Bible Translation and Camp Wycliffe -- By: Eugene A. Nida

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 099:394 (Apr 1942)
Article: Bible Translation and Camp Wycliffe
Author: Eugene A. Nida

Bible Translation and Camp Wycliffe

Eugene A. Nida


“And will you pronounce it again for the class, Mr. Iglesias?”


“Thank you. And that is right about the accent being on the third syllable. And now I wonder if you can tell us just what it means?”

“Yes, indeed. ‘We two once just about got hit with a stone but we didn’t.’”

And then we proceed to ask Mr. Iglesias about the meanings of the ten different grammatical elements involved in this one word. Usually it would be impossible to ask an informant about the various elements within a word, but Mr. Iglesias, a native San Blas Indian, is exceptional in the fact that he was a student during the 1940 session of Camp Wycliffe. He had come for special training in how to reduce to writing his own native San Blas language, for as a missionary to his own people he had wanted to give them a translation of the New Testament as soon as possible and with an accurate scientific alphabet. These San Blas Indians were just like the other 1000 tribes in the world which as yet have not received any of the Word of God in their own language.

“But is the San Blas language a primitive language?” someone asks. Yes, it is a so-called primitive language, but one should not think that such languages are overly simple or have inadequate means of expression. In fact, quite the contrary. If one were to conjugate the verbs of many of

these aboriginal languages, one would discover as many as 100,000 different forms. This makes the Greek and Latin languages, which have only several hundred forms, seem quite simple in comparison. Moreover, many of these so-called primitive languages have modes of expression quite foreign to our own. For example, the so-called inclusive and exclusive first person plural always presents difficulty for missionaries. In English we say “we” and make no distinction between whether we mean ourselves and the audience, which would be one form in the foreign language, or whether we imply ourselves and others, not including the audience. A missionary in Africa had not discovered this distinction and was involved in considerable embarrassment, for when he spoke on, “We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God,” he used the form which implied him and his associates and did not include the group to which he was speaking. The natives, of course, could not understand why any white man would go to the trouble of traveling so far to tell them that he and his friends were sinners, when the fact was quite obvious from the white man whom the natives had met...

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