Archive for the ‘linguistics’ Category

On Friday a consultant submitted to me the Falam Chin Bible for final approval. This Bible is for the Falam Chin people who are in mainly in northern Myanmar, but whose diaspora is all over the globe. The translator, our new director for the Myanmar office, is an extremely hard worker (along with his team). He began his NT in 2002 and finished that in 2009. We quickly adopted the OT project in 2010, and he’s just about got it done. Only 15 years to translate an entire Bible! That may seem like a long time to you, but for those of us who do this work every day, that’s an incredibly fast pace. Our current average for finishing a NT is just under 15 years, and then just under 18 years for the OT. So, that would be an average of about 33 years to complete the Bible. In comparison, the Falam Chin Bible took less than half as long as our average. What an amazing feat that God enabled the Falam Chin translation team to accomplish. Praise God!

The prayer request, though, is that we would be able to complete funding, which has to be done before we can send it to the printer. We still need around $40,000. Pray that God would provide these remaining funds soon!

Last week I exchanged a number of emails with our Metanoia NT team and with linguistics consultants with another organization, and we had a Skype conversation or two. We are trying to figure out what letters to use for the velar and uvular sounds–e.g., like our English “k” and “q.” Metanoia has aspirated sounds and ejective sounds in this area of the mouth, and it can be quite difficult to tell the difference. As my wife was speaking in Russian to the translator, he was giving her examples of words with these sounds, and then she was trying to reproduce them for me to hear. Since Russian and Ukrainian don’t have the same exact sounds, it was almost impossible for me to hear a distinction. Needless to say, we need to wait until we see them in June to hear the sounds in person. Pray for us to have wisdom to know how to help them! We want to get this settled soon so that we don’t have to keep correcting the spelling of words in the NT translation. Pray also for wisdom for us in helping them decide whether to use words based on the language of a neighboring country (which most believers in their area know) or words based on their current country (which most unbelievers would know). That’s another issue we have to tackle in June.

Since I couldn’t go on any trips because of the possibility of a Pente research trip (which hasn’t happened yet) for the first three months of the year, I was stuck at home (which I loved!). That gave me the opportunity to get caught up on emails and projects. Some emails, which I call my “backburner” emails, went back to 2010. I had 62 of them waiting for me! But as of today, there are only 10 more! Of course, the craziness is going to get started up again on Friday, when we go on furlough for 2 months, and I don’t know when things will calm down again, though December looks pretty promising. May God give grace!

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I went into this trip still trying to get over my laryngitis and bronchitis, so I was concerned that the pressure changes on the plane would cause me serious pain. But God had apparently healed me enough to keep me from having any problems. My voice wasn’t strong enough to preach the first Sunday in Myanmar, but I was able to give a testimony to encourage the people. I wanted to save my voice to lead the consultant seminar during the week, so I passed up the opportunity to preach in the service.

This is the third year we had the seminar in Asia, and it’s the first time we did it in Myanmar (usually it’s in India). The plan was to hold the seminar in the new Myanmar Translation Center, but because of various reasons for delays, we weren’t able to use it, though the construction is probably 90% complete. Instead, the Lord provided a nice air-conditioned room in a local Bible college (connected to one of our adjunct consultants). We had no Plan B for the seminar, but God worked it out that the seminar would occur after Bible school graduation, which allowed us to have use of the Bible school facilities. I heard it would have cost a couple hundred dollars per hour to rent a room in Yangon, so we were so thankful that God prepared for this Plan B!


God worked in such a way that around 10 of us converged in Myanmar for a week of technical sessions to help us be better consultants for the Lord. I scheduled workshops around the seminar so that consultants would not have to pay for their travels (since workshop travel is covered by BI). This was the most well-attended Asia Consultant Seminar yet! In addition to the consultants, we also had translators (the Falam Chin translator is in the right back row above) and our interim BI director, Gary Walton, join us for a few days.

Each consultant who attended gave a presentation. I intentionally worked it out this way so that I would not have to bear the full load of preparing material. Plus, our consultants are extremely talented and knowledgeable, so we benefit more by allowing all to share. We discussed the importance of visiting the land of Israel to understand biblical backgrounds, fluency for Scripture engagement, James Kugel’s The Idea of Biblical Poetry, discourse analysis of Mark 12:1-12, neologisms and compound words, and difficult passages in Proverbs and other places in the OT. We also gave significant time to lexicography (dictionary making) and ParaTExt (our Bible editing program). We are seeing more and more the value of producing dictionaries to improve our translations and help our language groups.


During the seminar, we also enjoyed many informal times of team bonding, which is actually the primary purpose of the seminar. We got to see a second edition of Judson’s Bible, took a river cruise, and ate at many different restaurants (including an Indian one above, where the order was yelled out to the kitchen right after we told the young boy waiter what we wanted).


