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Featured Oral Bible Translations

Discussion in 'Bible Versions & Translations' started by John of Japan, Aug 7, 2019.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    A comparatively recent development in Bible translation is the oral translation. The idea is that when a people group does not have a written language, a translation is produced which sidesteps that problem by making the translation oral only. The Christians of the people group then do not need a written Bible to know God's Word, but can learn of the Lord by simply hearing the Word.

    The traditional way is: learn the language from the people group members, analyzing the phonemes (smallest units of sound) and morphemes (smallest units of meaning), learning the syntax (sentence structure), writing a grammar, writing a dictionary, eventually producing a written script. Along the way, you translate Mark or John with native speaker help. This all may actually take decades. These people, to me, are the elite of missionary Bible translation, the special forces of missions. But it is a long process.

    What are your thoughts about oral translations? Good idea, bad idea? Temporary or permanent solution?

    I'm still thinking this through myself, so I'd like input. I'll post later on what I've heard or read in this area.
     
  2. Squire Robertsson

    Squire Robertsson Administrator
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    I favor developing every possible tool. I also believe in not letting the perfect solution get in the way of one that's good enough for the moment.
     
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  3. HankD

    HankD Well-Known Member
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    Wasn't this similar to what happened in Jesus day? Manuscripts were generally beyond the financial reach of the average Joe with oral translation and memorization the number one tools?

    The way of those going out on the Great Commission?

    I remember hearing or reading that in certain synagogues for certain elite texts could be made available but the greater population were not allowed.

    I suppose one could make one's own personal written collection of scriptures from Sabbath day studies - if allowed by pharisees.

    Also, i remember hearing something along these lines for the translation of the scriptures into the language of the Cherokee Nation which had no alphabet or written language.

    When the means are righteous, the ends do justify the means which to me is the case you have outlined here.

    Psalm 68:11 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.
     
    #3 HankD, Aug 8, 2019
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  4. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    The written word of God according to Peter was first given being orally. ". . . the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. . . ." -- 2 Peter 1:21. On that day of Pentecost when God spoke to the peoples of Israel, none of what God said that day was written down, ". . . began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. . . ." -- Acts of the Apostles 2:4. So if the written word of God is orally translated, it is in agreement with how God gave His word. It would still be the responsibilty of communicating God's word truthfully. Nor would it disallow interpretations in accordance with God's word, any more than what is done reading and teaching from the written translations.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    The thing is, the process for translating would be very similar for either a written or an oral translation. The only thing missing for an oral translation would be developing a written script. Or would it? The fact is, to get a good translation it takes several drafts, and how would the translator know what the previous draft was unless it was somehow written down, if only in the Roman alphabet. The only alternatives are: just do one draft (poor), have someone who is very talented at memorizing, and (the most likely), keeping many audio files until the final draft was done. And if you opt for one of these, why not write it down in one form or another?

    I know of an older oral translation of the NT into the Rohingya language. What is problematic is that the translation was done in analog form, and everything is digital nowadays. But the digital technology has certainly developed in the 21st century: cell phones and computers with audio files, dedicated audio recorders, etc.

    More about this language later.
     
  6. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Yes, there are similarities, except that (1) there were written alphabets everywhere the early missionaries went for the first two centuries or so, Latin and Greek.
    Hadn't heard that, but it's certainly possible.

    Hadn't heard about this, but it does seem possible if unlikely, since there were no recording devices back then. The missionaries would naturally want to write it down and print it up, since that was the way things were done.

    If the only translation in a given language is oral, that's certainly much better than no translation at all.
     
  7. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    All of this is well and good. Many so-called "primitive" people groups have an oral culture that hands down stories and traditions. The problem is that such methods are inaccurate. The message ends up getting garbled.

    An example of this is the "Hidden Christians" of Japan, who went underground during the severe persecutions of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century. Francis Xavier had not seen fit to produce a Bible translation, so the people had nothing to judge their doctrine by except the traditions and a few copied, non-Scriptural documents. By the time Catholic missionaries were allowed in again in the mid-19th century, the beliefs of the Hidden Christians were unrecognizable.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Consider the difficulties of getting an oral translation to every member of a people group, especially one in the jungle with little contact with the outside world. Printing up a Bible is much cheaper than providing a digital device to every believing member of a people group.

    On the other hand, I read this statistic recently: 85% of the people in the world now have a cell phone, and those are usually going to have a recording app. Everywhere I've been in Asia and Africa, almost everyone was carrying a cell phone--at least a flip phone!
     
