Why do Bible translation in the first place?
The quickest and most potent answer to that question is because God did. At Pentecost the apostles began preaching the Good News to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem because of the festival. There were Jews from all over the Roman Empire able to speak many different languages. But being from Roman provinces they also spoke either Aramaic, Greek, or both. Most, if not all would have had a common language, but the fact is that they heard the message in their own languages, which were many.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
Another reason is because those of us who do not read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew would be hypocrites to claim that we should be able to read in our native language while others should not.
How do we do Bible Translation?
A useful metaphor is that Bible Translation is like building a bridge. On each side of this vast chasm are two peoples, two languages. Bible Translation is like building a bridge between them so that ideas, goods, and friendship can be exchanged between the two. One side has the Bible, and the other does not. For the other side to receive the Bible we must first find a way across the chasm. Someone at some point in time, to translate, must understand both languages. Someone, whether an individual or a team must first cross the chasm to start building the bridge.
Someone must learn a new language. Translation requires that someone understand both languages. Part of our goal as missionaries and Bible Translators is to learn the native language of the people we work with. However, it is possible and even beneficial for some of those we work with to learn language as well. Specifically in our context, we are learning Pamosu, while the Pamosu speakers who have joined the team will learn better English. But why English do you ask? First, it is because if they have had any education in the Papua New Guinean education system, they will have at least some rudimentary English skills. They’ve already made some progress in learning the English language. We can help them build further on that progress, enabling them to access resources to help in translation. We have courses in Ukarumpa designed to equip native speakers to translate into their own language, but because developing courses and materials requires a great deal of time, effort, and money we can not do that for every language and it is only possible to do it in a language of wider communication like English. So all the courses at PILAT are in English, with some Tok Pisin when it is needed to further bridge the language gap.
Once a firm enough foundation is laid to begin translation work, training in Greek and eventually Hebrew will hopefully be a part of the Pamosu language learning. Ultimately we believe that mutual education in language learning gives the best chance of producing a quality translation. Just as love covers over a multitude of sins, our mutual education can cover over a multitude of errors.
SIL projects, in ideal circumstances, work as teams with SIL members, like Jason & Brenda Carwile, working alongside native speakers like the Pamosu. Each brings valuable resources to the table that the other doesn’t have. We bring motivation, Biblical knowledge, training, equipment, and other resources. The Pamosu speakers bring their intricate knowledge of their language and a capacity and passion for the well-being of their people. Learning a language like Pamosu well enough to translate into it would take many years and would still lack cultural and idiomatic language use necessary to achieve the goals of having a clear, accurate, and natural translation.(Read more about our Philosophy of Translation) It also may never be accepted by the people if it is viewed as a completely foreign production. Involving the Pamosu speakers as translators greatly increases the quality of the translation as well as making it their work, not just ours. So people have volunteered to do the work. (Find out more about them here.)
Checking the Translation
We are as rigorous as we can be about ensuring the clarity, accuracy, and naturalness of the translation. Every verse of scripture goes through several checks. Each translator is expected to double-check their own work as they work; that is not one of our “official checks” but is still a valuable part of ensuring the quality.
Note that checks are not necessarily in a strict order as we sometimes need to go back and forth when changes need to be made.
Check 1 – Team Checking – Other members of the team go through the text and test it.
Check 2 – Advisor Check/Exegetical Check – Someone takes meticulous time to ensure that the accuracy of the translated text is maintained. This is often the advisor(Jason), but when the experience of the Pamosu team members reaches a high enough level it might pass on to them at some point.
Check 3 – Naturalness/Comprehension/Village Check – We take the current state of the translation(in small chunks) to the community to test whether the text conveys what is intended and comes across as understandable.
Check 4 – Consultant Check – We take the translation to an outside consultant for this final check that verifies the quality of the translation.
Once all 4 checks have been cleared for a given portion of scripture, it is ready for publishing. Revisions for the first few books that were translated are often part of the process before final publishing of an entire New Testament or the entire Bible. Any revisions or changes must also pass all the checks before they can be published.
Our training courses are held at the Pacific Institute of Languages, Arts, & Translation(PILAT) in Ukarumpa. Sometimes courses may be held at other locations depending on the circumstances, but it is at PILAT that courses are developed and teams from all around the country are trained to do language, literacy, Biblical interpretation, and translation work. We also intend to avail ourselves of this system of education to equip the Pamosu translators to achieve our goals of a clear, accurate, and natural translation that enables the Pamosu speakers to know and have faith in God.
Some courses we intend to take as a part of the project:
Initial Skills – Largely an English course to bring people up to speed, but also includes some other skills that are not usually learned in PNG rural settings.
Translator Training Course – This is a series of 4 courses that increase in depth that include all the necessary aspects to translating the Bible. These aspects include linguistics for understanding the mechanics of their own language, Biblical interpretation(exegesis), software use, and other mechanics of the Bible translation process.
Paratext – A series of more in-depth courses on the use of the software Paratext which facilitates the translation process. It is a software that translators use to both look up resources for interpretation but also enter and edit their translation as they work on it. It also includes program management functionality for Jason to oversee and encourage healthy progress.
Hebrew & Greek – Original language courses are offered at PILAT for more in-depth faithfulness to the original text.
Basic Computing – There is a basic computing course to help our translators who live in a rural area largely devoid of modern technology to use technology that is unfamiliar to them. This largely involves the use of a mouse & keyboard and the basic functionalities of operating systems and other basic programs like word processors. This will help them to navigate when using the computer.
Find out more about PILAT.
There are various software programs we will use in the course of our translation project.
Paratext – A very powerful program that is able to manage simultaneous use by multiple people on a translation project specifically geared towards the Bible. It includes access to many Bibles in many language including English, Greek, & Hebrew as well as other translation helps produced by the Summer Institute of Linguistics(SIL) and United Bible Societies(UBS). Learn more about Paratext.
Logos Bible Software – An incredibly powerful Bible study program that partners with SIL to provide a large library of resources and tools to translators at a low cost. Learn more about Logos Bible Software. If you're interested in specifically what resources are available to translators through this partnership, go here.
Biblingo – A currently under development language learning platform for learning Hebrew & Greek in a natural and long-lasting way. Though it is not entirely complete it is at a highly functional level of completion and still adding features and will be a powerful platform to enable our team to learn Greek & Hebrew even outside of more traditional learning environments like PILAT. Depending on our infrastructure capabilities and needs in the future this may be able to entirely replace the PILAT course for our team. Jason already uses Biblingo as a part of his regular study of Hebrew & Greek. Learn more about Biblingo.