That is why it was called Babel – because the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:9 (NIV)
The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan.
Judges 12:5,6 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
I Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
You may think I’m strange, but I like trying to solve language problems. The kind of problems we had to figure out in phonological or grammatical analysis class way back when we were in school were especially fun – they were like puzzles where we knew we should be able to find the right answer. Dealing with linguistic analysis in the real world is a little more challenging, because the problems we have to figure out as Bible translators are not carefully constructed to lead to a satisfying conclusion. Still, even though the languages of the world are incredibly diverse, bewildering at times, they are rule-governed, learnable and analyzable. The amazing thing is that as we try to understand another language that has never before been analyzed, we can be confident that the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fit together. We might not even have to resort to the use of a hammer to make them do so.
In the past year I’ve been helping Ken Decker as a linguistics consultant. Ken, when he was a translator working on Belize Kriol, wrote a grammar of that language. The primary purpose of his grammar is to help Belizeans better understand Kriol, their own language, and also understand the differences between Kriol and English. Such grammars and dictionaries help people understand the uniqueness of these undocumented languages and they also promote the use of the translated scriptures. Ken has done an excellent job of analyzing and describing the language, and for the most part my job has been as editor, helping refine the analysis and presentation.
But there was one part of his grammar that especially caught my attention. The part about time reference and verb tenses was short, and I asked why he didn’t say more. He explained that he was not confident enough about how verb tenses work in Belize Kriol, so he just said that that area needs further research. But this was a topic that I have researched. In fact I am finalizing an article on “Tense, Mood and Aspect in the St. Lucian Creole Verb Phrase” to be published in a book on creole languages. So I proposed to Ken that we try to tackle the subject together. The key, we found, was to distinguish between two classes of verbs, stative and non-stative. Once we sorted out which verbs were stative and which were non-stative and how each type expressed time reference differently, we could see that a meaningful pattern really did exist, even though it was not at first obvious. Native speakers knew what “sounded” right and what didn’t, but now that the rules have been spelled out, this information can guide the translators into making a clear and natural-sounding translation.
International Conference – The Wycliffe family of Bible translation organizations (WBT-USA and others) has an international conference every three years in conjunction with the triennial conference of SIL International. The latest such conference was held here at the JAARS Center this past June. There were inspiring presentations by leaders and invited speakers, reports from the field, and important topics discussed. Mark was in the thick of things as assistant to the corporation secretary. Lynn and I also helped, in registration and as log keeper.
Conferences and Workshops – In August I (David) attended a conference in Trinidad on creole languages where I presented a paper on sources of vocabulary in St. Lucian Creole. In September I was at the International Linguistics Center in Dallas participating in an Americas Group Consultants Caucus. The goal of that meeting was to develop a plan to guide us consultants in helping our fellow translators finish the Bible translations needed in the Americas in this generation. (I am still working on a committee now to develop a “Goals for Completion” strategy statement.) As soon as I got back from Dallas, Lynn attended a two-week workshop here at the JAARS Center, getting some orientation for those who, like her, are preparing analyses of specific New Testament books as an aid for translators. In October I was at the International Linguistics Center in Dallas again, for two weeks this time, attending a workshop for consultants. In the middle of my time in Dallas I took a short trip to St. Lucia – I will have to write more about that later.
Family – Our children have made the transition from St. Lucia to the States, and now our firstborn, Mark (17), has made the transition from high school to college, off by himself. He was awarded a wonderful Johnston Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has been thriving there so far, even if he doesn’t get as much sleep as he should! The children are all doing well in school. Kimberly (14) still loves to get involved in various activities – the volleyball team most recently. She is doing well with cello, Michael (12) is taking his second year of clarinet and Mark is getting private piano lessons at college. Last May all three acted in an impressive theatrical production of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia put on by the music director and youth at church. Mark was Aslan, Kimberly was Susan and Michael was Father Christmas.
In June our family was able to attend a retreat in Orlando, Florida, where we got better acquainted with our colleagues working on Bible translation in the Americas. It was part reunion – including Paul and Cindy Crosbie, our former partners in St. Lucia, who are now working in Belize – and part getting to know others better. While we were there we got one of the first tours of the brand-new WBT-USA headquarters, and we were also able to get a new prayer card made for our family.
There has been so much happening that we are going to have to follow up this letter with another one soon to report on what has been going on in St. Lucia. We do appreciate your interest, your prayers and your contributions that make our work possible. We do count on your prayers as we seek to use our gifts to serve God and our fellow man.
David and Lynn Frank,
Mark, Kimberly, and Michael