Friday, 22 February 2008

Why Translate the Bible into Jamaican Creole?

This question never fails to pop up whenever I make mention of the joint effort of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Caribbean, and the Bible Societies of the West Indies, Jamaica, to translate the Bible into Jamaican (Patois/Patwa). I do not doubt the sincerity of those who pose this question; in fact, I think it’s an important one – a question which every Bible translator must be able to answer satisfactorily before he/she commences a Bible translation project. Having come to adequate reasons why a particular language needs a translation of the Scriptures, it would be helpful for the Bible translator always to bear them in mind, otherwise severe opposition and ruthless questioning of his/her endeavours could prove unbearable – this would be a major source of discouragement.

Why do I believe a translation of the Bible into Jamaican is necessary? So far, I’ve managed to come up with several reasons which might need some refinement. Anyway, here are they, not in any particular order of importance:

  1. English is not the “heart-language” of the majority of Jamaicans – those living on the island and many others in the Diaspora. Creole is the language most persons use in their homes, families, churches, etc…Jamaican is the language we use to express our greatest joy, hope, pain, expectations, disappointments, think our deepest thoughts, etc… Bible translators believe that Scriptures have the most far-reaching impact when heard in one’s heart language.
  2. Many Jamaican preachers/bible teachers read English Bibles however they give the meaning of their texts and preach in Patois – not English. In this sense, we are simply formalising what many Jamaican preachers have been doing over the years. We are increasing the comprehension of the Bible.
  3. Luke, in Acts 2:1-12, tells us of how Jews from 15 linguistically diverse nations were bewildered when they heard the disciples speaking their languages. Don’t forget there was a lingua franca around then (a language of wider communication) - Greek, just as English is the “international language” of our time! At Pentecost, God powerfully approved the contextualisation of the Christian message. This signals, to me, the church’s responsibility to develop a local expression of the Gospel in their particular contexts.
  4. A Jamaican translation helps to build churches without destroying national/cultural identity- it affirms our ethnic and linguistic identity… (cf. Rev.5:9; 7:9 - 10; and 14: 6).
  5. The translation will facilitate the "conversion" of cultures and worldviews, and, at the same time
  6. Cultural enrichment and preservation
  7. A better understanding/appreciation of the Scriptures.
  8. The findings of a recent survey undertaken by the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. reveal a). 79.5% of the Jamaican population believes Jamaican was a language and agreed that it was, “a form of speech, which can be used to communicate anything people want it to” b). more than half of the Jamaican population (67.8%) believes communication could be made better if Jamaican w used as opposed to English. c. further, 68.5% felt it should be made an official language of Jamaica alongside English.
  9. Whenever someone wants to make a statement emphatic/profound in Jamaica they say it in Jamaican Creole, not English.
  10. All things were created for Christ and for His glory; therefore, the greatest service something can do for Him is to accomplish what it was created for. For example, the chief end of human beings is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (See 1Cor.10:31; Rev.4:11; Ps.73:25-26). Seeing that Jamaican is a language (contrary to what some people believe), I believe the highest good to which it can ever attain is to facilitate communication which is God-honouring, Christ-exalting, and Spirit inspired. The Scripture is the only sufficient and objective means by which God has communicated to us knowledge of Himself and of His will necessary to salvation (1Cor.1:21). God’s Word written and expounded in Jamaican both glorifies its maker and benefits its speakers/hearers.
  11. In speaking to the mind as well as to the heart, it will bring Christ up close and personal.
  12. It will facilitate an opportunity for systematic study of JC...
    • language development
    • cultural enrichment and preservation
    • an increased sense of identity
    • literacy in Jamaican – the bilingual education programme in Jamaica was sparked by Dr Faith Linton, a Board Member of the Bible Society of the West Indies...
  13. There are other ppin off products of Bible translation...For example, vernacular Bibles are capitalised on by musicians, poets, drama writers, etc.

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