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.
In the course of trying to compare the style of natural storytelling in Koro Wachi language with what’s in the Bible, we looked at a seasonally appropriate passage:
“That time, angels that accepted strangers in heaven many appeared and they came with the angels.”
Luke 2:13, the Koro Wachi translation draft, as explained in English.
That’s how the Koro Wachi translator explained the current translation of Luke 2:13. I must admit I was somewhat puzzled as I asked about each word of the Koro translation in turn. It wasn’t what I was quite expecting. Suddenly the penny dropped! Of course! Who welcomes strangers but a generous “host”? And this is what the original Koro Wachi translator understood when he read Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared… in his NIV Bible. If these were heavenly hosts then they must be angels welcoming people to heaven. It all makes some kind of sense.
But of course it’s based on a tragic misunderstanding of the NIV English. Had the original translator looked at the Good News version ‘a great army of heaven’s angels’ then they may have done better, but how were they to know what to choose? Since ‘host’ (one welcoming guests) is a familiar concept and ‘heavenly host’ features in not only the NIV but in the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NASB (even the NLT!) why would a bilingual translator who considered himself to know English adequately suspect anything could be wrong?
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…
Abstract: ‘witness’ in the Bible tends to mean telling people about something rather than seeing it. This is not normal English.
The following definitions hopefully explain the senses given by the Greek word martys and martureo, and the word they’re often translated by in English.
μαρτυςnoun 1. one who testifies in legal matters, 2. one who affirms or attests, 3. one who witnesses [tells something] at cost of life
μαρτυρέωverb 1. to confirm or attest someth. on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness. a. to offer testimony b. to confirm bear witness to, declare, confirm, c. to support one’s testimony with total selfgiving, eccl. usage w. regard to martyrdom bear witness, testify, be a witness (unto death), be martyred, 2. to affirm in a supportive manner, testify favorably, speak well (of), approve
witnessnoun 1. a person who sees an event, 2. evidence, proof verb 1. see (an event) happen, 2. have knowledge of a development from observation or experience.
Sometimes storage space just seems to disappear. I just got to the bottom of some unnecessary wasted space on my Mac which I hadn’t encountered before. Accordance Bible software (very useful) uses the Sparkle service for updates. I discovered over 15GB of old versions of the Accordance app and updaters sitting quietly in an invisible folder on my system. Many seemed to be duplicates.
So, if you have Accordance and you’re wondering what is using up so much space you might want to check:
Inside your user folder
.Sparkle (this is the invisible folder – open it by using Go to Folder and typing .Sparkle)
Or at the Terminal type
open "~/Library/Application Support/Accordance/.Sparkle"
The Hausa Bible of 1980 is a notable publishing event in the history of Bible translation. The author tells the story of the leading personalities responsible for this translation and recounts the many challenges faced. The author also points out that this landmark achievement should not obscure the fact that the sub-groups under Hausa hegemony have mother tongues that should not be neglected. “No language can substitute for the mother tongue… [In] the case of the 1980 edition of the Hausa Bible, care was supposedly taken to express the message in a way that non-Hausa speakers can readily understand, since for the non-Hausa in Northern Nigeria the Hausa language is his second or even third, if not fourth language. Real Hausa, whether Sokoto, Bauchi or Kano, for most of them is often out of reach.”
“The motorbike fell, and my computer was crushed and it was wonderful,” said a Nigerian friend.
Now there’s nothing unusual in that statement for a Nigerian, but I think most British folk would be surprised. For Brits and Americans, Wonderful is just another way of saying ‘very good’. But in Nigerian English it means something surprising or shocking. And quite likely something wonderful is not going to be very good!
Now, I know this distinction in my head, but can I actually discipline myself to use the word Nigerianly?! That’s another thing. I’m sure I’ve baffled many by describing something merely good as particularly shocking.
Every week I drive past Peculiar International College and a shop titled Peculiar Cuts/Drycleaning. There’s a school bus (above) emblazoned with Peculiar Child. Why do I find this odd?
In Nigeria Peculiar means something/someone special, or precious to someone else. That’s what it used to mean in British English too, as you can see in the King James Version of the Bible where Christians are described as being a peculiar people. But languages don’t stand still, and so today peculiar has changed its meaning, from being a delightful epithet of worth to marking something strange or unusual.
Thus my friend Princeton had been perplexed to read in a novel about a ‘peculiar sight: a cat reading a notice board’. That just doesn’t make sense with the Nigerian (old) English meaning of the word, but does with the modern use.