Couple spread Good Word one word at a time
by Liz Thompson
September 26, 2013
We must be born with a desire to communicate. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. The first thing we do is open our mouths and cry – loudly. Maybe we’re saying “Put me back!” but here we are ready to let Mom and Dad know in no uncertain terms we have arrived in this noisy world.
Parents learn to know what their baby needs by the intensity of the cry. Since communication is a two-way deal, babies learn by the parent’s intonation what they mean as well. As the child grows, they love being read to from colorful books leading to the love of the written word. Books become a part of our lives; teaching and entertaining.
We want to communicate from our barest needs to our deepest thoughts.
Imagine, though, you have no written language, only spoken. No books, magazines, pamphlets, closed captioning or subtitles, notes passed among friends, newspapers, email or EBooks, greeting cards, Internet… no need to search further.
Keep imagining as we count our blessings.
In 1917, a young man, William Cameron Townsend, set out as a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians in Guatemala. While trying to sell Spanish translated Bibles to these Indians, “…he discovered that the majority of the people he met did not understand Spanish. Neither did they have a written form of their own beautiful language, the Cakchiquel,” according to the Wycliffe website.
He didn’t give up. Instead, he lived among the people learning their language while developing an alphabet for them.
Within 10 years, he had translated the New Testament portion of the Bible in that language. By 1934, he was aware of other cultures without a written language and opened Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas to train people in linguistics and translation. By 1942, the camp had “grown into two affiliate organizations, Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics.”
The history of Wycliffe Bible translation goes back to 1382 when John Wycliffe translated an English Bible—“the first complete European translation done in nearly 1,000 years.” I encourage you to read this history on Wycliffe.org.
According to Wycliffe, there are more than 6,800 world languages and fewer than 2,000 of those languages are without a written Bible translation. That equates to 209 million people where translation projects have not yet begun.
Stephen and Rachel Katterenrich have been in Tanzania for more than two years developing a written language in the oral language of Bungu, as part of Wycliffe. The process has been ongoing for almost 10 years. Rachel studied language in college and Stephen the Bible. “We have melded our talents,” Rachel said.
This next year Stephen will be studying the Greek language.
Their first four months were spent learning Swahili. “We had some fun blunders along the way,” Rachel said. “Like when I was trying to say someone was a patient (in a hospital) and I was actually saying they were patient (in behavior).”
Stephen said that he can understand the language easier than he can speak it, so far. In time he hopes that changes.
In English, one word can have several meanings and may be spelled the same but the meaning changes with different emphasis. The simple word “oh” which can mean “Oh, right!” as in an aha moment or “Oh!” as in surprise or “Ohhhhh” when dragged out like “Oh, I see!”
In Bungu, the emphasis and the spelling are different in many words. The written word needs to read like it sounds. It’s a complicated and tedious process. The villagers are eager and taking active roles to help make the written language happen.
Just as Townsend worked with the people to learn their language, Stephen and Rachel are living and working with the villagers to learn their language, hear their stories and translate them into writing by creating a data base. It is what they call a cluster project with other people working on their language projects and sharing resources.
The villagers are grateful to Stephen and Rachel. When the Katterenrich’s left to come to the States for a year, they were lovingly reminded that they would return to them. One day, in the not too distant future, they will celebrate with Bible translation being complete.
It matters not where we are born or what language we speak, communicating is vital. It’s comforting to know there are those willing to make sure all people have a written language.
One person and one word at a time.