Excuse me while I “cover my feet”: Lost (and found) in translation, installment #9

Students and other teachers for classes in Sociolinguistics & Principles of Bible translation, held in Slovakia

I’m home from Slovakia; thank you for your prayers! In addition to the conference with The Word for the World Bible Translators (TWFTW), I taught a week of classes to our Roma Bible translators on the subject of sociolinguistics. They also had a second class on Bible translation principles. It was a joy to see the Bible translators in person after a year’s time; we see each other weekly over Zoom but it was great to catch up in person, worship together, share meals, and be together in one place for 10 days.

students in sociolinguistics class

So what is sociolinguistics and what does it have to do with Bible translation? Well, think about all the ways you use and respond to language each day: talking to your spouse, kids, friends, work colleagues; listening to radio or TV; reading and writing e-mails and text messages; talking on the phone; reading web pages, telling jokes; listening to sermons; giving a presentation for work; greeting a neighbor; reading the Bible; reading a novel; posting a comment on social media; singing; and the list goes on and on. Sociolinguistics involves examining how we use language in different ways depending on our purpose and goals at that time, the social settings we are in, how our given culture behaves, and what our role is in a given act of communication. In essence, it is the science of how people communicate with other people in various cultures and in specific social situations.

Todd teaching Sociolinguistics

And all of this affects Bible translation to some degree. Here’s one example: there are certain topics which many cultures are reticent to talk about directly so they have developed euphemisms. “Going to the bathroom” is one of those topics and it occurs in 1 Samuel 24:3, where it says that King Saul found a cave and “went in to relieve himself”. The Hebrew says that he went in “to cover his feet”. Some Croatian and Serbian translations say “to carry out a necessity”. The Roma idiom is “to go outside”, which probably stems from the fact that historically, many of them did not have indoor plumbing, so went outside to use an outhouse. In Bible translation, we have to decide the best way to translate this so the topic is clear, and yet the way we refer to it is appropriate in polite company. Thus for sociolinguistic reasons, we use a euphemism.

Please pray for me and the Roma translators as we make frequent decisions about the best way to translate, including euphemisms.

Gurbet language translation team
part of Chergash language translation team
part of Arli language translation team

Thank you for your prayers & support!
Todd & Pamala (Kirsten, Daniel & Ariela) Price

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