After my time in Myanmar, I head to Singapore to give a report at and minister to our supporting church there. I so wish Oksana where with me for this trip (as we originally planned before she got pregnant), and especially for this part of the trip, because I wanted her to meet my dear friends in Singapore. I had the privilege–at their request–of teaching both churches (Pasir Panjang Christ Church and Grace Independent Baptist Church) about English Bible versions and giving them the facts of the situation to help them deal with those who try to unsettle them about “missing verses.” My voice wasn’t strong enough to sing on the first weekend in Singapore, but I was able to teach in SS and preach in the AM service. On the following Sunday, I was asked to speak in all three slots, and God strengthened my voice for that task. I enjoy getting to eat with friends in Singapore, because the fellowship is so encouraging and the food is so good. In the picture below, I’m eating amazing Chinese food with Pastor Joshua Wong, the pastor of the first church (PPCC). I don’t have pictures of the second church I visited, but I really enjoyed being with Pastor Ping Ngian and his family and church. My last time with the church was in 2011, so it was good to see them again.


Between my two weekends in Singapore, I took a trip to southern India. I can’t say too much about this trip because of the increased sensitivity of Indian immigration, but I will say that I accomplished all my objectives, by God’s grace and thanks to many people’s prayers. I had been concerned ever since I began planning this trip a number of months ago that it would be extremely challenging to travel in this part of the country by myself not knowing anyone. But God guided and protected me all the way. God uses the experiences I’ve had in traveling to help me avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers (one driver purposely took the long way to try to get more money from me!) and stay away from danger (one taxi got into a small accident in Bangalore). Ultimately, it was not my travel smarts that protected me, but my powerful Deliverer. I enjoyed doing some site-seeing on the trip too. At one place I visited, I got to see many monkeys freely climbing around the Hindu temples.


I’m always struck by the blatant idolatry whenever I visit India. Walking down the streets of one area within an ancient fort, I was reminded of Paul’s experience in Athens in Acts 17. What incredible needs for the gospel to go forth with power in India!


During the trip, I usually had enough Internet access to connect with my wife, for which I am so thankful. We even got to use Skype at times in all three countries. And most of all, I’m thankful that God protected her and our unborn child, and that He kept her from delivering our baby until I got back. Less than a month away!

Pray for four of us who will spend Tuesday and Wednesday working out the particulars of a new constitution at Bibles International. We need much wisdom as there is so much pioneer thinking to do!

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The summer has flown by and is not going to slow day in August. It really picked up speed in July when we went to BMM Candidate Seminar in early July for Oksana. Here’s a picture of her class:

Class of 2016.jpgAfter the seminar we had a few meetings in PA and NJ and then headed across the eastern states to WI for the Bible Faculty Summit hosted by Maranatha Baptist University. Here’s a picture of the group of profs (and others) who attended that.

2016.07 Bible Faculty Summit.jpgIt was a great time of fellowship and learning. I really appreciated the warm-hearted scholarship taht this summit promotes. I hope I can attend next year’s summit which will be hosted by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

On Tuesday of this week we at BI will begin our annual Consultant Seminar. It should be our best attended seminar yet, as we’ll have around 30 by the end of the week. We look forward to learning about lexicography by an SIL expert, whom we have invited to teach us. She has a wealth of training and experience so I know we will learn much. We hope to make dictionary-making more a part of our process. I will be leading the seminar, and my mom with Oksana’s helping will be overseeing food preparations, so it will be truly a family affair!

Our annual picnic is right after that and then we fly out to Eurasia for another workshop on the Metanoia NT. So, as I said earlier, it’s going to be a very busy month. We look forward to taking a vacation in Ukraine on our way back from the workshop.

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This morning I just dipped into Stephen Doty’s dissertation (2007), The Paradigm Shift in Bible Translation in the Modern Era, with Special Focus on Thai. He explains that it was Eugene A. Nida of the United Bible Societies in the mid-20th century who greatly influenced the Bible translation world by his development of the “functional equivalence” (he actually coined the term “dynamic equivalence,” a translation philosophy that predates him but was brought to a systematic form by him; but today people call it “functional equivalence) approach to translation.

Doty then explains that SIL extended this approach toward a “meaning-based” approach. He explains that this new approach is “freer in several respects than Nida’s approach.” He notes in chapter 3 that some translators have taken this new approach too far (which I will heartily affirm!).

However, his dissertation documents how the pendulum has shifted back to a more literal approach in the 1980s and 1990s. He explains that translators realized they were going farther than Nida had proposed, but that they should also progress beyond his overemphasis on the “Code Model” of language and instead focus on “relevance.” Therefore, translations into minority languages became more literal in the late-20th century (a welcomed shift in my mind!).

