Borrowing words? Or stealing?

January 7, 2014 in Mark, Bible, Bible translation, Language

Earlier this week I came across an article about how 300 Bibles in the Bahasa Malaysia language were seized for using words that originated from the Arabic language, including the word for God. This seems to be the latest in an ongoing controversy in Malaysia about whether Christians speaking Malaysian languages should be allowed to use words that historically came from Arabic in their translations of the Bible in those languages.

From a sociolinguistic point of view, a language borrowing “loan words” from another language is something that happens all the time. Of course, “loan words” is something of a misnomer, as the new words become as much part of the language as any other words, and will never be returned! English has borrowed words from a whole range of languages – French, German and Greek to name just a few.

Whenever a new concept occurs in a language, there is a need to name it, and the new name is almost never random. People generally make up the new name, either by modifying existing words in the language (hence we now talk about a “selfie”), or by using the word that was already used by speakers of another language for that concept (e.g. “pizza”). Sometimes the name is borrowed from a similar concept in another language, but the meaning changed, for example the English word “safari”, meaning a trip to see wild animals, comes from the Swahili word meaning “a journey”. The word then becomes a legitimate part of the language – a Swahili speaker can’t tell an English speaker that they are using the word “safari” wrongly just because its meaning in English is different from its meaning in Swahili. Read the rest of this entry →

Why I’m glad I’m not yet fluent in Swahili

February 28, 2013 in Life, Mark, Africa, Culture, Front, Language, Mission, Tanzania

Language learning can be hard work, especially for us Brits who hardly uttered a single word from any language other than English until age 11, (and even then only for 3 hours a week in the school classroom.) I remember looking forward to beginning to learn German as I started secondary school, and thinking that all I had to do was to memorise the German word for each English word and I’d be fluent – simple, right?! I’m glad to say my understanding of linguistics has progressed a little in the last 20 years…

Now, living in western Tanzania I find myself speaking Swahili for much of the day, alongside English, with a few greetings in some of the local languages around here thrown in. As foreigners living in Tanzania it can be tempting to see language learning as a necessary step before we can get on with our real work, a period of time we need to set aside to get up to speed with the language so we can start what we really came here to do.

But I think language learning is so much more than that. Learning the language (and culture) of another person is essentially learning to understand the world from their point of view, and as such is a never-ending journey. Read the rest of this entry →

Bio-diversity and Linguistic Diversity in God’s Creation

May 13, 2012 in Mark, Bible translation, Culture, Front, Justice, Language, Mission, Tanzania

There are around 6,900 languages spoken around the world today, and probably several million species of plants and animals. A BBC article today suggests that those areas of the world that have a particularly high degree of biodiversity are often the very same areas that are the most linguistically diverse.

The report also mentions that there are a large number of both languages, and also plants and animals, that are endangered and threatened with extinction in the coming decades. What is a Christian response to the fact that this diversity is threatened? Read the rest of this entry →

Language Matters

February 28, 2012 in Life, Prayer, Wycliffe, Mark, Bible translation, Front, Language, Mission, Tanzania

Our time at Swahili language school in Iringa is continuing well, and we are starting to look ahead to our next move west in a week or so! We had originally planned to stay in Iringa for four weeks, but have extended that by one more week so as to give Laura as much time to continue with classroom learning as possible.

Laura is really enjoying the classes and is making excellent progress, having covered the majority of Swahili grammar and learned a lot of vocabulary too. She is able to converse more and more each day, and is encouraged by how much progress she has made in just three weeks here. You can even see her speaking Swahili for yourself… Read the rest of this entry →

Kujifunza Kiswahili – Learning Swahili

February 14, 2012 in Life, Mark, Africa, Front, Language, Swahili, Tanzania

One of the most crucial parts of our adapting to living in Tanzania is being able to speak the national language – Swahili – to a reasonable level. Having spent 3 years in Tanzania before I am able to speak Swahili fairly well (I’m happy to report I haven’t forgotten too much…!), but Laura has only ever visited East Africa so has never had the chance to learn much Swahili.

In order to help her learn we are spending a few weeks at a Swahili language school along with some of our colleagues, near the town of Iringa. We are into our second week here, and Laura is already making very good progress, picking up the fundamental parts of Swahili grammar and learning quite a bit of vocabulary that will enable her to speak and listen to people. Read the rest of this entry →