The Problem with Languages
Have you ever heard anyone say, “The only problem with foreign languages is that they have a different word for everything!”? Although that is generally true, there is another fundamental issue which makes it very challenging to learn another language. The fact is, the worldview of the native speakers of a foreign language is often very different from our own worldview. We may know that when a Londoner says, “Put the pram in the boot,” we should put the baby stroller in the trunk of the car. But what should we think when we are told that the English equivalent of a foreign phrase we have just heard is, “Let your blood be hard!”? Or, “The face of the day is to the right when going upriver.” How about, “We cut the talk with people who were watching big over the people of Jesus’ group.”? We may be able to understand all the words, but that still doesn’t help us grasp their meaning. Idiomatic phrases such as these are very common in other languages, and unless we know the native speaker’s worldview and perspective, it is very possible to know the words being said without having a clue as to their meaning.
Those idioms are just a few examples of the “English” that Bob encounters frequently as he is checking Bible translations in languages across the Asia-Pacific region (translations into more understandable English will appear at the end of this update). Part of his responsibility is to determine whether or not those phrases carry the same meaning as the more familiar English wording in our Bibles – keeping in mind that our English versions are themselves translations from the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
In addition to the fun challenge of deciphering odd-sounding English phrases as he checks translated Scriptures for clarity, accuracy, and naturalness, Bob also has to remember what name he goes by with each language group. Yes, that’s right, he gets called many different names – depending on the cultural perspective of the language group. For example, in the area of the Moi people, whose translation he was checking in early July, there is a unique tradition regarding people’s names. Many of the boys are named after trees, while girls are given the names of flowers. For that reason, several years ago on one of Bob’s first trips into that area, he was given the name “Manggapiya” or “Mango Tree,” and he is still known by that name among the two people groups there. On the other end of the country, several people groups change a person’s name when they have their first child and again when they have their first grandchild. So, according to their system, Bob’s name changed to “Pa’ Stefen” (Father of Stephen) in 1987, then in 2007 he became “Ke’ Megi” (Grandfather of Maggie)!
So, on this trip Manggapiya checked over 1100 verses (Luke + Galatians 1-3) for the Moi speakers in one location and then traveled to a different province where Ke’ Megi checked about the same amount for the speakers of the Hobongan language (1&2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Revelation, & ~500 OT verses)!
By the Numbers
It may not surprise us too much that vocabulary, idiomatic phrases, and names would be different in foreign languages. But at least when we get to numbers, we should be able to expect to find a refuge of constancy and immutability, right? Wrong! Among the people in the eastern end of the Asia-Pacific region, in order to say the number 20 they would say, “one man,” and so the number 100 would be “five men.” Therefore, the centurion in the Gospels was a man who commanded “five men of soldiers.” Why? Well, (as is obvious to the native speakers) the natural way to count is to recognize that one man has a total of 20 fingers and toes!
Applying that simple logic, Bob was able to check 55 men of verses for each of the Moi and Hobongan language groups during this trip. In between those two checks, another consultant checked 37 men of verses for the Tugutil New Testament project. That brings the percentage of the NT completed to four men and one finger for the Tugutil, five men for the Moi, and nearly three men for the Hobongan!
Hobongan speakers and their translator
Idiomatic language deciphered
As promised, here are the interpretations of the idiomatic language mentioned in the first section above, plus a few bonus phrases:
“Let your blood be hard!” = “Be brave/courageous!”
“The face of the day is to the right when going upriver.” = “There are thunderclouds to the east.”
“We cut the talk with people who were watching big over the people of Jesus’ group.” = “We had a meeting/discussion with the leaders of Jesus’ followers.”
“Tighten your throats.” = “Be determined / steadfast.”
“You are just saying it to me with your lips.” = “You are not speaking truthfully (from the heart – i.e., you are being deceitful/hypocritical).”
“The work of his mind has an eye.” = “He is very sharp / always able to grasp things easily.”
“We adults save food for ourselves, yet our children are just folded/bent over (with hunger).” This wording was used as an illustration of studying God’s Word for ourselves but not teaching our children.
On the Home Front
We are praising the Lord that our son Steve returned home safely in late July from his second deployment. He is now renovating part of his house, including the basement which unfortunately flooded while he was overseas. Also, his three girls all had birthdays, so now Maggie is 11 years old, and the twins Katie and Jade are 9!
Michelle and her husband John have had a busy summer and are doing well in their respective jobs. We look forward to a short family vacation with them and Steve and his girls next month.
Debbie continues to enjoy her job working in the Physical Therapy department at a local hospital. She also plays a major role in helping take care of Bob’s parents when we go up to Michigan two weekends per month.
On that note, we would appreciate your prayers for Bob’s parents who are in their late 80’s and are facing several health issues. We are very glad that we now live close enough that we can drive up to make frequent visits and be a help to them.
We hope that you have enjoyed the Summer of 2018 which is quickly drawing to a close. Even after living in the tropics for so many years, we really look forward to the cooler temperatures that come with Fall in the Midwest!
Thanks for reading our update. We appreciate your interest and involvement in our ministry!
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