The PE and TE Puzzle

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I wish we had taken Mark Twain’s philosophy to heart way back at the beginning of our Bible translation and linguistic research work in Brazil. If we hadn’t been so sure, we would not have made such a big mistake. Here’s the story:

The Discovery
In the first year of studying Canela, back in 1968, we made the interesting discovery that Canela verbs seemed to have two past tenses—one to indicate the recent past, the other the distant, long ago past.

Here is an example showing the differences in CAPS:

  • When a hunter returns from a successful deer hunt, he would say,
    Wa iTE po curaN = I past deer kill = I killed a deer.
  • When he sat by the fire telling stories of previous hunts, he would say,
    PE wa po cura = distant-past I kill deer = Long ago I killed a deer.

The immediate past always seemed to use the longer form of the verb, curaN instead of cura as well as a little word TE preceded by a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-person prefix.
All the legends and myths of long ago started off with PE and the shorter form of the verb, cura.
It was a very clear, easy-to-see distinction. It had to be easy, of course, since we would never have discovered it so soon in our research if it had been difficult.

During the next few years, we wrote and published some learn-to‑ read booklets and printed well-known legends for the Canelas to practice reading. We even published a beautiful 150-page illustrated Life of Christ book. Naturally, since Jesus lived long ago, we used the distant past time marker, PE and the shorter form of the verbs.

The Problem
There was only one thing that bothered us. Once in awhile the Canelas told us stories about things that happened in the distant past. And there – right in the middle of all the distant past PEs – would be a string of regular past TEs. But, we had other, more confusing aspects of the Canela language to study, so, thinking that maybe the storyteller had slipped and made a mistake, we decided to concentrate on these more complicated aspects and leave the PE-TE problem for some other time. Bad decision!

Several years later we participated in a linguistic workshop taught, as usual, by a Ph.D. linguist. “What aspect of the Canela language are you going to study?” he asked. “Well,” I replied, “We should probably get this little PE-TE problem cleared up before we go on to more important things.”

The Research
He agreed, gave us some instructions, and we equipped ourselves with some highly sophisticated linguistic tools – two highlighter pens, one orange and one blue. We then coloured our way through a huge stack of distant-past stories. All the distant-past PEs and short verbs we circled orange and all the inexplicable TEs and long verbs we circled in blue. By the end of the day, we realized the problem was not rare at all. Every single one of the stories started off in orange, turned blue towards the middle and then went back to The Solutionorange at the very end.

So, we sat down with our linguistic consultant and asked the important linguistic question; “Why do these orange stories turn blue?” After many days of pondering, praying, and testing, we got the beginning of an answer.

The Solution
It turned out that in stories set in the distant past, the orange parts, the ones with PEs and short verbs, tended to be descriptions, settings, bits of explanation, background information, and summary, etc. The blue parts, those with the TEs and long verbs were the important story-lines, the main actions, and the climax.

What an eye-opener! We were very glad for the break-through, but were sad to realize that our beautiful Bible-story book was orange from cover to cover. All background, all settings, all description, all supporting explanation. No main actions, no vitally important things happening. No climax, not even in the story of our Lord’s resurrection!

The Prevention
Linguist-Bible translators don’t need to make these types of mistakes anymore. In the past forty-five years, vast amounts of linguistic research have been gathered and are now taught at places such as the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL). A summer training session will be held in Trinity Western University. Check it out here https://www.canil.ca/summer/

Not Just a Warning

The Warning
“Don’t you know? Those people want to kill you!” My friend meant it as a warning, but when he explained, I took it as a great compliment.

The Explanation
One Monday morning in 1972, I walked 35 kilometres from the Canela village to the Ourives river, swam across it, and slept on its bank. The next day walked another 35 kilometres to the town of Barra do Corda. I stayed with Jim, a missionary friend. After mailing my letters, I spent the day buying dental and other medical supplies needed in the village. I enjoyed another night’s rest and the following morning at breakfast announced I was walking back to the village.

Jim looked up with concern and said, “You can’t walk back to the village.”

“Why not? I just walked down Monday and Tuesday. I can surely walk back Thursday and Friday. The medicines aren’t that heavy.”

“Don’t you know?” Jim said, “Some of those people along the trail want to kill you! Many people living in the hamlets between town and the river are relatives of the storekeepers in town and they don’t like you.”

“Why? What did I ever do to them?”

“Your name is mud among the merchants. For generations they’ve been ripping off the Canelas who come into town to trade baskets for tools and cloth. But last year, you and Jo taught many Canelas to read and do arithmetic. Now the storekeepers can’t cheat them anymore. Everyone knows you are here and that you will be walking back. If some hothead sees you are alone, he might well take a shot at you.”

