The Bible, written around 1450 BC, has been translated into over 2,018 languages from the original Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
The many translations and revisions have been done to make the Word of God more accessible to people in their contemporary languages.
Jamaicans are deeply spiritual people and many have embraced the concept to translate the New Testament to patois, the country’s unofficial language.
The Bible Society of the West Indies (BSWI) plan to release the publication to coincide with Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary in 2012. In the meantime, they have launched the patois version of the Gospel of Luke in audio and print format.
Rev. Courtney Stewart, the BSWI general secretary, and translator Jodianne Scott were in Toronto last week to talk about the challenges the translation project team faces in compiling the publication that has received mixed reviews.
“The main obstacles we have encountered have to do with attitude and variations,” said 27-year-old Scott, a linguistics graduate and University of the West Indies Master of Philosophy candidate. “Language attitude is important because it makes no sense to translate the text if no one is going to use it. In terms of variations, if you go to various areas of Jamaica, you will find subtle differences in the Creole they speak…There are however some variations that we cannot readily recognize. We don’t know if it’s a regional or pronunciation difference or a rule that guides it. It’s something that we are still trying to figure out.
“We also had to find ways to get around people’s ideologies. In doing our translation, we had to be aware of some of the beliefs people associate with certain things. One of the prevailing beliefs is that Creole is vulgar.”
Jamaican patois is an English-lexified Creole language with West African influences spoken mainly in Jamaica and in the Jamaica Diaspora.
One of three translators, Scott explained the steps and the complex procedures taken in the translation process.
“We also use not just the English version, but other Creole languages to help inform us,” she said. “We are working on a translation, so we work from the Greek and move forward. The English and Creole versions that we use are only to help us to find ways to communicate something. We work with the Greek and try to understand what they are saying.
“We look at this historical context, who the author was addressing, why he was addressing, how did he say it and why did he say it that way. When we understand all of that, we will then say OK, how do the translators who worked on the KJV (King James Version), NIV (New International Version), CEV (Contemporary English Version) and the Gullah language do it and then we will say what’s the best way for us to do it when we understand all of that.”
Scott says the project goes beyond creating a Patois Bible.
“People have been taught over the years that their language is invalid and that they must speak the language of the European colonizer,” the former teacher said. “There is also the perception that anybody who wants to be associated with a higher social class must speak English…We want to use patois as a tool to teach English as a second language because that’s what it really is.
“The majority of students coming to school speak patois…It’s not that the students are stupid. We have to change the way we teach the language, so we believe this project is a step in that direction. If we can get the language standardized and implemented in schools and we can get the constitution amended to include language so you cannot be discriminated against based on language, then we are now allowing people access to information and opportunity and that’s where we believe this project will help.”
Stewart, who presented an audio and print format of the Gospel of Luke to Jamaica’s Consul General in Toronto, George Ramocan, said Jamaicans are quickly becoming enamoured by the project.
“As we go around the island, there is celebration, especially when people understand why we are doing it and how we are doing it,” he said. “It’s our aim to get it into churches and groups wherever Jamaicans are.”
Jamaican-born university professor Clive Forrester, who teaches two English Creole courses at York University, says much of the support for the patois Bible is coming from Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
“One of the ways they remain connected is through this Creole because it’s a powerful tool of communication,” he added.
York University’s Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean collaborated with the BSWI to host last week’s event.
In addition to Scott, the other translators are trained language teacher Tasheney Francis and Cumberland Community Church pastor Lloyd Millen.
Scott made a presentation last Sunday night to Revivaltime Tabernacle Worldwide Ministry worshippers.
“As long as it’s true to the original, I have no problem with it,” said the church’s founder, Bishop Dr. Audley James. “It must be able to express the original Greek text and convey the same message.”