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Steps in Translation

steps in translation:


By Dr Marilyn McLellan & Hannah Harper


In CoordN8 #9, we introduced a new series ‘Steps in translation’.  The opening article gave an overview of the processes in translation.  We also expanded on an initial stage for translators - to choose a ‘front translation’, from which to translate.  In this issue, we look at ‘drafting’.

It’s really important for translators, advisors, church leaders and supporters to understand that ‘drafting’ is part of a bigger process, so everyone can have confidence in the end result.  In most translation projects, there is a small team of Indigenous people working on a draft.  Translators in West Arnhem Land are drafting the Gospel of Mark in Maung, from a Simplified English Version (SEV) of Scripture.  This has been specially prepared by David Glasgow (AuSIL), for use by Australian Indigenous translators.  People in North East Arnhem Land understand Djambarrpuyŋu much more easily than English, so Yolŋu translators are using the published Djambarrpuyŋu New Testament as a ‘front translation’ for drafting Scripture into other Yolŋu clan languages.  All front translations have been through rigorous checks by qualified consultants.

In West Arnhem and in North East Arnhem, translators are drafting directly onto laptop computers, using the OurWord program (The Seed Company / AuSIL).  OurWord displays the ‘front translation’ on the left, and the translator’s own draft on the right.  OurWord is designed for people with little computer experience to be able to work independently, at home in remote communities for months at a time.  The program has a ‘send-receive’ function to synchronise and share the translation draft between other team members and team advisors online.  Since 2009, annual OurWord workshops in Darwin offer valuable time for translators from around these communities to refresh their skills in drafting, with fellow translators and AuSIL staff on hand. 

In Central Australia, translators often draft on paper, and ‘keyboard’ the draft onto a computer later.  This typing may be done by the person who drafted the passage, or by someone designated by the team.  Indigenous Christians in several communities are translating different sections in the Old Testament, and these drafts are being widely shared and checked.

In translation, the aim is not to translate individual terms and phrases. The challenge is for translators to express the meaning of the Scripture.  Translators often have to check and discuss their own understanding of the front translation.  Some words (abstract nouns, specific vocabulary, etc) do not have close equivalents in Indigenous languages, so a translator looks for a good alternative term, or an apt explanation. Translators are constantly considering their target audience - choosing words and expressions which are not obscure to people who will later read and use the Bible.

In the drafting stage, translators are learning about language structure, spelling, meaning, genre, punctuation, and so much about text.  Of course, it is also a deeply challenging and encouraging experience because God’s word is so special.  Some Indigenous translators come from a background in education, but others attribute literacy in their own language to their years of experience in drafting.

Drafting often happens at or around home, and is punctuated with the everyday ‘comings and goings’ of family, travel, funerals, illness and technical issues.  Translation workshops give Indigenous translators an opportunity to share together, and to draft with fewer interruptions. 

We hope you enjoy Heather Hewett’s personal record of drafting on Goulburn Island (p. 1-2).  In the next issue, we will explore the initial checking stages that follow drafting.