Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Pandas, elephants and monarch butterflies

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Pandas. Elephants. Monarch butterflies. We’ve all heard of endangered species (especially the cute ones), and know there’s value in preserving them. What about endangered languages? Have you heard of the Mlomp language of Senegal? How about the Tamazight language of Algeria? Or my personal favourite, the Cocama-Cocamilla language of Brazil?

There are over 2000 languages on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. That’s over a quarter of all the languages in the world – but some linguists estimate that as many as half the world’s 6,901 languages may be at risk.

Numbers are helpful for giving us an overview. But the truth is, it’s not about the numbers. It’s not even about the languages. It’s about the people who speak them. You can listen to some speakers of endangered languages for yourself in the following video. Listen out for the click language at 1:15!

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SIL, one of Wycliffe’s partner organisations, recognises the value of individual languages and believes that each language is a unique expression of culture and worldview. SIL is dedicated to coming alongside language communities as they strive to preserve their languages and identities. For more on endangered languages, check out SIL’s endangered languages page. For more on some of the people behind the numbers, have a look at Wade Davis’s TED Talk where he uses some amazing photos to illustrate what the loss of a language really means.

Interested in praying, giving or going? Find out more.

Stone or mountain? It’s in the tone

Monday, July 27th, 2015

It will probably come as no surprise that bringing a language from just a spoken form into written form is not an easy task. Also, not all languages are ‘created equal’; some are harder to write than others, and writing tonal languages well, that’s a whole different ball game. Johannes and Sharon, members of Wycliffe Switzerland, share some fascinating insight into the difficulties and complexities of translating the tonal language Mbelime.

‘One of the biggest problems of the Mbelime project remains the question of how to write the language (the spelling and punctuation rules that make up a written language are known as its “orthography”). Mbelime is a tonal language that has three distinct tone levels. This means that the tone level of a word changes its meaning. For example, if the vowel a of the word ditade is pronounced with a high tone, it means “stone”. When a is pronounced with a lower tone, however, it means “mountain”.

When the language was  first written in the 1970s, tone levels were not marked. Accordingly, readers found it difficult to read since they had to first figure out which tonal variation would apply to some of the words so that the text would make sense. Following further linguistic analysis, people started to mark tones. The stone was now written as dītáde, while mountain became dītāde. This rendered the two words distinctive in the orthography, which made the language easier to read. On the other hand, the text was now crowded with accents, which means that people still read very slowly.

Over the years many people, including literacy teachers, have told us how difficult they find it to write Mbelime. At the moment there are only a handful of people who master writing Mbelime correctly, among them Bienvenu and Claire. The three translators also find the current orthography a big challenge. Unfortunately, they feel that the current work pressure is hindering them from coming to grips with this. Bienvenu and Claire are currently reading through the first full draft of the gospel of Luke to correct the orthography. This is a lot of work and they’ll have to thoroughly proofread it twice. The orthography problem is so complex that we need a specialist who is well versed both in the tonology of African languages as well as in questions of orthography design. These people are a truly rare breed. One of them, David Roberts,  recently returned to Togo  and proposed including Mbelime in a comparative study with several other languages, as Mbelime is far from being the only language with this challenge.

Johannes, Bienvenu and Claire prepared the texts needed for the proposed reading experiment, for which we invited the best Mbelime readers. David came to Cobly in mid-June for three days during which he led the experiment (see photo). We recorded 32 people who read two short texts with the tones marked and two texts without the tone accents. They also had twenty minutes to write tones on two texts. In early July Bienvenu and Johannes went to Kara for a week to start analysing the recordings and texts together with the other four language groups that participated in the experiment.

It will be a while before we will be ready to have another orthography reform, but we’re thrilled that another important step towards it is finally happening.’

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You can help the work of Bible translation, either through prayer, giving or going. Find out how you can be involved.

Community-owned translation

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Micronesia ticks all the boxes. A rich Christian heritage, over 150 years of church growth with a diverse mix of people groups and languages, and 96% of the population identify themselves as Christians. However, many are still not able to read and hear Scripture in a language they fully understand.

For the Kapingamarangi community, they previously only had access to the Pohnpeian language Bible (a major language on an island which is home to many different people groups). This meant that, whilst the community could be taught Scripture, they could not fully understand its depths.

