Discover Your Language

img_7419Story and Photos by Karen Weaver

Throughout Papua New Guinea, men and women are translating the Scriptures for their own people.  Seventeen of these translators met together for four weeks to study the grammar of their individual languages. They discovered that their languages are distinct, not only in their vocabulary, but often in their structure as well.

Most translating is done from English. When the participants compared this source language to their own, they were able to identify many differences in the structure. Being aware of these differences helps them write in such a way that the words flow smoothly in their heart language, rather than sounding like a rendition of English grammar. One of the instructors, Ray Stegeman, said, “It is our goal to see that these mother tongue translators are trained to be the best translators they can be. Understanding the grammar of their language is one step in creating a natural translation for their own people.”

Each person made significant discoveries about his language. One man learned how verbs in his language fit together in a series to give a new meaning. Others discovered how prefixes and suffixes change the meaning of verbs. All of them analyzed numbers, transition words, and word order.  Understanding these things will give them more confidence in their work and give them a strong foundation for tackling the translation of any sentence.

As they analyzed their language, they compiled a grammar paper to take home with them. This initial description of their language will serve as a reference tool for them, as well as a way for them to show others in their language group the unique and beautiful way that their language is formed.

Student Oscar Timan expressed his appreciation for the instruction he received. He testified, “I have been doing translation for nine years. Before I took this course, translation checkers would ask me why I wrote a passage a certain way. I would say, ‘I just put it down like that. It’s right. I know my language.’ After taking this course and learning how my grammar works, now I can tell them why!”

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