I look forward to reading more of Doty’s dissertation someday, but I at least wanted to get these introductory thoughts down.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently read bits of Richard L. Heldenbrand’s Christianity and New Evangelical Philosophies (1999) in which he exposes the relativism that underlies Nida’s thoughts. He explains the two key thoughts that show Nida’s view of Scripture:

The Biblical revelation is not absolute, and

All divine revelation is incarnational.

Heldenbrand rightly sees the Hegelian dialectic in these ideas. If Heldenbrand is correct in his identification¬† of the relativistic threads in Nida’s thinking (and I have no reason to think otherwise), Nida’s theory of translating is surely built upon shifting sands. These threads, then, are interwoven into all modern extensions and developments of his theory. How much better it is to see Bible translation as a means of preserving God’s Word, rather than stepping in to mediate it by added interpretation and clarification!

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Some of our consultants recently returned from a linguistics workshop with various of our language groups in NE India. Among many linguistics issues, they were trying to teach syntax to the translators and also discover how these syntactical features work in their language. One consultant wanted to teach about transitive verbs (action verbs with a direct object), so she used the sentence, “He hit the ball.” One language group said that they couldn’t express this simple sentence without also specifying the instrument used to hit the ball–a bat, a hand, etc. You have to state the means by which the action is accomplished as well as the instrument itself that was used.

The consultant went on to point out how identifying the instrument correctly can have significant theological implications, particularly when it comes to describing the process of salvation. In Ephesians 2:8-9, it is very important to identify grace as the means by which we are saved, not what is given to us after we have earned our salvation. What a world of difference!

So, syntax and grammar are extremely important for our work! That’s why we are developing a Linguistics Training Manual for Translators. We will use this manual to guide the translators in understanding better how the grammar of their language works, and with that knowledge, they will be able to produce a more grammatically correct translation, which will also mean a more theological correct one as well!

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I’ve been very delinquent in my blog posts! I apologize to those who read my blog regularly and have been disappointed to find nothing since Dec. 17. Life has been pretty crazy since then, but I’m sure I could have carved out a few minutes if I really wanted to.

The last half of December was somewhat of a blur primarily because of Oksana’s miscarriage. We found out on December 14 that she lost the baby. We met with an Ob-Gyn doctor on December 17 to find out that Oksana needed to have a surgical procedure done to clean out her body. Oksana had an ultrasound done on December 21 and were told that she may have had a molar pregnancy. Surgery was set for the 23rd. It was not an easy day, especially when I heard an emergency call while waiting for her in the waiting room. The call said “emergency response team needed!” Thankfully, I found out when I went to see her that the team was not needed for her!

After they tested the tissue from the surgery, they determined that she definitely had had a partial molar pregnancy. Our hearts were heavy, because we thought that meant no more children and also the possibility of cancer.

Oksana’s first few days after the surgery went well as she progressively got better. We had a very enjoyable Christmas together–our first Christmas as a married couple. But then she started feeling worse and worse over the weekend. By Monday, Dec. 29, it became clear that she needed to be taken to the emergency room. Apparently, not all of the tissue had come out, so her body was fighting to get rid of it by bleeding it out. It was not easy to see my wife suffering as she was. Plus, we were both concerned about what it might mean. To top it all off, the weather was terrible that Monday night–howling winds, snow-covered roads, and a wintery mix coming down. The snow plows weren’t able to keep up with the precipitation. People had been let out of work early to avoid the danger, and here I had to drive d0wntown in the midst of it! But thankfully, we arrived safely.

The ER personnel were able to get Oksana stabilized and comfortable, and the doctor who visited us assured us that everything was OK. The surgery took place early the next morning, and by late morning we were on our way home.

Oksana began recovering quite well again. In fact, she had such little bleeding that we wondered if that were a bad sign. We met with the surgeon the following Monday and found out that everything seemed to be going as it should. We had been concerned that we wouldn’t be able to leave for Ukraine the following Tuesday, January 5, but the doctor assured us that the second surgery was quite successful. So, we headed to Ukraine on January 5!

While in Ukraine, she saw many of the doctors that she had seen in the past. She also got blood tests done to make sure her HCG level was dropping, and she got an MRI and a few other things done. The quality of the care in Ukraine is quite good, and the costs are only a fraction of what they are in the USA. It was an extremely busy vacation for us, especially for Oksana, but we are thankful that we got almost all medical things done. We’ll need to follow up with other appointments here in the US.

