I am an Australian working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Bible translation and linguistics. Before I moved here I worked on traditional sailing ships doing sail training, and shared life with friends through our variation on intentional Christian community living.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any of the organisations mentioned.
Friday, 23 September 2016
Another level of checking in Bible translation is village
checking, which comes after advisor checking. This is where we take the
checked draft to another village, to a group of people who have not been at all
involved in the translation process, and see how they receive it. We took our
drafts from Ubuo’o village to Bavi village, where we spent two days sitting
with a small gathering from the community, going over the work we had done.
This not only provides fresh ears to the checking process, but involves a broader
section of the tribe in the translation process. Having broad ownership is an
As usual, our journey to Bavi and back had its moments. The
canoe we travelled in was over full, so part of the way there, as we were about
to round a corner and enter some slightly choppy water, we pulled over to the
river bank and dropped some people off. They waited on the bank until the canoe
could take us to our destination and then come back and collect them.
In the canoe, when only half full (Ikobu)
The checking process we used on arrival is much the same as
the advisor checking, as we read the text as a whole, asked comprehension
questions and discussed the finer points that were raised. My ongoing
frustration is that people have not learnt the art of summarising a story. When
I ask for the big picture, I get all the details. I think I may be on a one
person mission to teach my region how to summarise when appropriate! I was
encouraged by how well the Bavi community got involved and approved of the translation
work, but my biggest encouragement was in seeing the team who did the drafting
take ownership of the process and reflect a number of the things which I had
been teaching them.
One challenge that we often have is what words to use for
introduced concepts. Although my Kope is a long way from fluent, I know that
when I hear talk of ‘bogobogo made’ (white talk) that this topic has been
raised again. This time it was raised concerning the use of ‘boromakai’ for
‘cow’, a term borrowed from the Tok Pisin ‘bulmakau’. They wanted to use
‘boomo’ or ‘pig’ instead. The problem is that Mary and Joseph were good Jewish
parents and would never have laid their child in the pig-food-place. If we had
a generic term for ‘animal’ in Kope we would use that, but we don’t (as far as
I know!), so a cow-food-place it is. Counting and numbers are the other area
where people were worried about using English numbers, but as their own
counting system is limited, it is hard to use it beyond about three. Our
compromise is that we write the number as a figure not a word, and leave the
reader to decide how they’ll say it.
Sitting in a longhouse in Bavi doing checking (H.Schulz)
When these two issues came up, the team who had done the
drafting did a great job of explaining to the Bavi checkers why we had made the
choices we had made. There was then agreement that these were the right words
for the text.
Another challenge is that people want to use all the old
words in the Bible, effectively creating the King James Kope version. As they
do this to record the ‘pure’ language, I encourage them to write these words
down for the dictionary instead, and to write stories using them that we can
turn into readers. This way the words are recorded, remembered and used, but
the Bible remains a source of clear communication. It was good to see the
translation team talking about the need for the Bible to communicate, not just
be a place to store old words.
The biggest area in which I could see the growth of the
translation team was their graciousness is receiving feedback on their work. In
a shame based culture, taking one’s work out for others to comment and critique
is a risky affair. That the translation team accepted and appreciated the input
of the Bavi folk was wonderful.