  9. HankD

    HankD Well-Known Member
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    Bible translations into Cherokee - Wikipedia

    This is from Wikipedia - but it's interesting with a short historical summary of the work and a sample of the Cherokee "syllabary" used for scripture.

    Hope it helps, maybe a lead into further research as to how this was accomplished for the Cherokee Nation, many of which no doubt are rejoicing in glory with their LORD.
     
  10. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    I was under the understanding the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek source texts would translated for an oral presentation, not yet having a written version of the target language that could be read.
     
  11. Yeshua1

    Yeshua1 Well-Known Member
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    Wasn't the bulk of the earliest stories and traditions kept and preserved by God among His people of an oral nature, before Genesis and Gospels were penned down?
     
  12. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    That is an assertion without evidence.
     
  13. agedman

    agedman Well-Known Member
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    Actually, this was done right here in America.

    George Guess (Sequoia) did that for the Cherokees. Many of that nation were believers, had developed schools and universities, were settled into communities with regulations and policies very similar to the English.

    "The Cherokee Alphabet was the only written language ever developed by a Native American tribe. As Sequoyah educated others in its use, the ability to read and write in their own language appealed to the Cherokee and use of the alphabet exploded in the nation." (taken from Sequoyah and the Cherokee Alphabet)

    It fascinates me that Sequoia's work wasn't limited to Cherokees, but others took from him and used it in other lands (for example Africa, and Canada).

    Then it all came apart because of corrupt US government, greed, prejudice, and hatred.
     
  14. HankD

    HankD Well-Known Member
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    Something all of mankind has in common.
     
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  15. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    This is not really provable, since they did not have any way to record such things other than writing them down. ;)

    Having said that, oral tradition and oral translation are not the same animal.
     
  16. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    The end goal of a modern oral translation would not be simply an oral presentation (if I understand what you mean by that) such as at a theological society meeting, but oral dissemination, whether through memorization or electronic reproduction.
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Thank you for the very interesting link. However, this is not exactly what a modern oral Bible translation is about. It is one thing for a genius like Sequoyah to invent an alphabet for his own people, but it is another thing to produce a translation of the Bible that does not exist in written form.
     
  18. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Thanks for the link. Maybe I'm missing something, but I did not find anything in the article about a strictly oral translation.
     
  19. HankD

    HankD Well-Known Member
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    In my research I did. Maybe not exactly as you outline.

    It has been many years since my search but in my memory the Cherokee peoples had no alphabet, no written language with dependence upon memory for translation from English to Cherokee thus the Cherokee syllabary was developed to bridge that gap into a codified translation of the NT.

    "A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (optional) consonant sound (simple onset) followed by a vowel sound (nucleus)—that is, a CV or V syllable—but other phonographic mappings such as CVC, CV- tone, and C (normally nasals at the end of syllables) are also found in syllabaries...

    Languages that use syllabic writing include Japanese, Cherokee, Vai, the Yi languages of eastern Asia, the English-based creole language Ndyuka, Shaozhou Tuhua, and the ancient language Mycenaean Greek (Linear B). In addition, the undecoded Cretan Linear A is also believed by some to be a syllabic script, though this is not proven.

    Chinese characters, the cuneiform script used for Sumerian, Akkadian and other languages, and the former Maya script are largely syllabic in nature, although based on logograms. They are therefore sometimes referred to as logosyllabic."

    There is much about the Japanese language at this site, perhaps if so inclined you can help them if they need correction.

    Syllabary - Wikipedia
     
  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    This is relevant, but not exactly parallel to the modern concept of an oral translation.

    A couple of years ago I was sent to an African country to see if we could get an oral translation started for a people group with an unwritten language in that country. I spent time training the prospective African translators, then we spent time working on 1 John, getting partway. (One of the men went ahead and finished that book on his own.) We took digital recorders with us with the idea of putting our work onto those. Unfortunately, the nationals did not take up the complete burden, and the work stalled. However, the idea was that the final product would exist only digitally, not on paper, so that it could be shared on digital machines of various kinds.


    Thanks for the link. The article is typical Wikipedia, with the general facts right, but some errors, at least in the discussion of Japanese. For example, there are five syllables in the Japanese alphabet which are strictly vowels, so the syllabary is not just "mainly CV," as the article says. Looks like someone knew what they were doing, then someone corrected it who didn't. :Biggrin
     
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