Thursday, November 17, 2005
Bible Translated into Gullah
GOD SPEAKS IN GULLAH: GULLAH LANGUAGE TRANSLATION OF AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY CELEBRATED
November 17, 2005—The American Bible Society is celebrating the conclusion of a 26-year project to translate the New Testament in Gullah, a creole language created by slaves from West Africa who devised it from indigenous African languages and English. The announcement of the translation, De Nyew Testament, was made at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island in South Carolina, a key center of Gullah culture. The new translation went on sale to an excited crowd during the Heritage Days festival, following a special presentation to leaders of the Penn Center, a partner in the process, and to those who had contributed to the final product.
More than a quarter of a century ago the Sea Islands Translation Team was assembled under the auspices of two Wycliffe Bible Translators consultants. The team’s first effort, Luke’s Gospel, was published by the American Bible Society in 1994 to great appreciation among Gullah speakers. The team consisted of Gullah speakers who painstakingly worked their way through the New Testament, with assistance from translation experts, finding appropriate wording to express the message of the Bible in easily understandable ways. This was a joint effort of the American Bible Society, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Wycliffe, the United Bible Societies and the Penn Center
Here is a sample from John’s Gospel 1.1 from De Nyew Testament, compared with the King James Version:
Fo God mek de wol, de Wod been dey. De Wod been dey wid God, and de Wod been God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Dr. Robert Hodgson, Dean of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship at the American Bible Society, says only the American Bible Society could have printed the translation since its first concern is not a commercial one. Instead, the Bible Society’s mission is to provide Scriptures for various language groups that desire to read God’s Word in their heart language.
Dr. Hodgson says the Bible translation is one in which everyone can take pride because of its historical and cultural significance. He points out that this is more than just a Bible translation: “The Gullah New Testament raises the Gullah language and culture to a new level by enshrining the Scriptures in a creole language once denigrated as a second class version of English.” He continues, “African American churches around the country will celebrate this new translation for its lively tone and musical rhythms, reminiscent of today’s Hip-Hop vernacular, but also for its recovery of an almost forgotten chapter in the history of African Americans.”
This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Steve Berneking, a translation officer for the Bible Society, who was involved with the project. He says, “We are delighted to celebrate along with the entire Gullah community in seeing this translation move from merely spoken words to a printed form we can hold in our hands. Our hope is that this New Testament will help keep the Gullah language and culture living and active among future generations.”
Over the years, in cooperation with the United Bible Societies, the American Bible Society has provided accuracy checking for the translation and was able to bring the project to completion by providing support for its production and the actual printing of the New Testament.
One of the translation team from the beginning is Emory Campbell, executive director emeritus of the Penn Center, who says, “This New Testament has created much excitement among Gullah speakers and it is a gift to all as we treasure our heritage and work to preserve it.”
Ardell Greene, another long-time member of the Gullah translation team, calls the Gullah New Testament “a treasure” and emphasizes that “this Bible will be read in churches and our youngsters will be encouraged by it to keep the Gullah tradition alive.” As she says, “The Word of God speaks to your heart and, as a Gullah speaker, God speaks to me in Gullah.”
Vernetta Canteen, a member of the translation team, says she is “excited to actually feel it and touch it.” She believes that De Nyew Testament validates the culture and heritage of the Gullah people. As she puts it, “That’s the first time I heard God talk the way I talk.” After 26 years working on the translation, she says, “I would do it again in a heartbeat!”