In a Language Everyone Can Understand
Children from the Nadëb tribe, State of Amazonas.
Bible Society of Brazil (SBB) is supporting more and more projects of Holy Scriptures translation into Brazilian minority languages, thanks to technological advances and partnerships with Christian organizations. Although majoritarian, Portuguese is not the mother tongue of all Brazilians. In Brazil–a country that congregates communities of different cultural backgrounds– there are about 200 active languages, of which 180 are native and the others were brought by immigrants. Therefore, millions of people use, on a daily basis, a language other than Portuguese to communicate. Many of them still do not have the privilege of knowing and reading the Word of God in the language that speaks to their hearts. And making the Holy Book accessible to this population has been one of the tasks embraced by Bible Society of Brazil in accomplishing the privileged mission of bringing the Holy Bible to everyone, in a language they understand and for a price they can afford. “Cooperation to translate the Holy Bible is part of Bible Society of Brazil's DNA,” says Paulo Teixeira, SBB's Translation & Publications Secretary, pointing out that SBB, since its founding, is dedicated to transmitting the Bible to Brazilians in a clear way. One example of such effort is the revision of the translation made by the Portuguese João Ferreira de Almeida. Known as Revised & Updated, the publication was launched in 1956, just eight
years after the organization was founded. Then, in 1988, came the Bible in Today's Language, a translation recognized for making the biblical text more comprehensible to the majority of the Brazilian population. Characterized by a simple and clear language, it was thoroughly revised, being relaunched in 2000 with the title New Translation in Today's Language (NTLH). Currently, it is the fastest growing translation in Brazil. “Therefore, our involvement in projects of Bible translation into minority languages is natural,” says Teixeira. “In Brazil, the full Bible has been translated only into four languages: Portuguese, Guarani Mbyá, Guajajara, and Wai-Wai. The full New Testament is translated into other 42 languages. Everything else is being done or must be done,” explains Vilson Scholz, SBB's Translation Consultant. In order to speed up this process, SBB has been intensifying partnerships with Christian churches and organizations that work in this area by offering different types of support. One of them is the support to publication, by providing desktop publishing and printing services. This was the case of the Bible Portions
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In the Language of the Heart “I really admire how SBB operates,” says Loraine Bridgeman, who is in charge of the translation into Kaiwá. “When I'm translating the Bible, I need a lot of help from the Lord. And I think SBB complements this support,” tells the translator. The books of Psalms, Proverbs and Genesis, as well as the full New Testament, have already been published in this language. Currently, the project is being carried out by the couple of missionaries Eliane and Cristiano Barros. Living in Dourados (State of Mato Grosso do Sul), the translators are always in contact with the Kaiwá people, and they see the importance of offer the biblical text in the person's native language. “It's very gratifying when we hear from them: ‘in this way everything is quite clear to me.’ It's in those moments that we truly understand that only in one's mother tongue we can listen with the heart, therefore, making everything clearer,” explains Eliane Barros. And this is precisely one of the main incentives for the development of projects of Holy Text translation into minority languages. According to SBB's Translation Consultant, even for those who understand in part the biblical message in a contact language, such as Portuguese, the ideal communication only happens in the mother tongue. “It's the language of the heart and dreams of the people from such communities,” explains the Consultant, adding that biblical texts have already been published in 12 different Brazilian indigenous languages with SBB's support. Currently there are five projects in progress, including two related to immigration languages and one targeting the hard-of-hearing. Member of the Karajá tribe, State of Tocantins.
Preserving the Language and Culture Another key result of this translation work is contributing to the preservation of the languages, since many of them are oral, so they have no graphic record and thus face the threat of extinction because of the reduced number of speakers. That is what happened with the language of the Karajás, from the region of São Félix do Araguaia (State of Mato Grosso). Thanks to the work started in 1985 by David Lee Fortune, a missionary and linguist who translated and published the New Testament in Karajá, becoming the “father” of the language in its written form, the language has been preserved until today. SBB is now collaborating with the translation of the Old Testament by providing consultancy services and equipment. The task is being carried out simultaneously by two teams that work in an integrated manner: one led by Matson Santana, Pastor from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and another led by Fortune. “When we look for words in the Karajá language for the concepts of the ancient world portrayed in the Bible, we notice how the two peoples live based on similar elements, such as patriarchy, marriage, and other rules. This reveals that the Karajá people always had Christian values. They just didn't have the text to guide them,” explains Matson. In this process, which requires dedication and unselfishness, the involvement of community members helping the expert understand the language subtleties is essential. This is the case of Paulo Krumare Karajá, who Foto: SBB Files
in Kaingang, released in 2003, and the Bible in Guarani Mbyá, launched in 2004, but that took 46 years to be completed. And the organization was involved since the beginning in the publications in Hunsrik, 2006, and Iny-Karajá, 2007.
