How we Translate

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If we are so foolish as to call ourselves "Bible Translators",  then we shouldn't be surprised that people tend to think that we actually just sit down and translate just like you might, say, sit down and work a crossword puzzle. Alas, it's a whole lot more complicated than that for a number of reasons. Two reasons, to be precise. 

First, no white person can or will ever learn to speak Kwong like a native. This is no reflection on either the mental capacity of white people, nor on the complexity of Kwong (which is not an exceptionally difficult language by world standards). Rather, it is a reflection on the inherent complexity of any human language. Human thought is unbelievably complex, and the language which it spawns is correspondingly complex. So there you have it - no matter how well we learn the language, we can never express it with all the breadth and richness of a native speaker. 

Second, while it would be going too far to say that a Kwong man or woman could never learn to exegete a Biblical text, read commentaries in English and French, struggle with the nuances of theology and Judeo/Greek thought, and synthesize what he learns in such a way as to translate it, the fact of the matter is that none have, and it is unlikely that any will.

So, the Kwong need us, and we are handicapped without them. Just the kind of interdependence you might expect God to arrange so that none of us gets too cocky.  

So here's how it works:

  • Exegesis and Front Translation -Mark studies the passage to be translated, consults commentaries and other reference works, and produces a French version of the passage which expresses the meaning in terms that the translators can understand. Mark tries to anticipate the problems which might arise in Kwong and suggests key Kwong words where helpful.

  • Initial Kwong Translation - Using the French version Mark has produced, Laurent  produces an initial Kwong draft of the passage. 

  • Cross-examination - Laurent reads the Kwong draft to Mark who follows along in other versions. Mark critiques the translation and together they work out those places where the translation is either unnatural, unclear, or departs from the meaning of the original. 
    At this point we call it a "First Draft." Luke takes the manuscript and types it, and then we usually use the translated passage in a discipleship class where it gets its initial “road-test”.

  • 1st Field Test - One or more people from the village who were not involved in the translation are called in as "guinea pigs" to test the translation. Luke or Joseph reads the draft translation out loud, while the "guinea pig" translates what he hears into French. Mark follows along in other versions and then cross-examines the guinea pig on what he understands from the passage as we have translated it. It is very surprising what variety of serious misunderstandings show up in this way. 

  • Recheck Exegesis - By this time the initial draft has undergone so much revision, it is questionable as to just how faithful the translation still is. Mark goes over it all again with his commentaries and reference works to make sure we haven’t wandered off into some fiction not in the original text nor  inadvertently invented a new religion.

  • 2nd Field Test - The passage is once again tested with yet another "guinea pig" to make sure that the changes introduced by the 1st testing or in the exegesis check did not mess something else up.

  • Consultant Check - The final quality-control is performed by a consultant who is an experienced Wycliffe translator. (The Swiss lady who presently checks our work has two New Testaments to her name.) Most of the Bible Societies require such a check before they’ll publish anything. It’s a bit complicated and pretty tedious since the consultant doesn’t know Kwong, but over the years a very effective system has been worked out which is similar to what we do for our field testing.

  • Publishing - Once the consultant gives his/her approval, we feel free to publish. For Scripture portions, the final “textus receptus” is formatted, and sent to the TEAM printshop in Moundou. We sell the material at about half cost (and, incidentally, are always interested in having some money  on hand to cover the other half). When the time comes to print the whole Bible (or a substantial part of it) we will doubtless work through one of the big Bible Societies.



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Last modified: May 17, 2011