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Dordt College News

Bible translator visits Dordt classroom

October 7, 2004

A Bible translator recently shared his personal anecdotes and the result of 14 years of translation work with Dordt College foreign language students: a Bible in an Asian language.

Dr. David Ross, president of the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL) spent 11 years (1984-1995) in the mission field documenting a language and another three years in the states completing the translation of the New Testament into this dialect. Speaking with Dordt foreign language students Sept. 14, Dr. Ross explained the complexities of getting the Bible to the millions of people who do not have the scriptures in their own tongue. Bible

Ross said computers have simplified and shortened the Bible translation process from about 40 years per New Testament to about 15. But there are still many aspects of translation that must be done by living within a culture, listening and interacting. For example, the Asian language Ross translated has four words that identify “camel” because of the surrounding desert area, but doesn’t have a single word that describes sea, boat or fish. “Try telling the story of Noah, or Jonah, or about the disciples without these words,” Ross challenged Dordt students.

A translator also has to help new readers understand abstract words, such as humility. “In this country, if you were wealthy or well-educated, you were proud of that and wanted people to know. There is no word that describes humility.”

“Every language has ways of telling things about itself,” commented Ross on the importance of spending time in a locale. “Different tonal pitches sometimes mean different things.” In one Asian language, the word “horse” said with a different pitch means “mother-in-law.” “You don’t want to get that one wrong,” quipped Ross.

Another challenge of language translation is motivating the illiterate to learn how to read. He found making public health literature available in a country where half of the babies die before the age of one was a strong motivator.

One thousand Bibles have been printed in the newly translated Asian tongue, with a few hundred now having been distributed.

Dordt students had an opportunity to peruse the Bible translation, which reads from front to back and utilizes 38 symbols. Students interested in linguistics or careers in Bible translation also had a question and answer time with Ross and the director of development at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics to explore various aspects of a career in linguistics.

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