One of the commenters on my last blog post noted that Australian Kriol is the only Australian language into which the full Bible has been translated. On the surface this might seem surprising – obviously Australian speakers have been in contact with Christian clergy for centuries, and many missionaries make Bible translation their life’s goal. But of course, languages are messy, complex, beautiful, maddening things, and the Bible can be as well. Translation work is always a daunting task, an exercise in minimizing errors while recognizing you can never get it quite right all the time. How much more intimidating must that be for a work whose every word bears the weight of sacrament?
An interesting illustration of that is this piece a friend sent me a few days ago about a Bible translation project in Inuktitut. This is the first translation of the Bible in Canada that was carried out entirely by native speakers rather than English-speaking white missionaries. This is very important, and the project underscores the difficulty of this kind of work when undertaken by an outsider. The Bible is full of rhetorical devices like parables, metaphors, and allusions; it’s possible to translate these passages word-for-word, but that could certainly undermine the meaning of the text. What do phrases such as “He makes me to lie down in green pastures” mean to an Inuit Christian?
This article notes that this Inuktitut Bible “brims with footnotes and explications,” which made me chuckle. It would have to, wouldn’t it? In addition, the translators used imagery and concepts from their own culture for some key passages. The word “shepherd” ended up translated as someone who tends a dog team, “sort of like ‘baby-sitter.'”
I like that image. An Inuit Jesus wrapped up in a fur parka, keeping watch over His sled dogs by night.