It was “Well-Understood”!
We spent all last week reading through our translation of Mark with two or three “outside reviewers” – native speakers of Nsenga who are interested in the program and willing to give up a week of their time to help make our Bible better.
It’s been hard work. Simply paying close attention to that kind of detail for hours at a time is tough on the reviewers. We ask them to look primarily for three things:
- Is the translation accurate? We compare to several English versions and the Chewa, the language of wider communication, to make sure nothing is added or left out, and that no essential meanings are changed. When those disagree with each other, we consult the Greek and the commentaries.
- Is the translation beautiful? We read every verse out loud, listening for natural-sounding Nsenga. An especially difficult exercise is making sure no “foreign” words sneak in. Most Zambians speak at least 3-4 “second” languages, and there is often a tendency to substitute a Chewa (or Kunda, or Bemba, or Bisa, or…) word instead of the “real” Nsenga word, especially for non-everyday vocabulary. (Most Americans can’t even begin to imagine having this problem!)
- Is the translation clear? We are aiming not only for clarity to our trained translators and our well-educated reviewers, but we ask ourselves at every section, “Would a typical Nsenga person in a village who has never read the Bible before understand what this passage is saying?”
In the last week, we have made literally hundreds of changes to our first draft of Mark. We get to discuss questions like, “Should we use ‘kusenga’ or ‘kulomba’ for ‘prayer’?” Or, “What Nsenga word best captures the idea of ‘bless’?” Some of them are more like, “Do we have a better Nsenga word than ‘bedi’ for ‘bed’? We just borrowed that one from English.” (Actually we decided to use ‘khama’, which is just borrowed from the Portuguese!) Or, “Does ‘miluviyo’ have an i, or is it just ‘miluvyo’? Is that word spelled with a w or a ŵ?” Of course, there are missing full-stops (periods), misplaced commas, and regular old typos (like lower-case y in ‘Yesu’) too. One set of changes is so big I’ll devote the next blog post to it.
At the end, though, it’s all worth it. One of the reviewers told us that one day, when he went home, he read the section we had worked on to his kids. He told us, “They said to tell you it was well understood!”