Post 67 / The Next Language
November 29, 2021
Our International Director, Graydon Colville, recently forwarded us a link to an interesting article on Oral Bible Translation and Oral Bible Storying. Included were spokespersons for Faith Comes by Hearing, Wycliffe Global Alliance, and Youth with a Mission.
We have been in direct contact with all of these agencies in our quest to get more efficient at getting the story of Jesus into every language. We have consulted with Youngshin Kim of YWAM and some of our staff have actually taken the seminars by Robin Rempel on the Story Producer App of SIL which is used right on android cell phones.
It is fascinating to me that we, the oldest and I believe original mission of recorded oral translation of the Gospel, are today learning new things about audio recording from those that in my lifetime pushed back at the entire concept.
I would like to give the example of a recent experience in the language of Mixteco: Tijaltepec. We had met a pastor at the memorial service of Marcelino who had assigned a coalition of Mixteco pastors to help us record a number of unrecorded languages here in Oaxaca. Marcelino died of covid complications in August and we are still trying to pull together strands of this coalition to complete the promised recordings.
We met Felipe who invited us to come to his people to record. We got there to find that we were rooming next door to an SIL exploratory team who were evaluating the possibility of doing a New Testament in this language. So we found ourselves for the better part of a week doing recordings with an audience of trained Bible Translators along with eager language helpers anticipating working on the coming Bible translation.
One of the reasons we had agreed to the project was because the translators said there were mistakes in the older recordings. The older recordings were the Look Listen and Live series #7 which is a synopsis of the miracles and following teaching points in the book of John. The translator claimed that we had failed to claim that Jesus was God as reflected in John 1:1- “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Once we got into it I realized that because the booklet which the translator had for the LLL #7 referenced “John 1” as the source and she thought we were translating John 1. We did a back translation with Filipe and he confirmed that the oral story followed the script but did not follow the Scripture passage word for word. The GRN script was telling the story of the content but was not directly translating the Scripture chapter. Philippe was actually the one that came to our defense. He said, “It does not say “Jesus was God” but how could He not be God if He created everything with the word of His power?”
I explained to the translators that we actually go out of our way to not complicate their work. If we purport to translate Scripture we actually make it more difficult for the Bible tsranslators who come later and, through more research, have to say something different, to be faithful to the text. For that reason we do not use direct Scripture quotes in our scripts unless there are actual scripture indigenous texts of Scripture to quote. Storying something like a summary of the teachings of Romans like 1-8 such as Don Richter once did is instructive but is not Bible translation. No one should ever confuse the two.
What we have to avoid in our storytelling is heresy. Although we did not literally say that Jesus was God we certainly implied that He was.
We had some very animated discussions with the translators and I think we both came away with an appreciation for what the other was doing. They were able to give us some tips on Mixteco discourse structure that will be helpful in many Mixteco projects. I pray that they will be able to achieve the translation of a New Testament in this relatively large language.
Our biggest challenge was re-educating our language helpers out of Bible Translation mode. At first they refused to record without actually looking at Scripture. We were getting nowhere until the second day when the language helper came up with a recording he had made the night before on his cell phone. Eventually we were able to get the language helper to set down his Bible and just tell us the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We were finally getting an oral rendition that was orally appropriate but unplugged from the Spanish text.
As a practice we are no longer recording from GRN written scripts. We took the most commonly used scripts here in Mexico and broke them into simple segments and recorded them in “Indian” Spanish. We use those audio files for a starting point in translation. This has greatly sped up the translation process in most cases. A lot depends on the skills of the language helper.
In the Mixteco: San Miguel Las Pinas we had an amazing language helper who asked for entire sections of the Good News series. He would listen and in a short time translate the entire thing in an amplified exposition extemporaneously. The 45 minute Good News message in this case turned into more than two hours. We still have to back translate this but given this man’s understanding of the Word I am confident that we have valuable content.
I find it a little ironic that a conversation on orality is written and studied in print. I recently conversed with a language helper that insisted that she could only record if she wrote it down first. I suggested that what she would write down would not be the same as what she spoke as a translation and would not perhaps be as dynamic. She agreed but said she was a slave to the print now as an educated woman and we would have to suffer the consequences. As do we.
What I would really like to do is to deliver this blog to you as an oral video/blog. Some day!
Larry DeVilbiss | Executive Director
Global Recordings Network USA
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