The Affirmation
I happily accepted Jim’s offer of a ride to the river in his jeep. I was glad to get through the dangerous area safely and for the 35 kilometres I didn’t have to walk. Beyond that, however, I felt a deep happiness that had nothing to do with physical safety or comfort. I felt profoundly affirmed for our years of language analysis and educational work among the Canela that were now making a positive impact. As linguists and teachers we had brought about justice for the oppressed and downtrodden.

The Joy
The joy I felt reminded me of the four levels of affirmation and praise that C. S. Lewis wrote about:

  • The first level is looking at work we have done and saying to ourselves, “Hey, I did a good job!” It is what the Creator did after each act of creation, as recorded repeatedly in Genesis 1, “God saw that it was good.”
  • The second level is someone else telling us, “You did a good job!” God wants us to praise Him for what He did. After doing a good job, we all have a basic need to hear someone tell us that we did a good job.
  • The third level is overhearing someone telling another, “Hey, she did a good job!” God wants to overhear us telling others how well He worked in our lives. Discovering that the merchants were no longer able to cheat the Canelas was like overhearing someone say, “Jack and Jo did a good job!” and I was full of joy, and still am.
  • The highest level of affirmation is God praising us for doing a good job. At Creation He praised His own works having seen that they were good. When God looks Jo and me in the eye and says, “You did a good job!” our joy will be complete

The Epilogue
It is now 45 years and two generations later. Many Canelas adults and all the young people now can read and write in their own language as well as in Portuguese. Bright, eager-to-learn Canela students now attend higher grades in town. They are earning income and come into the stores with money in their hands where storekeepers treat them as the equals they are.

The Need
Many millions of people all over the developing world are still like the Canelas were when Jo and I arrived in their village— illiterate, and without any of God’s Word in their language. We are nearly 80 years old, but if we could revert to being in our twenties . . . we’d do it again!

 

 

 

 

The Sprint to the Finish Line

Last week’s episode ended with the depressing news that the door to translating God’s Word for Brazil’s people groups was still closed.
https://www.jackpopjes.com/when-we-believe-things-about-god-that-are-not-true/

Jo and I prayed, (again) and discussed our options.

“What’s the use of going back to Brazil?”
“In Canada I could keep on speaking in churches and raise up more prayer support for Brazil’s people groups.”
“Val and Leanne are already in college. Cheryl will graduate from high school next year and go to college.”
“It would be nice to have a home here for them to visit at Christmas time.”

As we talked about staying in Canada, however, we felt an inner uneasiness. It became clear to us that our calling was unique.

Jo and I were the only couple in the entire world who knew both the Bible and the Canela language well enough, that with the help of some good Canela story tellers, we could complete a pretty good translation within the next five to ten years,

Jo put our thoughts into words,
“Honey, we are the only Bible translators for the Canela on earth. No one else is ready to do this job. Let’s just go back to Brazil, sit on the Canela doorstep, and wait it out until God opens the door.”

So we bought our tickets. A month or so later we arrived in Brazil and got settled in our home on the Belem centre. Then, it happened. Within two weeks we got some long awaited news from the government.

“If an indigenous people group wants certain missionaries to live and work within their villages, the government will permit these missionaries to do so.”

Wow! The Canelas had been wanting us back since the day we were expelled five years earlier! Within weeks we were back among the Canelas.

Was it ever good to see them all again! And to see all those Canela children who grew up hearing about us, but now seeing us for the first time. Open-mouthed and asking, “How come these white people talk just like us?”

Day after day, we reconnected with old friends, and mourned with family the death of many elderly Canelas.

Our mud-walled, palm thatch roofed house had been torn down, the timbers used for other houses, when government officials had told the Canelas we would not be returning.

24 square metres in which to cook, eat, sleep, and to work together with 3 Canelas.
24 square metres in which to cook, eat, sleep, and to work together with 3 Canela translation helpers.

We lost no time in replacing it. With the help of many Canelas and some colleagues from Belem, we built a two-room, pole frame, wooden shack on a concrete floor, with a pole-rafter, corrugated asbestos roof. A day of sawing and hammering and we had shelves, a bed, a study desk, more work tables and a kitchen counter. A 4X6 metre (13X20 feet), ten-day wonder.

Let’s get to work again! Jaco, our best translation helper, was eager to get to started and so were we.

That was the beginning of a seven-year sprint to the finish line of a twenty-two-year marathon. We asked the Brazil Wycliffe leadership to excuse us from all administrative work, conferences, and non-translation workshops. We planned no regular furlough, no speaking engagements, or major vacations. We made just three quick trips back to Canada—Jo’s major surgery, Valorie’s graduation, and Leanne’s wedding.

