Most people who read this blog with any regularity (and I’m amazed that some of you actually do that) know that I serve in an executive leadership role with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I’m not a linguist or a pilot or a literacy specialist or a Scripture engagement consultant. I came as a graphic designer in 2002 and am evolving into all sorts of roles I never imagined filling or enjoying so much.
I’ve grown over time in my understanding of the process of Bible translation — the work that is at the heart of “what” we do in Wycliffe. There are all sorts of other things that go on around this work — aspects which are critical and valuable. I’m talking now about that very narrow thing that happens after an orthography (alphabet) is developed and grammar has begun to be decoded. The translation of the Word of God into a language.
We begin at the beginning. (It’s a very good place to start.)
A preliminary, tentative translation, for testing and improving. This used to be the longest part of the process because it was usually happening as grammar was being decoded. This process seems to go faster when mother tongue translators are involved. In some cases, computer technology can be used to accelerate this process even more. The point is, the first step in the translation process is the first draft.
After that, several successive drafts are produced as improvements and revisions are made. How does this happen? As the drafts are checked, changes are made. There are all sorts of checks.
I find the list below fascinating. Daunting, even. I also find it delightfully confirming that Wycliffe and our partners hold the Word of God in a place of highest respect and subsequently handle the Word in appropriate ways. We also have a great respect for the languages into which God’s Word is being translated — we want it to communicate naturally as well as accurately.
Checking the drafts
- Reviewer Check: a read-through of the translation by other speakers of the indigenous language to get their corrections and suggested improvements
- Consultant Check: an adviser with special skills, such as expertise in the original Hebrew or Greek, and/or broader background and experience, reviews the draft
(The consultant discusses the translation verse-by-verse with the translators, shares how problem passages have been handled by others, and advises on general aspects of the text.)
- Exegetical Check: compares the indigenous language translation draft with the original Greek or Hebrew text, ensuring accuracy and faithfulness in the translation.
- Consistency Check: reviews the translation of key biblical terms, important theological concepts, Bible names, and parallel passages throughout the entire text and evaluates rationale for any variations
- Format and Style Check: reviews the preface, introductions to the books, glossary and footnotes
(Spelling, punctuation, verse and chapter numbers, paragraphing, maps, pictures and captions are also checked in this process.)
- Proofreading: checking of the entire manuscript, including all the details listed under format and style, above, is a long, intense and tedious job
- Oral read-through: reading of the entire manuscript to determine whether anything sounds wrong or is missing
(This is often done by a group of native speakers.)
There comes a point in the process when the translators and others on the team who participate in this process realize that they are finished. They have a manuscript ready for publication. That, of course, has additional steps and processes — like any publication of any manuscripts.
Also note that as Scripture is translated it is often distributed in chunks. Maybe the first published Scripture will be portions from Luke at Christmas time or the book of Jonah. While this kind of process occurs with each publication, it also happens holistically when a New Testament or full Bible is published.
When there are people who do not have access to God’s Word in the language they understand best and when those same people are thereby limited in their understanding of God’s love and plan for them — thwarted in their ability to comprehend His invitation to a relationship with Himself through His Son — getting the Word to them as quickly as possible feels like a most important thing. The “urgency” to move quickly must coexist with the “urgency” that the Word they are given is accurate — that it correctly expresses God’s message of Hope and Life and Redemption.