Glossa Translation Diaries

Man in profile reading scripture
Bible translation is a complex process, requiring great attention to detail. This includes deep knowledge of Scripture and its words, meanings and contexts. It also includes deep knowledge of the local language and its words, meanings and contexts. (Photo by Søren Kjeldgaard)

These notes are drawn from conversations among three people about translating the New Testament. Two of the translators speak different but closely related languages. Their respective towns are fairly close to each other, and they share very similar indigenous cultures. The third person is a translation consultant who has lived in one of their towns and learned one of the languages. 

The notes are updates sent to home-country partners to help them pray intelligently about the work of translation. In order to preserve the anonymity of the people talking and thinking together about translation, and because they are very similar to people working in many other translation projects, they have been given pseudonyms that tell a little about them. Since their culture is similar and their languages are very similar, the two languages are given the common name Glossa in these notes. It is the Greek word for language. In the book of Revelation the four living creatures and twenty-four elders sing before the throne of God that the Lamb has saved people from every Glossa language.

The People

Ezra: The speaker of Glossa-1 is called Ezra in these notes. He is very like the Ezra of the Old Testament. Hebrew Ezra was a scribe, someone who could read and write. He set his heart to study God's Word and to do it and teach it to his people. The Glossa-speaking Ezra of these notes is an excellent scribe. He taught himself to type using a fingering diagram before he had a typewriter. He’s now proficient on a computer, of course. He does not yet have the Old Testament in his language like the Hebrew Ezra, but he has the New Testament and he has set his heart to study it and do it. And he teaches his people to read so they can study it and do it. 

Mary: Glossa Ezra's wife has also learned to read her own language. She and Ezra each read a book and comment on it thinking about Glossa-1 style and clarity. Is it clear? Are the words in the right order? Does the text raise unexpected questions that were not in the mind of Jesus or Paul or one of the others who wrote New Testament books? Introductions to modern English translations of the Bible often explain that scholars translate the text to get the meaning right and then English writers offer suggestions regarding the style of what the scholars have produced. Ezra and his wife are doing step two of this process in Glossa. This step requires people who speak the language as their own first language rather than someone who has come from outside and learned the language as an adult. Ezra and his wife are responsible to make sure that Jesus and Paul and the others now speak Glossa-1 in a clear and natural way before the New Testament is published. 

Sometimes Ezra's wife is in tears reading some passage and she wonders if the Bible really says that. She has read the Bible in the national language and has taught young people, but the passage doesn't sound familiar. So she looks it up in the national language and discovers that it does say the same thing, but it touches her heart when she reads it in her own language. She is called Mary in these notes because she treasures God's Word in her heart and thinks about it.

Nehemiah: The speaker of Glossa-2 speaks a language closely related Ezra's Glossa-1, similar to how Spanish and Italian or Dutch and German are related to each other. He will be called Nehemiah in these notes. Hebrew Nehemiah worked with the Ezra of his day, but he was more of a political leader among his people than a scribe. Glossa-2 Nehemiah has worked in local politics and is a popular leader. As a translator, he is working as a member of a project sponsored by The Seed Company and is doing step one of the translation process. In these notes he generally raises questions that have to do with meaning rather than naturalness. 

Aquila and Prisca: The translation consultant and his wife are the source of these notes. They will be called Aquila and Prisca. Both Luke and Paul mention Aquila and Priscilla in the New Testament. Luke calls her Priscilla, but that was probably pronounced Priskilla in Greek. Paul uses the short, more familiar form. He probably knew her better. At Ephesus they helped Apollo understand more accurately about God. Paul says in the last chapter of his letter to the believers at Rome that they worked with him in Christ Jesus. Glossa Aquila and Prisca also work with Paul in Christ Jesus, although at a distance in time and language, and their goal is to help people understand more accurately about God.

Aquila and Prisca lived for several years in Ezra's town. They learned Glossa-1, analyzed the grammar, worked out an alphabet with the people and wrote down local stories and histories and conversations. They developed literacy materials to help people learn to read.  Aquila and a different Glossa-1 speaker translated the New Testament. Although he doesn't speak Glossa-2, the two languages are similar enough so that he can recognize most of the words and grammatical constructions and his comments about Glossa in these notes pertain to both languages. 

Translation work

Aquila meets with Ezra and Nehemiah in the capital city of their country about every other month for two weeks to talk through the proposals Ezra and Mary are making about style in their language and questions Nehemiah asks about meaning in his language. Ezra makes the decisions about naturalness in his language. Aquila continues to be responsible for accuracy of meaning in both languages. They are a team, each with their specific competence. Between meetings they each work at preparing for their next work session.

When he is working with Ezra and Nehemiah in their capital city, Aquila sometimes emails Prisca about the day's work. She passes along his notes and her own comments to people who pray for the two projects. The notes record happenings, ponderings, prayer requests and other information about the work of Bible translation. They begin during a checking session on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.