Sunday, November 6, 2011


The last two Bible translation workshops have been a dream come true. I've finally been able to use so much of my linguistics degree and my theological degree to help, enthuse and encourage a people group who've never written down their own language before. But at the same time I've been challenged about huge gaps in my knowledge both linguistically and theologically. I suppose this is just part and parcel when you move from the theoretical to the practical and actually work in the field you've been training for. It's been a wondrous ride to persevere in being more professional in my work and also remember that Christ's sacrifice and God's plan for the world is really at the heart of all I do.

Linguistically I've been thinking about practical fieldwork. At university I majored in sociolinguistics. At the time I didn't know the difference between the different linguistic fields but was fortunately able to get a taste of descriptive linguistics in my first year, when we briefly covered morphology, phonetics and semantics. During my first year I also did a week-long introductory course to linguistics with Wycliffe. This was a brilliant course and I'm so glad that I did. I was fully immersed in the practicalities of linguistic analysis, language learning and missionary work that I wasn't learning about at uni. But then for the next 4 years I was back to the politics of language, language status, language policies, conversation analysis, the relationship between language and identity, second language acquisition and in my final year, ESL teacher training. I had nothing to do with raw linguistic data and how to collect it, chart it and analyse it. Until now.

I realised how much I still had to learn when I trying to collect data for the beginnings of a Fwe dictionary and grammar. I actually had no idea how to do either. I had studied lexicography (dictionary making) in my fourth year at Moore College so I was familiar with the ideas of semantic domains. That seemed to be the most sensible way to make a dictionary because alphabetically work was impossible since their alphabet was still in draft form. Collecting data for a grammar was like nails on a blackboard. I've never been one for detailed grammatical analysis, and always resist grammar when doing language learning and even when doing language teaching. So I struggled to find patterns and come up with ways to elicit more information from the Fwe.

Theologically I realised that by simply saying, 'I'm a reformed, evangelical, Protestant' only made sense to other reformed, evangelical Protestants. Ecumenicalism is necessary when doing this kind of work since the Bible is denomination-less. But there *are* different denominations. To ignore the differences and say that 'we're all on about Jesus' is quite condescending in many ways. Celebrating differences can also be problematic when one denomination wants different things from different people to the detriment of team unity and team focus.

I think the best way is to really understand what you believe and know how to express it well. I've found numerous situations in which it's been oh, so, clearly, obvious that I'm the only one who thinks the way I think, and I need to explain myself to everyone else. Most times I fail. I then go to my bungalow, think, pray and read and come up with a better explanation that I wish I had known an hour previously. It's all growth, though. A little humiliating at times, but growth nonetheless. I am glad that I'm here again in Mongu but again feel like I'm underprepared and ill-equipped for this job. But I am also glad that God is in control, God is the one who directed me to this task and God is the one who will make all things work to his glory. All I have to do is be faithful and trust him.

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