Bible translation involves an ongoing process of testing and checking. Just as Wycliffe and SIL are now opening themselves up to the review of a panel of experts, so Bible translators open themselves up to the scrutiny of consultants and native speakers of the language.
Sue Arthur, who works as a translation consultant in Madagascar, shares some of her experiences of the checking process.
People often ask how I can check a translation when I don’t speak the language, so I think it’s helpful if I say something about the translation process.
It all begins with one of the translators studying the passage in the original language, also taking a look at different versions in Malagasy (the national language in Madagascar) and French, to get an overall understanding of the passage in its context. S/he will look up any specific exegetical problems in commentaries and translation helps (notes prepared specifically for translators) before making a first draft translation in the language.
The first draft will then be shared with the rest of the translation team for their comments and suggestions. When the team are agreed on the amended draft, the text can be tested in the local community to see what people understand. Of course, the translators are already familiar with the Biblical text and know what they intended the translation to mean, but reading the text aloud to members of the language community and asking what they have understood can help reveal expressions which are not clear to the hearer, as well as any unintended ambiguities. This also gives an opportunity for people to offer suggestions of words or phrases which may improve the translation.
When any changes have been incorporated into the text it is then translated word for word into French so that the translation consultant (in this case, me) can understand what has been written and ask questions of the translation team.
So, we went through Luke, reading section by section. I raised questions when I thought the translation was missing some element of meaning from the original text, or make suggestions of ways to restructure a verse to make it clearer, and the team would respond with suggestions of their own. At times it was frustrating with 10 people sitting around the table, each wanting to have their say! But there are definite advantages to working with a broad team – we ended up with a much better translation than any one or two members of the team could have produced on their own.
Of course, this process cannot work without God’s help. We had been specifically asking God’s Spirit to help us make his word clear, and our prayers were certainly answered!
This article originally appeared on Kouya.net, the personal blog of Eddie and Sue Arthur.
Wycliffe Global Alliance have produced a slideshow of the translation process.