Friday, September 5, 2014

Communication Breakdown

Recently I was able to finish going through the first round of comprehension checks of 1 Corinthians chapters 1-10. My friend, Keteng was my 'victim' for the two and a half day task. Usually a sleepy fellow, who suffers from emphysema, he maintained his excitement through all this as he saw these parts of God's word speaking (mostly) clearly in his language for the first time ever.

What we have right now definitely has areas that need fixing. It's because of this process of comprehension checking that we are able to hone in on areas that are ambiguous, incomprehensible, or otherwise just leaves them wondering what in the world the author was trying to say.

Comprehension checks like this are an indispensible step in the translation process when we're striving to translate meaningfully.

For example, when reading 1 Corinthians 9:8-14 just one time, if the text is clear in the Mibu language, I expect that the hearer will be able to relate back to me the gist of what Paul is saying. They should be able to tell me that Paul is continuing to show that he and Barnabas certainly have the right to the church's support, though they choose not to exercise that right. Within that context then, I expect the hearer to be able to tell me how Paul talked about God's word, how he quoted the Law and why, and what he says about those who work in the temple and at the altar and why, and also what Paul mentions about the Lord Jesus and what he commanded his disciples. They should be able to tell me how Paul moves through all this and how he uses it in his flow of thought.

It's much like how, after you or I listen to someone, be it a friend, or a speaker, or anyone, communicating something to us, we don't have to go home and listen to it again and again, or put lots of study into it in order to grasp what was said. No, in fact, you can test your comprehension of what they said simply by whether or not you are able to repeat the gist of what was said. Perhaps someone makes a really challenging point to you and you go home and relate that point to your spouse. You can do that after hearing it just one time because the message was clear to you. It happened using all the tendencies and patterns of your own language. It only took one time to grasp what was said and be able to communicate it in your own words.

In the same way, we strive to translate God's word clearly so that when people hear it read, even just once, it means what the original author intended it to mean. It's not too infrequent here in Mibu that I see someone take a portion of scripture home 'in their heart' after only hearing read once, share the gist of it with their family, mull it over, and then come back even a week or more later and ask specific questions about what that text means for them practically. This is without having it in print yet, but just having heard it read one time. I see this happen even with texts that many of us find difficult because our mostly literal translations may not be communicating clearly.

So back to that section in chapter 9 that I mentioned… Keteng was not understanding what Paul was arguing here. He wasn't getting that Paul was showing that he does indeed have rights to receive support, or that he had lots of evidences to point to in order to prove it. Something is definitely not happening with this text here. While I could point to any one part of the text and show how all the words and grammar are there that should be there, true to the original, none of that matters because it's not understood. It's not saying what it was meant to say. The result when Keteng tries to put the pieces together (because God made us to expect and look for meaning even when it's not clear) is that he forces a meaning out of the text that is quite different than what was intended. Or he takes little pieces of chunks of the text and makes them meaningful individually, but not as a whole. You haven't ever had that problem with a text of the bible have you? ;-o

For me as a translator, when I see that all those hard hours of work haven't resulted in a clear translation yet, it brings up many hard emotions. Visions of crumpled paper, burning waste baskets, and back to the ole whiteboard splash through my head. Yet I'm thanking God that we're able to see how to make his word clearer here in Mibu so that the people here can know him and worship him because he's made himself available to them through the revelation of his word. I'm thanking him for a method to note and track where problems are happening and to be able pinpoint what needs to change so that it says what it is supposed to say. And I'm extremely thankful for a translation helper (my friend Sesi) who I will work with on Monday to fix this and other portions, who has the wisdom and insight to be able to re-work something said in his language to make it clear.

As for you, I hope this gives you a peek into one aspect of what God has us doing here so that you can pray more effectively for this huge translation task.

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