Jo and I each focused on translating the Scriptures (1st draft, back-translation, exegetical check, 2nd draft, consultant check, pre-final draft, key-boarding, etc., etc.) for at least ten hours a day, six days a week.

During this seven-year sprint, a group of young literate Canelas pled with us to teach them the Bible. Read how God interfered in our rush to finish the translation in these two postings from the fall of 2012.

The Unwelcome Request for Bible Teaching
https://www.jackpopjes.com/the-unwelcome-request/
Bible Night Classes and the Rest of the Story
https://www.jackpopjes.com/the-unwelcome-request-the-rest-of-the-story/

Finally! Handing copies of God's Word in the Canela language to men & women eager to read it.

Finally! Handing copies of God’s Word in the Canela language to men & women eager to read it.

On Friday, August 10, 1990 we finally celebrated the distribution of the Canela Bible! It was the greatest day of our lives. Thirty-three years earlier, Jo and I had started our training in Bible, linguistics and anthropology. The last twenty-two years had been focused on the Canela translation project. Now our careers as Bible translators with the Canela people had come to a successful end.

My parents, and Jo’s mom came to help us celebrate. So did our daughters and their husbands/husbands-to-be. My younger brother and his wife and a number of Wycliffe colleagues also joined us in the Canela village. Over a thousand Canelas gathered in the central village plaza, and we handed out a Canela Bible to readers from every house. A never-to-be-forgotten day!

Since then, for a whole generation, the Canelas have had the Scriptures in their own language and as a result, Christ’s church among the Canela continues to grow.

A Special Posting to Celebrate the Launch!

BT EBook_Cover Final_Printsize_v3A few weeks ago I published my second e-book, The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, but few do . . . very few. I immediately sent a download code to the more than fifty people who had already bought it, sight unseen, in previous months. Now it is ready for a general launch.

The 28 story-based articles in the three sections of this book shed light on worldwide Bible translation, a subject most Christians are confused about.

  • Why does the Bible need to be translated, isn’t it easier just to teach indigenous peoples the national language?
  • How is the Bible translated and how can you be sure it is translated accurately?
  • How has technology changed the world of Bible translation?
  • Why did Mark and Luke change what Jesus actually said instead of quoting Him exactly as Matthew did? Should today’s translators follow their example?
  • What is more difficult than translating from one language to another? Hint, think cultures.
  • Find out why support for Bible translation would skyrocket among Christians, if linguistics was taught as widely as biology, chemistry or physics.

A Special 25% Discount to Celebrate the Launch
The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, But Few Do, Very Few
To download your 25% off ebook, only $2.99, go the publisher’s site
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/364616  

Open a free account. Click on Add to Cart.
Fill in this discount code VT57J. (Code expires on November 15, 2013)

You can download this book to your computer, laptop, tablet, e-reader, iPad, Kobo, Kindle, Nook, or smartphone, etc., as many times as you want and in as many formats as you want.

Tickle-Funny-Bone-cvrP3In Case You Missed the First E-Book
Here’s how to buy the first e-book, A Tickle in the Funny Bone, which is a collection of a dozen of my humorous columns including all the April Fool’s columns and the often hilarious responses from readers.

Download from the publisher’s site for only $1.99
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/258000

Next week’s posting on INsights & OUTbursts “Jumping to Conclusions: A Bad Exercise”

How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission?

John Piper is a pastor who speaks my language!

The following is a guest blog first published in his Desiring God blog. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/how-much-is-left-to-do-in-the-great-commission

The only statistic I can add is that of the 6,800 languages spoken in the world today, about 1,850 languages still do not have any Scripture translated into them, nor has anyone yet been assigned to start a translation program for the 200 million people who speak these languages. No church can be planted without the Seed of the Word of God in the language of the people. http://www.wycliffe.org/About/Statistics.aspx

Now here is JohnPiper:

How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission?

We should be dumbfounded at how doable the remaining task of world missions is. Before I show this, let’s clarify some definitions.

Missions is not the same as evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the gospel with any unbelievers, and that work will never be done till Jesus comes.

Missions, on the other hand, relates to people groups, not just people, and the number is finite and relatively stable — like the “every people, tongue, tribe, and nation” of Revelation 5:9.

So missions is crossing a culture, learning a language, and planting the church through preaching the gospel among people groups that have no churches strong enough to evangelize their group.

According to the Joshua Project (as of February 16) there are 16,598 people groups in the world. 7,165 of these are “unreached” (fewer than 2% evangelical).

Defining things somewhat differently, the research arm of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board estimates 11,310 people groups, of which 6,405 are unreached and 3,100 are “unengaged” (no evangelical mission effort to reach them is underway).

Does that number sound large to you? 3,100? These are the people groups yet to be pursued and penetrated with a missions effort. The number is, in fact, amazingly small compared to the resources available to us.

