Foreword: Bible translation as transformative language revitalization
K. DAVID HARRISON
As a child, I was exposed to Bible translation through my missionary parents who worked with the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada. We had Cree Bibles and hymnals around the house, and although I did not read the Cree syllabary, I enjoyed looking at the curly and angular shaped letters. On a portable wind-up gramophone, I would listen to Cree versions of famous Methodist hymns like Fanny J. Crosby’s “Pass me not, O gentle Savior.” I first heard this hymn in Cree, not understanding the words, but singing along with the syllables. Years later I would hear it performed by folk-rock luminary Bob Dylan, rapper MC Hammer, and various gospel singers, finding it equally moving across languages and genres.
Can scriptures and hymns be accurately (and adequately) translated? And what value does the process of translation add to the language itself? Translators grapple with these problems daily, not only in the realm of semantics and syntax, but in the poetics, the prosody, and the metaphor. As German Orrin’s 1885 Cree Hymnal notes in the introduction, “There are imperfections in the translation. It is difficult to compress this sweetly flowing tongue into the measure of English verse.”
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