Linguistic issues

Linguistic issues

"Of course, you should use the highest and best language! Let's encourage not only fluency but perspicuity and appositeness in language use," cries the linguistic purist--the prescriptivist--in me. Realistically, of course, comprehensibility is a higher priority than eloquence.

Are the two dichotomous, you ask? Indeed, they can be; as regards the Fulfulde Bible, for example. This translation, completed in the 1970s, is now facing review and updating. Surprised to hear a people group still considered unreached has had a Bible in their language for so long, I learned the translation's primary target is not necessarily the Fulbe themselves, but the many smaller people groups occupying the same area who speak Fulfulde as a trade language. The issue then, is what version of Fulfulde to use. "High Fulfulde," as spoken by educated Fulbe is not the same language spoken in the market by the many vendors from differing cultural backgrounds. Though they communicate very well in Fulfulde, they would find a Bible in "High Fulfulde" nearly incomprehensible.

The same quandary faces the Oroko translation team, I discovered. The translators are men of education of varied ages from varied backgrounds, who often introduce new Oroko words to each other in their search for the best way to express the words of life. On the one hand, it is great for a translation project to thus support the expansion and standardization of a language! But will such a "high" translation make the book inaccessible for the younger, half-educated Oroko -- for whom the translation holds the most hope?

The 30-and-over set learned Oroko at their parents' knee, then left the village for secondary school, and became fluent in Pidgin, which they continue to speak as a status symbol of being "cosmopolitan," of having been "out". Their language skills in Oroko are adequate for the language of the hearth, but when it comes to thinking, to discussing faith and morality, a Bible in the vernacular using an elegant but overly broad vocabulary would be out of their grasp. And if they cannot be convinced of the value of reading, writing, and studying the Bible in Oroko, the language will not last much more than a generation before it is lost -- becoming a relic of history books and old women.

Alas. I do so like the idea of an elegant, eloquent, well-expressed written document to be the foundation of literacy as well as of spiritual instruction.


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