Since this seems to be the week for ‘Stories From The Comprehension Checking Files’ – or some such thing, here is another one – hopefully NOT as long as the last!
Last week, as we were working through the II Corinthians 3 passage about Moses veiling his face, Anji said something to the effect that she has a great vocabulary word, if her Mother Tongue drafter and taper would allow her to use it. I was pretty busy – and the word she ended up using seemed to communicate to me – so I didn’t pay much attention. I always seem to have more than enough things to check, so I didn’t reckon I needed any more.
However, this week as my lightbulb went on about the vocabulary usage I related about above, I knew Anji and I needed to talk it over with the folks about this word and phrase. So, I told Anji to bring this other word along, because, to me too, it seemed like a word that should work.
The word is ‘ikalu’ and means ‘to cover or drape something over (with something)’. Like, ‘ikalu airava’ means ‘she covers her head’ (like with a piece of material). And when asked to demonstrate, they would take a towel or piece of cloth and drape it over their heads – seemed pretty ‘veil like’ to us, since the implications were that the most being covered were the heads and necks.
But here is where the details come into play, in something called Collocation. Collocation is a fancy way of saying words have to match and used in the right context. For example, in English, it is a big deal for us that plurals match. We ‘just know’ that it is proper to say ‘his way’ and ‘their ways’ or ‘he likes’ and ‘they like’. Collocation also comes into play when a foreign speaker brings phrases or concepts from their language into another language with things like ‘I just heard some delicious singing’. It is one of the problems that most “translation programs” have particularly when going cross culturally. There are just some things that aren’t a one-for-one exchange. What makes sense in one language/culture, has to be said in a different manner in another culture. Since ‘delicious’ is associated with food and eating, English speakers would be more comfortable with ‘I just heard some amazing singing.’
Perhaps a classic example of collocation clashes is the following sentence, ‘I have never heard a green horse smoke a dozen oranges’. Now while that sentence is grammatically correct, it contains three collocation clashes where the speaker of the sentence put things together that just don’t go together (In an English person’s experience you don’t hear smoking, horses aren’t green, and oranges aren’t smoked). Thus, you can begin to see that collocation matters.
Now, in the Lusi example we are talking about, when Anji tried to use a word other than ‘head’ with ‘ikalu’ (like ‘face’), her translation helper wouldn’t allow her to do so. It just didn’t collocate for her. It was something that we could say that way in English, but we couldn’t quite say it that way in Lusi. So, Anji had to drop it.
Often, as we hit bumps or walls in our translation work, our helpers have a difficult time telling us why things don’t work or how to overcome or get around a difficulty. Think about it, if I asked you to explain to me when to use the phrase ‘a policeman’ versus ‘the policeman’ – AND WHY – would you be able to? Probably after you thought about it for a while, along with thinking about examples, but it would probably take a bit of time and pondering! And so it is for our wonderful helpers too. They are great folks – and not in any way dumb or unintelligent – they just have never had to really think about their language and how it works.
So, after discussions in the comprehension checking phase with other mother tongue speakers, what we ended up with was that we COULD say that Moses ‘veiled’ himself in that way, that is, with that word ‘ikalu’. However, what we now faced was the question, if we used that word, would we be able to bring that word forward and talk about the other things in the II Corinthians passage that Paul talks about being veiled or covered like faces and hearts, the seat of emotion? That remains to be seen. So, if not, we may have to go back to the more generic word, so that we can keep the parallels in focus. Stay tuned, there always seems to be something to ponder and puzzle about! This is the part of the job that keeps Translation interesting. That, and of course, because we are translating the Word of God – that is the best part!