graduated as a bilingual teacher and works as a consultant to the team that is translating the Old Testament. “The translation is important because Portuguese isn't our language. We must have the Holy Text in our language to preach, pray and offer guidance. And that's what we've been doing, bringing enormous benefits.” Another example of this language preserving effect is occurring in Pomeranian communities in the States of Espírito Santo and Rio Grande do Sul. The project with the Germanic dialect, supported by SBB, will initially launch Bible stories for children from the Adventures of the Bible series. “Having the biblical text in the mother tongue of so many families, which still use the Pomeranian language in their basic communications, is like entering the kitchen at their homes, sitting by their stove and telling them about God's love,” compares Pastor Arnildo Münchow, who works as a translator in the project as well. Another partnership established in the past years by SBB supports the translation of biblical texts into Hunsrik (creole language derived from the German dialect Hunsrückisch), one the most spoken
Foto: SBB Files
Pomeranian community assisted by Bible translation project.
immigration languages in Brazil, after Portuguese. This task is coordinated by a team headquartered in Santa Maria do Herval (State of Rio Grande do Sul) that also develops other projects, including some at local public schools. “SBB's support has strengthened our Hunsrik preservation project, because we're also making it possible for the elderly to read and listen to the Bible in the language they've learned with their parents,” says Solange Johann, one of the leaders of the project.
Photo: SBB Files
SIL and SBB: A Fruitful Partnership SIL International has been working for over 50 years with 228 Brazilian ethnic groups, which use 185 different languages, by making linguistic analyses, creating orthography, producing literature, and offering multilingual education. One of its missions is to translate the biblical texts, counting with the support of SBB to develop some of such projects. In the following interview, Isabel Murphy, SIL-Brasil's President, talks about the challenges and importance of those translations. The Bible in Brazil: How do you assess the progress of the work of Scriptures translation into minority languages in Brazil? Isabel Murphy: There was great progress in the last years. We believe that the production so far, which includes three full Bibles and 36 New Testaments, already is very
important. But our greatest accomplishment is knowing, through testimonies sent from every region, the positive impact that God's Word has in changing the lives of people. The Bible in Brazil: What are the main challenges for the future? Isabel Murphy: The main challenge is to reach the approximately 60 ethnic groups to which we could not make the translated Bible available yet. In January 2012, we will start a long term training project aiming to enable many native speakers to make the Bible translations into their own languages. The Bible in Brazil: What is the importance of the partnership between SIL and SBB? Isabel Murphy: In addition to being a high quality partner in the steps of printing and promoting the Scriptures in ethnic languages, SBB, as it is an organization of enormous prestige and influence, has been playing a key role in defending the right of indigenous populations to have the Holy Scriptures in their mother tongues.
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Dedication and Resources A project of Holy Bible translation into minority languages requires the full dedication of many professionals. And, in addition to the many lives involved in this task, a substantial financial investment is needed. So SBB has just launched
Foto: SBB Files
The missionary Ka´egso Hery, who participates in the translation of the Scriptures into Kaingang, stresses the liberating power generated by the availability of the Word in a language understood by minority communities. “By translating the Bible we make sure that people won't need intermediaries anymore to understand God's message. Every people should have the possibility of reading the Creator's message directly from the source,” he believes. The books of Ruth, Esther and Jonah have already been published in Kaingang since 2000. The full New Testament was launched in 2005, and it is currently used by pastors in their missionary work. “Today, all my people can get to know, understand and live by the Word of Our Lord,” says Pastor Fernandes Lourenço, from the Kaingang community in Queimados (State of Paraná). In 2007, SBB started a pioneering project of producing videos with 32 Bible stories for children in Brazilian Sign Language (LIBRAS). Developed through a partnership agreement with IES (Deaf Expression Institute), and also financially supported by the American Bible Society, the project aims to complete the translation of the first eight stories in 2011. “In addition to providing direct access to the biblical message, we hope this work can contribute to teaching the Brazilian Sign Language in an emotional and fun way,” says Lois Broughton, IES's Coordinator. SBB has recently launched another challenging project for the gypsy language most spoken in Brazil, in partnership with Friends of the Gypsies Mission. “The availability of the Bible in the most different languages is a work that grows daily with new demands. Therefore, we must know how to take the right steps, at the proper moment and with confidence, but not in haste,” concludes Vilson Scholz, SBB's Translation Consultant.
Kaingang tribe’s moment of worship, Queimados (Paraná).
a campaign to raise funds for the execution and expansion of such a Herculean task. “With the financial help and prayers from every Christian, SBB will be able to continue developing those and other projects, thus offering the Word that transforms lives in the language of the heart of all the peoples,” describes Mário Rost, SBB's Institutional Development Manager and National Coordinator of the campaign. For more information on how to contribute to this missionary cause, visit www.sbb.org.br or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Languages of the World and Bible Translation • Of the approximately 6,700 existing languages in the world, only 2,508 have an excerpt of the Bible translated. • The full Bible is available in 459 languages. • The New Testament can be found in 1,213 languages. • About 840 languages have a Bible Portion translated (a Gospel, for example). • There are still 4,000 languages worldwide that do not have any part of the Bible translated. Although they are spoken by approximately 350 million people in total, they are considered minority languages because individually they are spoken by a reduced number of people.
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