This is something that happened over multiple days, so will attempt to recount it here. Because of some recent events and happenings in the world of Translation (and other conversations I’ve been having), we have been talking recently a bit about Translation and Translation methods, speed versus quality, clear communication vs. miscommunication, and some things like that. We believe that one thing is for certain. If one does not have a good ‘source language’ translation to work from – and a firm grasp of that source language, translation work – of whatever sort – will be GREATLY hampered and hamstrung! Fortunately, we have a number of excellent translations of the Bible in English, as well as an overwhelming boat-load of translation helps (commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries, concordances, word studies, and much, much, much more). And we think we have a fairly decent grasp on English (although there are days when one might wonder ).
For us, Lusi, our Receptor Language, is another matter! While we have a decent working knowledge of everyday vocabulary and conversation, working with the Biblical text continually turns up material that is new and unique. And of course, there are all the things that are ‘foreign’ to a Lusi speaker, like donkeys, camels, sheep, grapes and grape processing, wheat and wheat harvesting, cities with walls, city gates, inheritances, and wilderness deserts, just to mention a few of the more frequently encountered ones. Many times, this sends us searching for the right vocabulary word or phrase. This is not as hard for nouns – we just borrow Pidgin nouns when we need to, the Lusi do it every day in everyday speech. However, it is often much more challenging for verbs and verb phrases, as well as some adverbs and adjectives (because of the areas / shades of meaning).
But I want to related about something of a breakthrough I (or we) had this week involving a verb and a verb phrase. Please don’t ‘glaze over’, I think there will be a payoff at the end of all this! It just goes to show, no matter the level of understanding, experience, and knowledge, miscommunication still happens…
THE SET-UP: Since our early language learning days, we have known and used a fairly generic Lusi term ‘ipakala’. It means ‘he (or she or it) causes to be covered over’ something else, or more simply, ‘it covers (over)’. It also can mean ‘closing something (by the action of covering)’. The Lusi have other terms they use for covering things, like when something is wrapped up or what a mother hen does to chicks and other words for closing various things. However, ‘ipakala’ is what is normally used for when something covers something else. And so, we use it frequently in translation for when one thing covers another, like when Moses’ face shown with Glory of the Lord in Exodus 34:29-35, he covered it with a piece of cloth or a veil. Easy enough, right?
However, a number of times in the past few months, Anji has been getting a slightly different ‘version’ back during her times of Mother Tongue Recording. What has come back a number of times is the phrase ‘ipakala ngani.’ Now ‘ngani’ is one of Lusi’s two main ‘adverbs’ that usually means ‘for’, ‘about’, ‘with’ and so on – used for many of the English adverbs that do not involve direction or action. Anyway, since it was in the taping, she started to use it some, and when she asked her Translation Helpers, they had a hard time explaining the meaning, but what Anji took away was that it had something to do with ‘the entirety of something being covered’.
When I tried to get a meaning for it, I could never get it nailed down. Because truly, if you are going for the meaning of ‘covered’, the ‘ngani’ does not need to be there. In fact, it confuses things…
That brings us up to the present. Anji used the phrase in II Corinthians 3 where it talks about Moses veiling his face. Of course, Paul then uses that for application and as a parallel. So, I had the phrase that went something like this “Moses took a small cloth and he ‘ipakala nga airomo.’” I marked it for checking the meaning, and as I worked with each person during the Comprehension Check of this passage, I’d ask them what this phrase meant. The first person said ‘he covered his face’, the second person said ‘he fastened / closed his face’, and the third one said that ‘he fastened it to his face’!
The first answer is what we wanted to communicate, but the second one really confused me (as this person thought he was wrapping the cloth around his head, not covering his face). Then, as I worked the third person in the afternoon, a lightbulb went off in my head! I finally realized that the ‘nga’ in the middle of that phrase was causing the meaning to be skewed!
Because, what we want to, what we need to, communicate in this passage is about Moses’ face being covered, NOT focusing on what was covering it! Thus, we want the fact that his face was covered to be in focus, not that a cloth was covering it. I know it is subtle, but this sort of thing matters. So, as I pondered it during the rest of the afternoon and evening, I thought I might finally have it figured out. Anji and I confirmed it with folks the next morning, and it is basically what I’ve noted above here. One keeps the focus on what we want, the other phrasing puts the focus on the wrong thing.
THE BOTTOM LINE / THE PAYOFF: Ok, the payoff! I suppose I’ve said all that to say this:
1) Even after all these years of learning and working with, writing in, speaking in – and yes, thinking and dreaming in Lusi, WE ARE STILL LEARNING! And truly, those ‘Ah-ha’ moments are still sweet and rewarding.
2) This is an excellent example of why we have so many steps – and so much checking – built into our translation work! True, it will take many years to get the whole Bible translated into Lusi, but, by the grace of God, there will be the fewest errors possible. If you hear of some method or plan that gets a Bible translated in mere weeks or months, ask yourself a couple of questions. Like, what Source Language are they working from? And what Helps do they have? What kind of Checking is taking place? And any number of other questions along those lines. (Perhaps the old adage is true in this case; ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is’…)
3) Finally, Miscommunication still happens, even when we are trying our hardest for it not to happen. This is true of our everyday lives and communications in our own heart languages, and it is especially true as we work in another language, not our own. So, please keep us in your prayers as we Translate the Bible, write curriculum, disciple Believers, and work with our Citizen Co-Workers.