The task of Bible translation is full of moving parts with hundreds of individuals serving to bring each new Bible to publication. Even in the best of circumstances, Bible Translation is an immense task that requires the coordination of numerous people with a wide collection of skills and training. For example, English translation teams inevitably involve numerous specialists in biblical history, culture, theology, and the biblical languages of Scripture, not to mention English language experts and stylists in order to make sure that the translation is both accurate to the original and clear and comprehensible to its audience.
When it comes translating Scripture in minority languages around the world, the challenges for making a translation only increase. Access to education in the original languages, biblical studies, and theology is often limited for national translation teams because minority language communities generally do not have the same kind of access to the educational institutions that provide the foundation for Bible translation teams for languages like English, French, Spanish or German. Further, minority languages rarely have longstanding grammar resources of their own (as English does) for analyzing the target language. More often, such grammatical and lexical tools are created in parallel from scratch, just like the new translation.
At the same time, the years of language learning are required for outside translators to learn these languages to a sufficient degree to be effective translators is prohibitive. Native speakers will always know their language best. Even more complicated, training in the original languages of Scripture is often scarce.
All these challenges result in the need for a translation process that balances the strengths of all parties involved. As portions of scripture are drafted, the Bible translation goes through the following processes, often multiple times.
- First Draft: This is a preliminary and tentative translation that will be tested and improved over multiple cycles. Revisions continue through successive drafts as the translation team works through the process multiple times.
- Review Check: The review check involves speakers of the target language reading through the translation draft, giving feedback on naturalness and grammaticality, as well as suggesting improvements. The translation team returns to this step regularly with successive drafts.
- Back Translation: A back translation is created by rendering the draft into a language of wider communication. The process is done in a phrase-by-phrase format and is often more formal in nature than would be preferred for normal reading. Back translations allow the local translation team to get expanded feedback from specialists and translation consultants who do not know the minority target language.
- Consultant Check: Skilled and experienced advisors meet with the translation team in order to discuss specific issues in the translation: cultural, theological, and textual in order to improve the long-term accuracy of the translation, working through the draft verse-by-verse. Translation consultants might share with the translation team how other languages and translation projects have dealt with similar problems and challenges, bringing a larger perspective to the local translators. Consultants also give advice on aspects of the translation project generally.
- Exegetical Check: Exegetical checking relies on specialists in the biblical languages working through the Back Translation with the translation team based on the original Greek and Hebrew.
- Consistency Check: The consistency check ensures that essential biblical and theological themes in the new translation are presented in a consistent manner so that readers can more easily follow the important narrative and theological threads that go through the story of Scripture. Key terms, Bible names, and parallel passages are examined especially closely and the motivations for why the translation team might have chosen variations are clarified and discussed. Decisions about footnotes that clarify the meaning are also made.
- Revision: The translators make changes to the translation based on input from consultants and specialists in order to make the translation as clear and as accurate as possible. Additionally, feedback from their language community and literacy specialists helps improve the readability and naturalness of the translation in the target language. Every translation goes through many revisions and each one requires active follow-through, entering the corrections on the computer, as well as further checking.
- Format and Style Check: Ensuring that supplemental material is prepared and checked, including the preface, footnotes, glossaries, maps, pictures, captions, and introductions to the books. Verses and chapters are numbered. Spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing are checked.
- Proofreading: This is the long, intense, and demanding process of checking all the details of an entire manuscript, including all the additional elements that go alongside the translation itself.
- Typesetting: Once final decisions are made on the aesthetic presentation of the book (size and style of print, overall layout and design, etc.) the edition is finally ready to print.
Wycliffe has invited us to help both translators and consultants improve in their engagement with the original languages in their translation projects & help provide a new generation of original language resources for supporting national translators. Our assignment focuses on creating new, data-driven resources in linguistics for biblical languages that:
- Help translation and exegetical consultants provide better and more informed advice to local translation teams and
- Bring better access to local translators themselves to quality original language scholarship.
We will be working with local translators and translation consultants around the world to provide language and translation resources so that minority-language communities can have the Bible in their own language. Our skill-set in language analysis and training in the biblical languages contributes to these efforts toward clear, natural, and accurate Bible translations.
We will be systemically leveraging corpus-based study of Greek and Hebrew to equip national translators and consultants with better tools and biblical language data for solving translation problems, enabling us to serve the global church and the Bibleless people in meaningful and substantive ways.
Working together with the global translation community, we will be playing an important roll in balancing speed and efficiency with accuracy and clarity. Organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators collaborate with local communities and churches, leveraging everyone’s strengths together so that the end result is a clear, accurate, and natural translation of God’s Word.
This work enables us to serve both pastors and scholars in the English-speaking world as well as the global church. Our research and analyses of the biblical texts and original languages of Scripture will advance the study of Greek and Hebrew for all invested in deepening our understanding of the Scriptures and fulfilling the Great Commission.