Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

What kind of love?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 by Ruth

In order to get the big picture of God’s Story in the Bible across, the little details – even down to a single letter – need to be carefully considered. But how much difference could one letter actually make?

Translator Lee Bramlett and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you dva your wife?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you dvu your wife?”  Lee asked. Everyone laughed.

“Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.

“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected his great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.”

Without the Bible in the language that people can understand, God’s message of love isn’t getting through. More than 160 million people speak languages that could communicate God’s love clearly to them, but they still don’t know it because there isn’t a single verse of Scripture translated into their language. It’s time to #endbiblepoverty.

Story originally from Bob Creson,
Photo courtesy Lee Bramlett and Wycliffe USA.

Bible Translation 101: Attitudes about language

Monday, May 30th, 2016 by Camilla

Fear took over my colleague’s face for a brief second when I told her I wanted to write this. Then she composed herself, and managed to explain, calmly, that my idea sounded intensely boring. What is one to do? I endeavoured to make this piece as interesting as I know the topic to be.

letters-3-1483552-640x480The topic is sociolinguistics (which I can agree we need to come up with a better name for). It’s about attitudes towards language, and it’s a bigger part of Bible translation than you might think. Language development and Bible translation would be a lot simpler if nobody had any real connection with or opinions about languages.

Picture the scene: a remote people group who have no written language, but want the Bible in their mother tongue. Based on listening to the language, a linguist will aim to devise an alphabet where each letter or symbol corresponds to one sound in the language. Such a system is logical and tidy, and makes spelling and reading as easy as possible. Job done, right?

Wrong. Stick a sociolinguistic filter on the lens and many changes may be necessary. Logical, rational choices of symbols may be rejected because the community associates them with another language group they consider themselves distinct from, because they associate a specific symbol with a different sound, or because a symbol just plain doesn’t feel ‘right’.

If you think this sounds strange, test your own linguistic attitudes about these suggested changes to English spelling. Or take a look at Shavian, a completely different alphabet specifically designed for English in the 1950s. How would you feel about using the v symbol for the ‘oo’ sound in ‘wool’?

You may think only communities with long-standing traditions of literacy have feelings about what their written language should look like – but this isn’t the case. Knowledge of other writing systems, whether scant or extensive, and feelings about neighbouring language communities are often in place long before a linguist starts sharpening his or her pencil.

Writing systems are in fact just the tip of the iceberg – attitudes about language affect every stage of a Bible translation. When a language has several different dialects, should the written language be a mixture of all of them or be based on a specific one? How do you choose which one? Are local staff members well-respected by the community? Are there words that would be useful in the translation but which have unfortunate connotations? These questions, and many more like them, are sociolinguistic questions.

Ignoring sociolinguistic factors could be serious and result in a lack of local ownership and ultimately the rejection of the writing system and resulting Bible translation. After many years’ work, a project could be back at square one.

If you liked this post, please check out the rest of our Bible Translation 101 series.

One Single Hand Cannot Break Open a Cola Nut

Monday, May 25th, 2015 by Nick

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.

Belt and Braces

Monday, March 30th, 2015 by Nick

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.