‘Reading the Bible in another, more widely-spoken language can be a frustrating experience. Even though we understand Pohnpeian, there is always a limitation. People assume that it is okay to use the Pohnpeian language. But they always come to a point [where they can’t understand]. Between us and God there is no language barrier, there shouldn’t be.’ – Dais Lorrin, a Mwoakiloan* believer

The Kapingamarangi church took it upon themselves to write to SIL** asking for help in Bible translation. However, when Nico Daams and his wife, Pam, came to visit the Kapingamarangi, it was clear from the start that this was the community’s project. It’s common for the Kapingamarangi to approach projects as a whole; the community has to be convinced before a task is undertaken.

Nico cites high motivation among leadership and willingness to work together across church, denominational and dialect boundaries as two necessary preconditions for a successful translation project in this region.

December 2014 saw the Kapingamarangi celebrate the completion of the entire Bible in their own language.

In Micronesia God is inspiring a translation movement reflecting the community-driven ethos of the people, enabling a true community-owned Bible translation:

The Kapingamarangi people showed the church of Micronesia and Polynesia a new level of community commitment to Bible translation. Isles of the Sea*** is carrying that vision forward to other language groups, and now PIU is helping equip the next generation of islanders to lead the way in breaking down language barriers standing in the way of understanding God’s word.

‘It is great to have the words of God in our own language,’ says Kapingamarangi translator Caleb Gamule. ‘The Bible is our own Bible—and it is our responsibility to make it happen.’

Read more about what God is doing amongst these wonderful people, including the Isles of the Sea project and the Pacific Islands University, here.

No matter your skill, there is a place for you to help in the work of Bible translation. Find out how you can be involved.

*The Mwoakiloan community live on a neighboring island in the same area as the Kapingamarangi

**SIL is a partner organisation of Wycliffe

***The Isles of the Sea project is a network of Bible translation projects sponsored by the Seed Company, a partner organisation of Wycliffe.

Finally! An alphabet!

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Life without an alphabet is almost impossible to imagine. What would that even look like? Until recently, this was still the case for a community in a remote mountainous location. A couple of years ago, two field workers visited this community and partnered with local academic leaders to develop an alphabet. During this time they also collected children’s folktales to create the first ever book in the community’s language.

This is a great story from the two workers of how the remote community received the first book ever to be written using their new alphabet:

‘After our arrival we didn’t have long to wait. The moment we entered the home of the family we were staying with, the little girl, aged about eight, ran up to us with the book and with shining eyes started to read fluently from it.

Our landlady then told us how much the girl had wanted the book as a birthday present. When she got it, it was her treasure; she didn’t even want to share it with her younger brother, she was so afraid that the book would get damaged. We had a stock of books with us, and so we solved this situation quickly and gave a copy to her younger brother, which made everybody happy.’

Read the full story.
Find out how you can be part of impacting lives in this way.

Organic Translators

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Mother tongue translators, members from within a local community involved in bringing Scripture into their language, are vital to the work of Bible translation. They have an immediate understanding and insight into their own language, positively impacting the efforts of bringing God’s word to their community’s heart language.  But, how are members in local communities trained in translation skills?

Fancy some insight? The PNG Experience have released this insightful video which pulls back the curtains allowing you to have look through the window into mother tongue translator training in Papua New Guinea.

When you are having someone in the village doing Bible translation, he or she know their language well. Culturally they know the way of relating to each other and know how to say it well. – Steven Ttopoqogo, Instructer on the TTC PNG (Translators Training Course)

Enjoy the video

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Interested in what is happening in the world of Bible translation? Find out how you can be involved.


One Single Hand Cannot Break Open a Cola Nut

Monday, May 25th, 2015

This month marked the 25th anniversary of SIL’s work in Chad. To celebrate the amazing work that has happened for the different language communities in Chad over these last 25 years, a ceremony was held and attended by representatives of local language communities, several government agencies, the university of N’Djamena, church partners, other NGOs and civil society organisations.

Group photo

It is an immense joy to give a sincere testimony regarding the partnership between the Federation of Associations for the Promotion of Guera Languages(FAPLG) and SIL Chad. SIL helped FAPLG be born and grow up in the difficult Guera region. — Mr Adjbane Akouna Djimet, Vice President of the Federation of Associations for the Promotion of Guera Languages (FAPLG)

I rejoice in all the accomplishments in the development of Chadian languages… the result of a fruitful collaboration with the Chadian state, national church organizations and other non-governmental institutions. Today we celebrate the proverbial truth that ‘one single hand cannot break open a cola nut.’ — Dr Michel Kenmogne, SIL International Executive Director Designate

Read the full story from SIL on the celebration of twenty-five years of partnership with Chad’s language communities.

