Chapter 36: The Eight Steps of Our Bible Translation

Basically, there are eight steps in language translation, which we will now discuss and apply to our situation. There are also several more steps involved with the printing, but we will discuss those in the next chapter. First, though, it’s important to describe our situation in Enrile and set the stage, and name some of the players who were so important to the success of our mission there.

We moved to Enrile when we found it to be the best Itawes dialect and most apt to be readily received by the rest of the Itawes people. When we moved to Enrile, we again became the family of the people in whose home we lived. The old lady downstairs became our Tia, or aunt, and the young man, Felipe, became our cousin. Tia’s brothers, Vicente and Felipe, Sr., lived nearby. Their children became our cousins, too, and they all took the responsibility of seeing that we were introduced to people in Enrile.

One of our cousins was a teacher, so she took us to all school occasions, and introduced us to everyone there. She introduced us to many other people besides, such as political people, family friends, and anyone else who was connected with their family. If there was a death and they would be going, we went, too, or if a wedding, we were involved, and if a baby-baptism, graduation, anniversary of someone’s death, or whatever, we were invited, too.

When we were in Piat, I told you how we went about learning the language there. However, when we moved to Enrile, we had to, in effect, learn the language over again because it was different from the Itawes spoken in Piat. It took the help of many people in Enrile to make this possible.

One qualification for our helper was that she had to be an Itawes person from Enrile. The other qualification was that she must know how to read in Itawes, but it was not required that she be a high school graduate. We called on our neighbors, members of our household, and others in the town of Enrile, to help us in our project.

In Enrile, in order for the people to take our work seriously, we needed to start our work with people of influence in the fields of language and education. Enrile is a town that produced many teachers and educators compared to other towns, so was well respected for that in Northern Luzon. Two of their finest decided to help us get started in our translation work, Conrado Parallag, a retired teacher, and Division Superintendent, Sabino Acorda, who provided us with a word list and reviewed some of our first translation efforts. With this kind of auspicious beginning, it was easy to find other educated people to help us with our translation of the Bible.

Even within our own adopted extended family, we found much qualified help. Vicente’s daughter, Belen Sibal, was an elementary teacher then, and she provided us with Itawes story-charts from school which she read into our tape recorder. We used this recording to play over and over so we could memorize the stories and get the idea of the way the language went, and the proper intonation. Her sister, Florencia (Ensing) Anog, helped us in learning new words and phrases, too. When they could no longer work with us, Felipe Abbariao, Jr. began to help, and he continued helping us through the years. Now, let’s get back to the eight steps of translation.

Step 1: Learn How to Speak in Itawes (for us, Relearn How to Speak in Itawes)
The nuts and bolts of translation was mostly about learning word equivalents, grammar, verb conjugations, etc., and documenting what we learned as we went along. As I did the documentation paperwork upstairs, Chuck was downstairs working with one of our language helpers. The conversation between them was much like a game of twenty questions. The object was for Chuck to discover words and concepts that were hidden in the mind of the other person. Of course, it involved more than a series of twenty questions, and the answers were far more complex than a simple yes or no.

Sometimes we would elicit desired information in a real situation; i.e. what was talked about was actually present. We asked questions such as, “What is this? Where is the book? Tell me about that object. Show me something that’s wet. What is he doing?” or ask, “What am I doing?” accompanied by an action such as jumping, scratching, etc. Other times we used an assumed situation.

In our game, we moved from the discovery of names of objects to names of events, conditions, and abstractions such as distance, health, and morality. We also had to get relational words like conjunctions and prepositions as well as prefixes and suffixes. These were the glue that held things together and transformed a string of words into a meaningful sentence. To get this kind of information we sometimes had to ask grammatical questions. Of course, we never asked questions like, “What is the noun/verb/adjective form of that word?” Instead, we asked, “How do you say _____? Can you say ______? Use ______ in a sentence. What form of the word goes here ____? (and we gave an Itawes sentence with a blank).

Working with language helpers in such ways made it possible to learn words, meanings, and how they were used in sentences naturally. Because we worked this way hour after hour, and for other reasons, too, it was impossible to remember all the details. So we wrote the information down on vocabulary cards and spent much time in memorization in addition to the time spent with helpers. Chuck had eight years of linguistics education, so he was better in eliciting information than I was. Still. I sat in with him on many of these sessions, and sometimes I thought of things to ask, that he didn’t think of, that enabled us to get at some crucial aspect of the meaning of some word. Whenever that happened, I was very proud.

Almost all this work was done with the help of our family and friends, and it was not done in a vacuum. They all had lives and jobs in addition to being our helpers, and they got no money from us. Nor did they make us feel like we should be paying them. But, they spent much time with us, especially in the first year or so, helping us with our language learning. Uncle Felipe and Uncle Vicente helped us a lot, and then one of our cousins helped when an uncle was not available. If one of the lady cousins had to be in the field doing her farming, and no one else was available, we had Felipe Jr. help us. He was a high school graduate and reasonably fluent in English as well as Itawes, being a full-fledged Itawes man, and he knew his language well. He was not generally held in good standing with his other cousins because he had trouble with drinking, and he smoked and liked to gamble at cards or the @#!*% fights. He had a bad temper, too, when he was under the influence of liquor. At first when he tried to help us, his cousin came running and took over immediately. However, when she was too busy to do it, she finally decided it was all right if he helped us. We assured her he was qualified to do what we needed to have him do, so she needn’t worry about it.

