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Language Vitality Through Bible Translation


Marianne Beerle-Moor and Vitaly Voinov

This interdisciplinary collection of articles, written by scholars involved in translating the Bible into various languages around the world, demonstrates that such translation projects are promoting the vitality of local languages, both those that are endangered and those that are still fairly healthy but non-empowered. Bible translation and activities typically associated with it, such as linguistic documentation, vernacular literacy work, cultural engagement, community development, technological advancement, and self-esteem building among native speakers, help languages to develop and strengthen their position in society and should therefore be welcomed by linguists and all who care about stemming the growing tide of language death all over the world. This book is immediately relevant to the global community of documentary and conservationist linguists, as well as to anyone interested in translation studies, the sociology of religion, and the relationship between language, culture, and the Bible.
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Foreword: Bible translation as transformative language revitalization



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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