Translating God’s Word into the “Heart Language” of Cameroonians

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dr. Myles Leitch, head of Tyndale University College’s Linguistics Department, was invited by the Cameroon Association of Bible Translation and Literacy (CABTAL) to give a workshop from May 27th to June 7th. Dr. Leitch had worked in Francophone Central and West Africa for approximately 20 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and is a specialist in the Bantu languages of sub-Saharan Africa.

Translating God’s Word into the “Heart Language” of CamerooniansThe workshop was held in Bamenda in the mountainous North West province of Cameroon, close to the Nigerian border. This small area has more than 80 distinct language communities within 100 km of Bamenda. Six of these communities – where Bible Translation is underway – sent representatives to the workshop. The language names were Babanki, Weh, Mmen, Ngie, Esimbi and Awing. A total of 18 vernacular Bible Translators attended, and the workshop was conducted in English, the language of education in that part of Cameroon.

The workshop participants, along with Dr. Leitch, analyzed recorded stories from their own languages. Discovering the rich structure of narrative stories in the vernacular is a key step in translating narrative portions of scripture in a lively and impactful manner.

The workshop was structured to facilitate peer-to-peer learning. After a morning devotional and sharing time, there was a one-hour lecture on a topic in narrative discourse analysis, for example: Topic, Focus, Cohesion, Participant Reference, etc. The rest of the day was spent in small groups working on individual language texts, working with a specific concept from the day’s lesson. Dr. Leitch and the other two Cameroonian workshop faculty circulated amongst groups, answering questions, and stimulating discussion.

Translating God’s Word into the Heart Language of CamerooniansOn the last day of the workshop, each language group did a presentation of their narrative text including a telling of the story in the vernacular, a retelling in English (so that everyone could enjoy the stories!), and an analysis applying the concepts learned in the workshop. A highlight for Dr. Leitch was when one of the participants expressed his gratitude saying: “This was a learner-centered workshop; we are trying to learn how to do this in all our schools in Cameroon.”

Dr. Leitch hopes to make these workshops in central Africa an ongoing aspect of his mission at Tyndale, as this kind of learning has a direct and transforming impact on the language communities involved. He says: “The Word of God translated into people’s heart language is a beautiful and powerful thing. Cameroonians are doing the work, but what a privilege to be invited to help out and be an encourager!”

When summing up this recent experience, Dr. Leitch states, “I would like to thank Wycliffe Canada, OneBook, CABTAL, and Tyndale University College for their encouragement to pursue this work. Thanks are due especially to the Lord who gave good health and strength for the arduous travel involved and the friends and supporters who prayed that this workshop would be a good learning experience.”


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