Some things change, some stay the same

The impact of technology on translation work

Translating Scripture is a complex process and despite technological advances, will remain complex. Translating the nuances and subtlety of language; translating cultural-laden meaning to be understood in a totally different culture; translating words spoken and written by people with a Hebraic worldview for those with a different worldview; translating sentences to a language with a completely different grammatical structure, word order, and even logic, is complex work.

To solve complex matters, a well functioning team is essential: a team which works well together, whose members appreciate each other’s contribution, are able to take correction from each other, and are willing to receive input from experts outside the team. This is valuable beyond measure.

What has changed with technology is that many of the tedious ‘donkey work’ processes have been significantly sped up or in some cases are no longer even required.

Before computers, a translated verse could be typed over a hundred times from the first feeble efforts until the approved text for publication. Now it is typed once and refined (sometimes many times) with every version automatically saved.

Once a translation team needed a room full of biblical commentaries and linguistic articles and other resources, but now they are available electronically via specialised software and web-based repositories.

A translation advisor living on another continent can even check translation being done by a local translator in real time.

The days when expatriate translation workers returned home and left the local translation team to continue unassisted are also over. They can now be in regular contact by phone or internet. This is increasingly becoming the norm.

Of course not all new technology is suitable for Bible translation. Newer and faster is not always better. Recently some organisations have proposed new methodologies that they claim will see translation completed in months rather than years. It is risky for translators to allow technology to be a substitute for good processes. Bible translation remains complex and requires thoughtful, prayerful and difficult decisions by the translation team and the community it serves. That cannot be rushed.

Pray that God would strengthen the many teams working on Scripture translations.

This story is from Wycliffe Today – October 2017 Edition (PDF)

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