By this time, we were both working full time with Felipe Jr. every day, and we were writing words onto the cards, filling them in, asking questions concerning various forms of the verbs, etc. We did not have a computer because computers were not in much use at that time. We had a typewriter, so we typed a lot, but we usually wrote the words down onto cards by hand. We were trying to speak in Itawes all the time, as we were supposed to be using Itawes by now to get the words we needed in Itawes.

Why? Because we were getting ourselves ready to attend the SIL workshop and we knew we needed as much familiarity with the language as possible to qualify to get in. Plus, we were already signed up to attend, so we had to step up our game, and be ready when the time came.

Step 2: The Rough Draft
Finally the time came for the workshop at Bagabag, SIL’s northern base. This was to be a 3-4 week long workshop, and a very intense time of learning. We took Uncle Vicente and Felipe Jr. with us, so each of us would have a language helper. We also took Nora, too, since we needed our cook and household helper. By that time we had another girl to help Nora, Imay, and she came with us, too, because we would have little time for doing daily chores while we were there.

The translation work started like this: for practice, we took a short Biblical story they gave us. We researched it to find the meaning, and then did the rough translating. We had commentary books written by Biblical scholars that helped us find the meanings. First we wrote one line of the original Greek text by hand on a sheet of lined paper, leaving six lines on which to do the translation. Of those six lines, one or two were used for English, and the rest for Itawes possibilities. We had both taken Greek in Bible college, so knew how to do this. After doing it for a while, we improved.

Once we had a handle on the short stories, they let us start a whole book. We chose the book of Mark, which is usually the first one translators choose because it is about Jesus, it is the shortest and the simplest of the gospels, and it tells about demons closer to the beginning of the book than any of the others. When we began translating, Chuck took one chapter, and then I took the next. We alternated chapters, and when we had finished translating the book of Mark, Chuck had done exactly one more verse than I had. I kid you not. Now we had a rough draft of the book of Mark.

Step 3: The Language Helper Check
Once we had it translated, we had to check it with someone else. Since our language helpers were already familiar with the work, we went over it with them first. Felipe was my language helper and Uncle Vicente was Chuck’s helper, so they were the first ones who actually saw what we had translated. If they realized that it didn’t make sense, they helped us to rewrite it to make more sense.

For instance, in one part, Chuck tells about how, in the story of the Triumphal Entry, the people put down branches in front of Jesus. Felipe was his translation helper then. When Felipe read that, he asked with a stunned look on his face, “Why didn’t those people want Jesus to come to their town?” He told Chuck that in the Itawes region, if someone throws branches in front of someone, that is the strongest way of saying, “Turn around and go back. We don’t want you!” This being the opposite of what happened in the Bible, we had to figure out a way to explain what happened in Jerusalem that day.

Chuck asked what the Itawes people would do if they wanted to welcome someone. Felipe said they would sweep the streets and line them with rocks and whitewash the rocks. Then they would put up a welcome sign over the road saying, “Welcome, Governor Aguinaldo and Party!” How different from a Biblical welcome.

But we couldn’t put that in our translation—that they swept the roads, whitewashed the rocks and put up a sign saying, “Welcome, Jesus and Disciples!” Why? That would be rewriting history. Furthermore, if someone knew how to read English and would read the English New Testament, they would read that the people put branches on the road in front of Jesus. Then, if they read in our Itawes translation that they swept the roads, whitewashed the rocks, and put a sign up over the road, people would know one of these translations was wrong.

Whose would they know was wrong? Ours, of course! So we couldn’t do that. We actually ended up telling the Biblical version, putting in a footnote saying this was the Jews’ customary way of showing honor, in this case, to Jesus.

This story and circumstance is typical of the kind of corrections we were able to make in the “language-helper check” phase of the translation. Sometimes major errors were avoided and other times minor ones by doing this simple check.

Step 4: The Naïve Check
The purpose of the naive check is to see whether a “naive” person, one who is unfamiliar with the text and the ideas written therein, is able to clearly understand the meaning of that text by reading it just one time. A person must be a native speaker of Itawes, having been raised in the region, and never seen the text in Itawes or any other language. We always used two people as naive checkers.

I usually did the naive checks to see if the one being checked understood the verse the way we thought she should understand it. In doing this, I made out at least two questions in Itawes for each verse, and then asked the checker both questions to see if she understood. If she could not answer the questions, then I knew something was probably wrong with what we had translated. Somehow it did not communicate correctly what we thought it should be communicating. Sometimes we could figure out right away what was wrong, correct it and go on; however, if we could not, then it had to go back to Chuck for him and Felipe to go over it, see what they thought was the problem and then deal with it.