On January 16, we flew to a country in Eurasia for a workshop, and we had a “scare” happen only a few days later. Oksana began bleeding again, causing us to wonder if we’d need to seek out help in this foreign country where we knew very few people. That night, though, Oksana and I turned it over to the Lord, and then we asked the translators to pray the next morning. The Lord healed her body and gave her such peace that she almost forgot she had anything to be concerned about. Praise God!

(After we returned to the US on Sunday, she had a blood test done. On Tuesday we received a very welcomed phone call–her HCG level had dropped to the normal level, indicating that she doesn’t have cancer. What a blessing!)

This allowed us to focus on the workshop. The first half of the workshop was taken up with a linguistic study of the target language. I had to study a related language in the region, which is extremely complicated, but the Lord gave me grace to understand both how that language works and how the target language works–to some extent. I would ask them about a particularly syntactical issue and then we would look at examples in the translated text they had completed. Then, I would write down my observations. This language has no books written in it, so the written form is not standardized at all. In fact, at the workshop we were trying to finalize what letters they want in their alphabet. It was exciting to help this language group standardize their language so that they can eventually have a quality NT translation. Seeing God’s grace enable me to help them was confirmation to me that I’m right where God wants me to be.

And seeing how God enabled Oksana to help me with her Russian translation was confirmation that God had brought to me the right girl to be my wife. It was my first time to do this type of workshop, and I found that it works better to explain the concept I wanted to teach to Oksana first before she could translate it bit by bit to the team. Normally, when I use an interpreter, I just do sentence by sentence, but that doesn’t work so well for this type of workshop. Oksana’s knowledge of Russian grammar really helped me too. And sometimes, when we were working through the biblical text, she would see something I had missed. What a blessing to see God’s infinite wisdom in leading Oksana and me to each other and to this project!

It was also confirmation for the translation team. They really enjoyed studying the linguistics and grammar of their language, and they appreciated greatly knowing how their language works from a technical viewpoint. They assured me that it would help them produce a better translation. They also expressed great appreciation for having chosen BI to help them with their project. Praise God!

Now I have only 3 weeks to prepare for a Haitian Creole workshop, which will take place here at the BI office. But I also need to catch up from weeks of being overseas or at home trying to help my wife while also getting ready for the Eurasia workshop.

Pray also for my church’s missions conference in early March, especially since I’m the coordinator. The conference begins the day that the Haitian Creole workshop ends. It’s going to be a busy month!

BTW, I thank God for leading Grand Valley Baptist Church to become our sending church. This happened while we were in Eurasia. They will also start supporting us monthly. We are also thrilled that Calvary Baptist Church in Clymer, PA, decided to start supporting us, and my former home church in SC, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, increased their monthly support. We now have 81% of our needed support. We have 17 meetings this year, 11 of which are at non-supporting churches, so we pray the remaining support will come in this year.

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Oksana and I will embark on our first extended road trip tomorrow, going to PA and then eventually to IL. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road with her. We took a one-week trip to SC last week and thoroughly enjoyed being with my home church, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, and with my family. Oksana did a great job of sharing her testimony in front of the 600-person crowd last Wednesday. It was a joy for me to present her as the answer to my 25-year-long prayers for a wife. I got a little choked up as I introduced her and shared the good things God has done in my life. I am thankful that I can be a living witness to the truths of Lamentations 3:25-26:

 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

I definitely haven’t been perfect in my wait for the “salvation of the Lord” in marriage, but I have kept my heart pointed toward Him the whole time. I knew that He knew of my needs better than I did, and that His infinite wisdom and power would know the best time to grant me my deep heart’s desires. I hope we were an encouragement to the other singles at the church who continue to wait. We heard many encouraging things from the people there after the service and the next day at the wedding reception. The outpouring of their love was almost overwhelming, so our hearts went away filled with contentment and joy.

It was also a joy to take Oksana around on my “old stomping grounds.” We got on the campus of Bob Jones University a few times to tour it and meet friends and prospective consultants. We also went downtown a few times to see the beautiful sites there. On Saturday night we enjoyed getting gelato with my mom as we celebrated her birthday, and we were surprised but thankful that we ran into three guys speaking Russian. You never know!

On Monday we headed back up north, stopping off at the warehouse of Widow’s Jar Ministries to pick up some free household items. We are very thankful for this ministry that collects materials for missionaries to come and take at no cost. What a blessing! They helped us save around $400 in expenses! We arrived back home on Tuesday night.

So, we’ve had 3 days to unpack and get ready to re-pack. We look forward to being with the people at Worthington Baptist Church in Worthington, PA, and then Swissvale Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, PA. We also get to see some supporters in that area. Pray for effective ministry to these churches!

I did some reading on Classical Hebrew, and you can find notes from that on my Translator’s Page.

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