When I am in Liberia we are reading each chapter of the Bible verse by verse. That is what Bible translation teams do, right? We read, check source texts, discuss meaning, discuss and make revisions, make corrections, check spelling, check format markers, compare and prepare the manuscripts for hours on end.
Our translation software has tools to put a rough English translation underneath their translation so I can “read” their scriptures. What I am studying right now are some other story texts for which I do have the English translation. I want to discover what signs and structures each language uses as it progresses through a narrative text. I will be looking for answers to questions like: How are people introduced and kept active in the story? How do I, as the reader, know which character is most important, or what is the most
important idea? How is the reader carried to the next part of the story? How are the problems developed and solved? Each language has their own clues, words, and structures for setting up a story told well. This information is important to the translation so that we can include these connecting words or phrases in the translation in the right places. We want to introduce characters and ideas in the text in a way that makes sense to those who are going to read it in Mann, Dan, or Gola.
In Liberia, we mainly use English translations of the Bible as the source texts. However, the translations can come out sounding a lot like English. The text is not as natural as it could be. For example, if the translators of our English Bibles had only followed the Greek text very closely word for word, Romans 8:28 would come out sounding like this:
"Know and that the devoted to the God all things join together into what is good the corresponding to purpose called ones be."
Imagine reading a whole Bible like this!
Our goal is to make the text flow naturally so that they will be easy to read, listen to, and understand.
In July, all the teams will be getting together to go over the stories and discover their natural way to tell them. We hope to uncover some of the grammar features of their own languages. Then the teams will have the opportunity to compare what we learned with their current translation drafts and revise them.
In order to point them in the right direction, I have to study and recognize beforehand what they too must learn about their own languages. Not much has ever been written describing any of these languages. They don’t have books telling them what to do or what is the “proper” way to say it in Dan, or Mann, or Gola. Those are books yet to be written.