In Enrile, I checked my work with women, working one on one. Sometimes it was with the daughters of Belen Sibal or Florencia Anog, her sister, or even one of our next door neighbors, the Lunas. Sometimes it was with older women with whom I felt comfortable. I had numerous people I worked with over the years in this way, and to me, it was an exciting task.

It was interesting how the different ones would see their job. Some felt this was a real task for them to do as a servant of the Lord. They could see the Word of God coming alive in their own language. Some had someone else take care of their babies or small children so they could do this. It was only when something drastic happened to keep them from helping me that we had to stop. If their child had malaria, I brought medicine for them to take, and if they had other physical problems, we dealt with them, too, so they could be taken care of. God helped keep them well so we could work a long time together.

Sometimes I worked with widows. One of these ladies was Mrs. Natividad Acorda, the wife of the former division superintendent of schools in the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). In fact, the day before we moved to Enrile to live, he was given a tremendous retirement party at the local Enrile North Centro School, and we were invited to go to that affair. Mrs. Acorda was a good helper when I needed her to do the second naïve check on several letters of Paul in the New Testament.

Another widow, Consorcia Doria, was also a very faithful longserving barangay captain (a public servant), and she was an excellent helper, very good in her understanding of difficult passages. Another lady, quite elderly, was Juana Maddatu who really loved the Word of God. She didn’t always understand what it was about because of her age and maybe forgetting things she once knew, but I loved to work with her so she could get more of the Word of God into her heart and mind. Her grandson, Joseph, who was just a boy at that time, used to come and listen in as we worked together. Later, he became a priest and a professor in the San Jacinto Seminary in Tuguegarao. He became one of the two Itawes priests who checked our revised Itawes Bible on behalf of the Archbishop of Tuguegarao. One day when we went to the seminary to talk to them about the translation, he reminded me that he was that boy.

Sometimes I worked with young ladies who were single. Such a young lady was Melinda Parallag who had a problem with epilepsy, so she was unable to hold down a regular job. She loved reading God’s Word in her own language, and eventually, she came to know the Lord as well as her father, Rufo, who was so excited about the Lord, he sang songs of praise for hours at a time. She later passed away due to an epileptic attack, but we were thankful she went to be with the Lord. There were many others who I haven’t mentioned, and it was a joy and a blessing to work with them all, especially as they had the Word of God unfold right before their eyes for the very first time.

Step 5: The Educated Speaker Check (Added later)
The next check is called The Educated Speaker Check. In this check we sent double spaced copies of what we had translated to people who knew English and Itawes well. They could be teachers, preachers, or anyone we felt was qualified along this line. These people read the text in English, any translation, and then they read the Itawes translation. They wrote in suggestions they may have had above the translation. If they thought it was all right, they just left it alone.

When these came back to Chuck and Felipe, they went over them verse by verse and made decisions as to whether they felt the remarks or suggestions were appropriate or should be incorporated, or if they weren’t right, they would be rejected. In translating our first book, Mark, this step had not yet been introduced. But we found we were allowing too much mistranslation without it. We realized we knew many educated Itawes people, and they were more than happy to help us get this right. So we started asking for their help, and thus, we added this step to our process.

Step 6: The Back Translation into English
At this point we thought the translation was done, but not necessarily correct. We were now ready to translate the Itawes back into English and send it to a consultant who would check it. The English translation had to reflect the Itawes way of saying it; the verbs had to be translated as verbs, and the noun phrases as noun phrases, etc. We called it a Back Translation. The reason it has to be translated back into English is to allow an “uninterested third party” to assess the validity of the translation. This third party is called a Consultant.

Step 7: The Consultant Check
The Consultant Check was done by a person who had extensive experience as a translator in the Philippines and who excelled in his understanding of how Philippine languages work. However, the consultant did not know Itawes. In fact, when he was doing the check, we were not in direct contact with him. He may have been hundreds of miles away in Manila or elsewhere. After he checked it, we got together with our helper and went over his ideas.

With his experience, he was able to recognize possible flaws in a translation, and if/when he saw something in the back translation that didn’t go with what he thought was accurate, he asked a question about it. If he had an idea as to what might be a good solution, he would suggest it. Sometimes the passages he asked about could be fixed by the translator alone, or he may have asked a question which required the translator to consult with his language helper to find out if the text was communicating what it should. At any rate, this check was really important because it was trying to bring out every possibility of making the translation as good as we could possibly get it, working as a team. When the consultant was satisfied that everything was acceptable, he filled out and turned in a form saying it was approved for publication.

Step 8: The Last Reviewers Check
After the consultant check and the rectifications made pursuant to it, we printed Mark and sent copies to the reviewers. They went over it and wrote in any suggestions they thought might make it better. Then all the reviewers got together one last time, and discussed what they had suggested and made decisions concerning the final version. (In our work on the Old Testament we combined this with the consultant check, submitting his comments to them and getting his approval on their suggested changes.) When this step was completed for all the books in the New Testament, we were finally ready to go to press.

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