Read da Bible,Island pidgin speakers now have an easier-to-understand alternative of reading the Bible. "Da Jesus Book," a translation of the New Testament into pidgin, went on sale in island bookstores this week.
A 12-year effort by linguistics
professor Joseph Grimes results
in a pidgin version of
the New Testament
By Mary Adamski
The soft-cover book was published by Wycliffe Bible Translators, the world's largest organization involved in translating the Scriptures into languages of tribal people. Retired Cornell University linguistics professor Joseph Grimes enlisted 26 pidgin speakers in the 12-year translation effort, which had its first fruit in the 1997 publication of the gospel of Matthew.
Critics have attacked and tried to ban what they hear as slang and a degraded version of English. But Grimes says linguists recognize pidgin as a creole English language. "It is a language, a very expressive language. There are other forms of creole English. What they share is a population from various roots blended together, as in Hawaii's plantation workers, who worked out a way to communicate.
"We face the idea that pidgin is just used for telling jokes," Grimes said. "When people pick up 'Da Jesus Book,' we have noticed that when they start reading, people start chuckling. They read a paragraph; by then they are in tears."
>> Fo Da Rome Peopo 3:25: God wen make Jesus da main guy, so he can be da sacrifice for hemo da shame fo all da bad kine stuff everybody do, ony if dey go trus him and dey shua dat he wen go bleed an mahke for dem. Dass how God show dat he make everyting come right."
The Rev. Franklin Chun, Iolani School chaplain, was one of three clergymen among the consultants. He has already used excerpts in Sunday services. "It's a delight to use for youth groups."
With the translation, "we accomplished something for a wider community, people who have English as a second language ... people who would have an 'aha' response when they hear or read this now in their language," said Chun, who grew up a pidgin speaker despite attending Roosevelt High School when it was an English Standard School.
Chun was impressed with the Wycliffe standards, which require not only an accurate language-to-language translation, but conformity to the theology. "Joe (Grimes) is a living lexicon of Greek, the language the New Testament writers used. It was like a living refresher course at the seminary, with my own tutor."
The seed for the book was planted in 1986 while Grimes was here on a teaching sabbatical at the University of Hawaii. He and his wife, Barbara, also a linguist and editor of the "Ethnologue," an index of the world's 6,800-plus languages, had participated as consultants on Wycliffe projects in Asia, Africa and South America and had completed a Bible in the Huichol Indian language in Mexico. He retired after 23 years at Cornell, and they moved to Makaha 11 years ago to dedicate time to the pidgin product.
The consultants translated, consulted with Grimes, reviewed and revised each others' work in hundreds of "talk story" sessions over the years. "I'm thinking in theory as we go along and can't wait to ask questions; the linguistics professor is still there," Grimes recalled.
He found that pidgin speakers prefer information to be direct. "One thing was that in pidgin, you don't talk about yourself in the third person," he said. "If it's me, you say 'me.' They get insistent." Thus, readers will find Jesus stressing he is "God's Ony Boy."
Grimes said: "Pidgin uses phrases to express an idea, whereas English or Greek would use a single word. A pidgin speaker would call the big word 'hybolic,' which has the connotation of pretentious."
>> John 3:16: God wen get so plenny love an aloha for da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max foeva. You know, God neva send me, his Boy, inside da world for punish da peopo. He wen send me fo take da peopo outqa da bad kine stuff dey doing."
He said a concept that can be taken figuratively in English would be taken literally in pidgin. For example, the idea that "you will never die" could be understood in English as meaning spiritual life. In pidgin it would be taken as physically not going to die.
"Many concepts in the Bible are familiar, like forgiveness," Grimes said. "The idea is that you want to get even, but you make the choice not to. In pidgin, you say 'let him go.'"
Barbara Grimes said the subtlety of pidgin surfaced in conveying the added dimension of God's forgiveness. "With God there is more to it; he lets us go, but he also takes away the shame," she said. "On the mainland we would talk about guilt, but here shame is more of a big deal ... for Asians, for Hawaiians." Discussion led to the use of "hemo our shame."
Grimes said: "The product checks out theologically. Wycliffe gave it a fine-tooth-comb treatment." Among the Wycliffe reviewers were an expert in Papua New Guinea pidgin who recognized the island language's "different way of packaging ideas"; another was a woman who checked figures of speech.
"For instance, the use of light vs. dark, which is used as a figure of speech showing good vs. bad or understanding vs. not understanding," Grimes said.
"But for a pidgin speaker, it is not used that way. You can't rely on any metaphor to transfer exactly. We squeeze the juice out of the metaphor ... then put in extra juice from pidgin."
They don't expect unanimous acceptance, Grimes said. "For people who think of pidgin as a debased language, they might see this as a kind of insult to Scriptures, translating it into a low-life language. If they would take the time, they would see that people 'get it' beautifully in pidgin."
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