Here at Wycliffe, along with our partner organisations such as SIL, we believe in partnering with local communities and translators to work together in bringing their languages into written words that they can read and understand. Ultimately we share the goal of bringing Scripture to people in a language that resonates with them the most – their heart language. As this celebration in Chad shows, by uniting and working together, by sharing our resources and committing to each other – amazing things can happen!

Find out how you can support and be involved in this amazing work.

The method of writing tone

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Translating the Bible is just one part of what is needed to bring God’s word to a community. Another important aspect is to teach people to be able to easily read what has been written!

Many languages are tonal – the sounds of vowels can be high and low (and sometimes in between).  Making sure that a writing system denotes this clearly is critical for the fluent understanding of the readers.  This is where Tone Orthography Workshops come in. To put it simply, tone orthography is the method of writing tone. These workshops help translators develop accurate writing systems so that people can read the Bible fluently when a translation is finished.

This brilliant video from Cameroon gives you a glimpse into life as a Bible translator and a brief look at what happens in these Tone Orthography workshops.  Have a watch and share with your friends.

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Find out more about the work of Bible Translation and how you can help.

Belt and Braces

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Did you know that Scripture is not only translated once, but twice when bringing Scripture to a people’s heart language? It would be completely rational for you to assume that once Scripture has been translated there is no further need to translate the material. But did you know that Scripture is then translated back into English?

Back Translation, as it is called, is a word for word process. These words are then re-arranged to make sense in English. This is due to differences in sentence structure found between languages.

A class in Papua New Guinea being taught Back translation Principles. It’s hard work and requires a strong grasp of both languages involved.


Why do we do this? To help ensure that the translated text is faithful and accurate to the original and that none of the meaning is lost in translation, an essential belt and braces process. People are learning these principles in classes through out the world, including in Papua New Guinea.

“Pray for wisdom as this training is very important to the accuracy of the translation.” – PNG Experience

Read about this and more of what’s happening in Papua New Guinea on the PNG Experience website.

Being a translator is just one of the roles needed to bring Scripture to people who need it the most. Find out how you can be involved in this amazing work or you can read another back translation example in our latest edition of Words for Life.

The Bible for the unreached

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Did you know that there are about 400 sign languages in the world and none of them yet have the whole of the Bible? Deaf Opportunity Outreach (DOOR) International, which has a centre in Kenya, is working to change this.

One of their translation consultants, Josh, explains his work:

Celebrating portions of the Bible in Kerala Sign language

Celebrating portions of the Bible in Kerala Sign language

‘Today I have been working on a commentary piece on the fruit of the Spirit, specifically joy. After I have done the study I will sit with one of our Deaf translators and work to explain what the Bible teaches about joy so that he can sign it in a way that is clear and easily understood by the Deaf in their own language. It is exciting and fun. I love my job.

But you know what is so frustrating? Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” But that hasn’t been translated yet. 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Wow! But that isn’t translated either.

Praise God for the work that has been accomplished! It is impacting lives. Deaf people in Kenya are turning to Jesus and growing in their faith.’

Please pray:

  • Pray for the translation teams working at the DOOR centre in Kenya.
  • Pray for the translators as they do the difficult work of taking meaning from one language and communicating it clearly in another.
  • Pray for those working with the teams to help them understand what the texts mean so they are able to do that work.
  • Pray for those who will be checking the translations for accuracy.’

Watch the need for sign language Bible translation, an inspiring video that explains how deaf communities are being impacted with God’s word.

I Understand This!

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Moving meaning from one language and culture to another is a technical process. It’s something that translators spend a lot of time on in order to prevent loss of meaning from the original text. The fruits of their labor, however, are more than worth it.

Almost in tears in his enthusiasm, Ezra, a translator working amongst his people, shared with his fellow translators the exciting moment when people who had recently asked for Scripture materials exclaimed, “I understand this!

People in Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s culture are used to not understanding Scripture.

“But when they actually read something in their own language and suddenly have the experience of Jesus or Paul or Moses speaking as it were to them, it’s God’s Word to them in a significantly different way. They are sometimes amazed. “I understand this!” It’s an announcement of something grand. It’s something stupendous. Ezra and Nehemiah live in a non-reading culture. They get excited when someone understands by either reading or hearing.

That’s why we’re doing this job. For starters at least, we’re working for the ones and twos who announce this new thing to anyone who will listen.”

Read the full post on which goes on to share some of the very real challenges they face in translating the Lord’s prayer, here.

Find out how you can help Bible translation: be involved either through prayer, financially or by going.