live close enough to Belfast and are interested in coming, you can reserve your place by emailing us at northernireland@wycliffe.org.uk or phoning 028 9073 5854


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Monday 1 June 2015 was a significant day for Wycliffe Bible Translators in N. Ireland.

After almost 14 years in our office on Beersbridge Road, Belfast, we moved downtown. Well, a little bit closer to the centre of Belfast. We are in two adjoining rooms in The Mount Business and Conference Centre not too far from Belfast Central Station.

https://i1.wp.com/www.the-mount.co.uk/images/contact_mount.jpg

Our address is: The Mount Business Centre,  2 Woodstock Link, Belfast  BT6 8DD and our  phone number is 028 9073 5854.

Here is an extract from my latest newsletter…

NI Team
On the same day Ricky Ferguson started as Leader of the Church Engagement Team in N. Ireland. Ricky brings youth, enthusiasm and his passion for Bible translation. He also has the advantage of being married to Marlene!

Also on 1 June, Alfred Thompson started working with the Wycliffe UK Communications Team based with us in The Mount. Completing the NI team are Kenny Woodrow (Uganda / Tanzania Branch communications) and our invaluable long term volunteer Bill Bailie.

I really like working in this team. Not only is there coffee and yummy scones from Seasons Restaurant downstairs, but we have regular team meetings, daily prayer together and we get to bounce ideas and banter off each other.

What about me?
These changes mean I have fewer responsibilities and renewed enthusiasm as I work a three day week as part of Ricky’s team. I hope that I can help him in his new role. I continue to be involved with the Kairos World Mission Course at Belfast Bible College and to be our contact with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. As a team, we want to build partnerships with all denominations and with new churches. We pray that God will call more people from Ireland to join Wycliffe.

A new office, new colleagues… all good stuff. But the task remains the same. As the front page of our Wycliffe UK website currently says…

Wycliffe Bible Translators believe that the Bible is the best way for people to come to know and understand who God is. Our vision is that by working with churches, organisations and individuals from around the world all people will have access to God’s word in a language that they truly understand.

Worldwide, 180 million people speaking 1,860 languages need Bible translation to begin, because they do not have access to the story of God’s love for his people – the story of the Bible – in the language that they understand the best. Of the 6,901 languages in the world today, only 531 have a complete Bible.

And there’s also a wee video from one of our partner organisations to watch…

Inspired? See where you might fit in? Contact us at our new office at The Mount to find out more.

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