I have written several times that translation committees are key to the success of translation in Africa. Have good translators is also important, of course. A translation committee is a group of carefully selected volunteers from the language community who oversee the work of the translators including setting goals, raising funds, creating awareness and organizing the sale and distribution of the translation. How well the committee does its job can affect how well the translation is accepted and how widely it is distributed and read. If it does not work well, some churches might just refuse to use translation, sticking with English or a regional language.
Siwu committee with regional translation coordinator
The translation into the Siwu language in Ghana’s Volta Region had a very dynamic and well-known translator who raised a lot of awareness for the translation and promoted it. When he fell ill and passed away, the translation committee knew that it would have to pick up the slack. Michael Serchie, the regional translation coordinator (center front) helped the community update the committee and revitalize it.
Michael is serving translation programs in more than a dozen languages. But even his wise and dynamic leadership is not enough if the language communities themselves are not interested enough to get involved. Sometimes, it takes a dramatic turn of events to get things moving. Michael saw that was happening and jumped in.
Pray for the translation in Siwu, and for the committee that they would work hard to see it widely used and distributed.
For the last few months, I have focused my work in Ghana on the question of making language committees more effective. It’s probably not clear to you what that means, so I’m going to dedicate a few blogs to the topic.
Language committees are a crucial cog in the translation machine serving minority languages in Africa. They play a very different role in translating into major languages like English. So my descriptions do not apply to those languages.
A program to translate the Bible into a language in Ghana involves five groups of people / organizations.
- Translation agency
- Funding agency
The translators, also called the translation team, are just that – those who do the translation. These days, they are a group of 2-4 speakers of the language screened and chosen for their role and given special training. They are usually employed full time.
The reviewers are a group of unpaid volunteers who meet occasionally to read the draft translation proposed by the translators and comment on it. They mostly consider whether the draft translation communicates clearly.
The translation agency is an organization specializing in translating the Bible. It has experts in biblical languages, translation, and linguistics. It gives training, carries out accuracy checks, identifies which languages need translation, and works with language communities and churches to set up new translation programs, among other tasks.
The funding agency raises funds for translation in smaller languages.
The language committee is a group of unpaid volunteers which meets from time to time to initiate then guide the translation effort. They have a lot of responsibilities such as:
- Choosing (with the help of the translation organization) and supervising the translators
- Mobilizing their community in support of the translation, including giving.
- Coordinating with the translstion and funding agency.
- Setting program goals (New Testament, Old Testament, Jesus Film. etc.)
- Promoting and/or organizing adult literacy
- Choosing the reviewers and assuring they work well.
- Stocking and distributing the translation,
As you can see, the language committee is, or at least should be, the glue that holds all the pieces together. In my next post, I’ll give examples of what can go wrong if the committee does not do its job well.