One of the privileges of a translation consultant is being part of discussions to decide what word in the target language (language being translated into) will best convey the meaning of a Biblical concept. Sometimes the choice is obvious. Many times it requires thoughtful debate and a dose of creativity.
When the Chuwabo translators were drafting the book of John, the word “osisimuwa” came up for discussion. If you ask older speakers, they would say it means “to resurrect” in the same sense you or I understand it–someone who was dead comes back to life. However, among the younger generations this same word has taken a more colloquial meaning. To illustrate, if a person gets so drunk they pass out, the next morning when they wake up they will have “resurrected.”
Clearly this is not what we want to convey about Jesus’ resurrection! We don’t want anyone misunderstanding that Jesus got so drunk he blacked out and didn’t wake up for three days. Or that Jesus claimed to be “the hangover recovery and the life.” Instead, the Chuwabo translators opted for the more literal and less ambiguous phrase “raise from the dead.”
Hear from two of the Chuwabo Bible translators why they want the Word of God in their language.
My favorite comment is “no one cries in someone else’s language.” When something is personal, deeply felt, when it hits you in your soul, you express that in your mother tongue. We want people to encounter the Bible at that meaningful level!
I spend most of my time each week learning Chuwabo, a language with extremely limited resources and written materials. There are no classrooms, no textbooks, no language schools, no professors of Chuwabo. So how do I actually go about learning such a language?
Thankfully, there are many around the world who have undertaken this task before me and have developed resources for situations like mine. In November I attended a conference to learn about the Growing Participator Approach, a method that combines what goes on in our brains as we learn language with our increased social and cultural participation and our end goal of glorifying God. This has been a wonderful guide as I dive into Chuwabo life.
Fernanda and Eduarda, my Chuwabo helpers
Each day I meet with two Chuwabo ladies. At first we used toys as I learned tons and tons of words and basic actions. We “played” with them as I followed the instructions of my teacher by completing different actions with a variety of animals, foods, objects, locations.
Practicing emotion words and learning prepositions
During the past month I have put away the toys and moved to picture books. My teachers and I walk through each page as I learn new words to describe the setting and plot. Besides encountering new vocabulary, I am also learning how to tell stories and express more complex thoughts. This past week we started telling stories from our own lives. It feels so good to start sharing and be able to understand personal stories! It opens the door to share in each others lives on a deeper level. I have so far to go, but this is a very encouraging milestone!
All throughout this process I am learning more and more about the Chuwabo culture. Just as a little kid grows up and by observing those around him can eventually be a fully functioning “insider” of a culture, so I am gradually able to participate more fully in Chuwabo life.
De-stemming leaves for lunch during a visit to Fernanda’s home
I look forward to sharing more about my journey as I move forward into new areas of language learning!
I have been editing some short Bible stories that one of our translators recorded in Chuwabo. Here’s a little taste of the language I am learning!
Mwandiya wa Nowe
Dhivira viaka vinjidhene waikala maziza menjene adudduwile wa Adamu. Attuyaba vina ahittega, kamwiwelele Mulugu. Attu etene aimala odhala dhottega, Mulugu wahilamulela watoloca na muneri. Ovano mwali mulobwana m’modha bai wamukwela na wamwiwelela Mulugu, n’zina nae wacemelriwa Nowe. Mulugu ologa na Nowe wila asasanye mwanddiya wila iyene na amudhe avolowemo wila avuneye. Nowe wanlaleya sabwa ya oligana wa Mulugu, mwari mwa mudhidhi mwinjene wasasanya iyene mwanddiya. Mbwenyi attu kafuna orumela mipaganyo dha Mulugu. Wila attiye dila dhawa dhabure na avuneye mwa muneri.
Here is a post for all my linguistic folk.
Today during my language lesson I learned–besides how to say various parts of the body (the most fun word of the day was certainly “cheeks” mugugu)–that Chuwabo only has three color terms!
The number of basic color words varies between languages, but follows a very systematic pattern. For languages with only two color words, they will always be white and black (or more precisely, light and dark). Red is always the third color term. The next are yellow, blue and green, which can appear in any order. Finally, some languages employ specific terms for purple, orange, pink, brown and gray. This hierarchy holds true the whole world over.
The fact that some languages make more divisions between colors has been used in support of the Whorf Hypothesis. This theory proposes that language determines or influences our thoughts, cognitive processes and perception of the world. It has been thoroughly debunked that speakers of languages with fewer color terms cannot distinguish between colors. And even without true color terms speakers find ways to describe their environment by using well-known objects. For example, the Chuwabo people denote orange by saying it has the “color of saffron.”
In my university days I could have barely managed to name a language with only three color terms, and now I am learning one! Life is full of unexpected thrills.
Coral, lavender, auburn, royal blue, goldenrod, fire-engine red, eggshell, turquoise, magenta, plum, maroon, fuscia. We have such an abundance of shades coloring our world!
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
We know that God works all things together for good. Sometimes we are left wondering what possible purpose undesirable circumstances could play in God’s plan. We simply trust by faith that God’s vision and design is higher than our own. Other times he lets us in on the secret.
This is a case of the later. On a recent road trip with Mozambican colleagues our party encountered car troubles. About 20km out of town we got a flat tire. Easily resolved–thankful we had a spare in tow and it wasn’t long before we were able to continue on our journey.
Only a few minutes later our hearts sank as the car started to make a terrible ga-gung-ga-gung-kikiki sound. It only made the sound when driving forward; in reverse it ran perfectly, but for some reason no one seemed to find my suggestion that we drive the rest of the way in reverse very helpful. :)
As I know nothing about cars and the sun sank lower and lower in the sky, the problem seemed fairly serious. Eventually my hosts and a mechanic (whose house we just happened to break down in front of) were able to fix it by taking out one of the drive shafts. Thank God for four-wheel drive!
While we were waiting on the side of the road a missionary family drove past on their way back to Nampula and stopped to make sure we didn’t need anything. It was a family I had only met once before. The wife had been trying to contact our supervisor (who is out of the country) without any success and so was quite glad for the opportunity to get in touch.
She told us about her language helper from Quelimane (where I’m moving) who has recently moved to Nampula to study. She is on vacation from university right now and is looking for ways to make a little extra money–the plight of a poor college student doesn’t change the whole world over! She is from Quelimane and speaks Chuwabo!
I would have considered finding a Chuwabo speaker here in Nampula virtually impossible, let alone a GIRL who is MY AGE and is eager to teach me! God worked out his provision for something I didn’t even imagine asking for. I have started lessons and am excited to have a foundation and know some basic greetings and phrases before I move and start full-time language learning in Quelimane. God is good!
The past month has been a whirlwind of developments on my assignment in Mozambique. As I will be arriving in just two months, all of the final preparations are falling into place. E-mails have been whizzing back and forth between me, my boss here in the states, my teammate Lisa in Brazil and my supervisors in Mozambique–imagine the coordination across four different time zones!
Lisa and I will spend the first three months going through orientation and assisting with several conferences and workshops for translators and pastors in the city of Nampula, where Wycliffe’s main headquarters is located. After that we will move to the city of Quelimane to delve into language and culture learning! We will be located near a team of national translators working on the Chuwabo Bible. There is also a strong missionary presence in this area. Of course, as life on the field is always subject to unknowns, this plan is likely to change in some aspect or another. Pray with me now that God will go before me and prepare my housing, work and friendships.