Consider these numbers from the January 2013 issue of The International Bulletin of Missionary Research (vol. 37, no. 1):

  • There are 44,000 Christian denominations in the world — 14 for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 700 million evangelical Christians in the world — 225,000 for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 4.5 million Christian congregations in the world — 1,451 congregations for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 4,900 Christian foreign mission sending agencies in the world — 1.5 agencies for every unengaged people group.

This is simply mindboggling. I am not unaware that most of these 3,100 unengaged peoples are in places and under regimes that are hostile to Christian presence. So I am not saying it will be easy to reach them. It will be very costly.

But if God would grant the passion and courage and wisdom, the remaining task is neither vague, nor enormous, nor unattainable. Would you join me in obeying Matthew 9:38, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”?

And then be a radical, sacrificial goer, or a radical, sacrificial sender. Jesus has all authority to accomplish this. He promises to be with us to the end of the age as we mobilize for this. What a thrilling prospect! What a cause to live for! What a holy ambition.

Closing note from Jack: Since I failed to find a suitable photo, here’s a famous quote to illustrate John’s point, “The Church is like a man wearing a deep sea diver’s pressure suit and helmet, bravely stepping into a bathtub to pull the drain plug.”

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment

Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment Launch

Finally, after years of work, tons of controversy, and reams of arguments, but with ever increasing support, the New Testament in the Jamaican language is being launched this Sunday, December 9, 2012. Jo and I are delighted that our grandson, Tyler Vanderveen, worked in Jamaica for the past seven months under Wycliffe Caribbean to promote the use of the Scriptures in Jamaican.

For generations the Jamaican Creole language, usually referred to as patois or patwa, has been looked down on, scorned, and not considered a real language. No wonder the word “patois” is never written with a capital letter.

During the years the Bible translators were working, letters to the newspaper editors and callers to radio phone-in programs presented the usual objections to translating the Bible into patois—the language spoken by about two million Jamaicans:  “Jamaican patois is not good enough to express the concepts of the Bible.” They also urged the usual advice, “Speakers of patois just need to learn English better.”

Those days are finally over. From now on, what used to be disparagingly called broken English will be called the Jamaican language. While English is the official language ofJamaica, most children grow up speaking Jamaican and learn English in school.

For centuries, every new translation of the Bible was criticized. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin around 400 AD. It was criticized because he had not translated it into the classical Latin used by orators and poets, but into the common, everyday Latin spoken by people on the street and at home. That is why they called Jerome’s translation the Vulgate. It was vulgar, not in the sense of being indecent, but of being common.

Disapproval of new translations is routine. Even the partial Bible that my wife and I translated—with the help of gifted and trained Canela associates—was disparaged. Imagine that! Whenever I showed the Canela Bible to Portuguese speaking Brazilian pastors, they automatically assumed that the translation in Canela was not as clear, as accurate, or as good as the Bible they used in preaching to their Portuguese-speaking congregations.

I did not argue with them, but I knew from sitting in their church services that when they read the archaic three-hundred-year-old Portuguese Ferreira de Almeida version, they had to take most of the sermon time to explain to the congregation what the passage meant before making an application. Meanwhile no one needs to explain what the Bible in Canela says—it speaks clearly right off the page.

Wherever in the world the Bible is translated into minority languages, someone will level criticism at it. In having their work scorned, the translators of di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment, as well as the translation teams currently working in nearly two thousand other minority languages around the world, are in good company. John Wycliffe, who did the first major translation since Jerome’s Vulgate a thousand years earlier, was strongly criticized for translating the Bible into English. A contemporary historian and fellow clergyman, Henry Knighton spoke for the clergy of his day when he criticized the translation into English as follows:

“Christ gave the Scriptures to the clergy and doctors of the Church so that they could use it to meet the needs of lay people and other weaker (uneducated) persons. John Wycliffe has now translated it into common English which has laid the Bible more open to literate laymen and women than it has formerly been to the most learned of the clergy. The jewel of the Church, hitherto the principal gift of the clergy and the divines, has now been cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and is now made ever more common to lay people.”

Henry Knighton used the wrong metaphor. The Word of God is not a jewel to be preserved in a glass case, admired, and taught about by the well-educated chosen few. Jesus Himself called God’s Word not a jewel but seed which is meant to be scattered generously everywhere and to sprout in prepared soil.

The Creator made men and women in His own image, with the capacity to hear Him and communicate with Him irrespective of their educational level. God looks for people with receptive hearts—hearts that will respond when they hear His Word in the language they understand best.

Jamaicans everywhere on earth can finally read and hear God’s Word clearly. May they respond in faith and understanding as never before.