More About Cool Computer Programs & Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation – Pt. 2

Last week I gave you some of the interesting background of how the advance of technology and the computer age we live in has helped the cause of Bible translation work.  Isn’t it incredible to think that only a few decades ago, translators had to write all of their language data on 3″ x 5″ recipe cards and file them in their appropriate shoebox.  Read about that here.

Now it is impossible to think that we can do language learning and translation work without the use of a computer.  Even by 1997, when I started learning the village language in that remote location in Papua New Guinea, we had brought along with us solar panels and deep cell batteries to run my computer in the village.  Thank goodness for the advance technology of laptops though, because that first IBM desktop was a real bear to get to and set up in our village.

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Back to the present now, I had started to tell you in the last article about a very cool program called “Paratext”.  Remember all those windows that were open in the one program?  I had Greek or Hebrew in two windows, English Bibles and commentary helps in a few more.  I would look at the Tok Pisin (PNG trade language) in another, and then a few more held the vernacular village language of the text I was going to do the consultant check on.  I’ll show you again what it looks like:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

So at any given time, I usually have about four languages going on inside all these windows.  It would take a lot of time (or sentences) to explain everything that I can do with this program.  But let me give you a peek into one corner, and show you what I do.  I will open up the Hebrew language corner where I am working on the Psalms.

The first thing I want to show you, even though you probably don’t know Hebrew, is what amazing things you can learn when you can read the Bible in the original language that it was written in.  (The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.)  I will paste the blown up picture of the Hebrew-English Interlinear text.  It looks like this:

Psalm 121 in Paratext Hebrew (800x427)

Underneath the Hebrew text you get a grammatical breakdown of the words in green, and then an English word gloss for the Hebrew word in the light purple.  I highlighted one word in yellow.  One of the interesting things about Hebrew is that most of its vocabulary is based on a three consonantal root form.  This particular root (שׁמר) has the basic meaning of “to guard, to watch over, to protect” .

This passage is from Psalm 121 which starts with a statement and then a question in verse one, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from?”  That was a good question back in the time of the Israelite kings, because there was a great deal of worshipping of idols and false gods going on back then.  And many of them had shrines up on top of the mountains.

Do you see the answer in the next line, which is the first purple line above?  (Remember to read Hebrew from right to left.)  The psalmist was very confident that his help would come from the LORD, the One who made the heavens and the earth.  He goes on to write further about his God, and he used this Hebrew root of (שׁמר) three times in verses 3, 4, and 5.  (Can you see them?)

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This verbal form is called a “participle”, which is often used to help describe someone or something.  The literal translation for this Hebrew root in the participle form would be “the One who protects”.  The psalmist was confident that YHWH was the One true God, above all other gods, who could protect him.  This is good, but it gets better.

It is one thing to believe that God is capable of protecting those who trust in Him.  It is another thing to state emphatically that He will indeed protect you in times of trouble.  And this is what the psalmist does in verses 7 and 8.  He again used the same Hebrew verbal root, but in these verses (and three times) he put it in a future tense, what is called the “Imperfect” form.

You can see this twice in the picture above in verse 7.  It looks like this:  יִשְׁמָר.  There is an extra consonant on front, and it can be translated as “He will protect/watch over”.  No longer is the LORD simply described as the One who is able to protect, but now with bold confidence, the psalmist tells his readers, Yes, in fact He WILL protect those who trust in Him.

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Isn’t that so cool what you can learn about God when you are able to read the Scriptures in its original language?  I’m glad that I do know a lot about basic biblical Hebrew.  But imagine if I didn’t know that much about it, but still had a program like Paratext that is able to analyze a lot of the language for me.  A whole world of meaning is opened up when we have great computer programs like these to help us to read and understand the Bible.

I wish that I could let all of you who read this to be able to have this program I use.  But a program like Paratext is given out primarily to those involved in active Bible translation projects.  If you are really interested in this though, you can do an internet search for Greek-English Interlinear or Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles online and find lots of helps.

One good site is http://interlinearbible.org/ which will allow you to choose either the Hebrew Old Testament, or the Greek New Testament.  We are so very fortunate to have so much available to us electronically.  I will have more to say in the future.

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Cool Computer Programs for Bible Translation

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Technology & Bible Translation

The first really cool peek for me into the emerging technology for Bible translators happened in 1994.  I had seen a little bit of the old program called “Shoebox” where linguists and translators would store their language data and enter their vernacular text which could then be interlinearized to have English gloss words under the vernacular text once you had a good amount of words entered into their dictionary file.

Let me pause here before going on and tell you why this linguistic computer program was called “Shoebox”.  Think back to the time before computers.  (If you can do that easily, you are my age or older, but if this is hard for you, then you are definitely part of the younger generation.)  😛  Now imagine that you have been doing language learning for a few years in a remote part of the world.

What would you do to help you keep your data all organized?  Even to divide words into basic verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.  Well, the pioneers of Bible translation actually did use the old file card system and would put one word, and its description/definition, on to one card, and then “file” it in long shoeboxes to be retrieved later when needed.  (Some translators would have piles of shoeboxes in their houses full of words and linguistic notes in the early days.)

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Thank goodness for the advent of the computer.  Now we no longer need to put all of our research into old musty shoeboxes.  And we no longer need to fear that our work will all go up in smoke if the house burned down or would get all chewed up, by all the cockroaches in our village houses.  Though we do need to worry about hard drives crashing, and wondering where we put that information in the thousands of files on our hard drive.

But back to where I started.  “Shoebox” was very handy for us to organize our linguistic data and do basic translation work.  In 1994, when I was at a training week of orientation for Pioneer Bible Translators, I was introduced to the neatest, most cool and intuitive linguistic program at that time which was called “Lingua-links”.  It could add words, analyze words, interlinearize words, and so much more with just a click of a button.

When I was able to tell Jill later about this, I summed it up by saying, “That was SO AWESOME!”  Very professional, wouldn’t you say?  I think that is when I knew for sure that I wanted to be a Bible translator, because I would be allowed to buy the best model of computer out there, and make it perform some awesome linguistic feats, and be able to call it “work”.  I was in love!!  😀

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In the past decade, there continues to be great advances made in the area of marrying linguistics together with computer technology.  There were a number of versions of Lingua-links over the years, each being able to do more than the last version.  But the basic ideas remained the same.  And then came along a program called “Paratext”.

When I first heard about Paratext, I thought that it was just another program that was doing pretty much the same things I was already doing.  I was wrong.  It did still have much (and even more) of the computing power of the old programs.  One common feature with modern linguistic programs is the ability to open a large number of windows within the main window.  Here, let me show you what I mean:

Paratext Windows (800x450)

 Going from top left down and then middle top to bottom and right side top to bottom, I have these windows to work with just in this one program:
  1. My Hebrew text in which I can add notes.
  2. The Hebrew/English interlinear text.  I can add rows within this to give me the lemmas, the transliteration, and the parsing of the Hebrew words.  All of these are hyperlinked to one or more Hebrew Lexicon and Dictionary.
  3. A text comparison of a variety of English versions.
  4. A Key Term rendering window which will grab specialized biblical terms and show you the equivalent vernacular term which will add up over time to become your “Key Term List”
  5. A rendering tool based off of algorithms of the Greek and English text and looking into the vernacular text to produce a computer generated guessing and interlinearization of the vernacular to English.
  6. The “Back Translation” of the vernacular text.  We want a reverse translation from the translated local language back into a fairly literal English version of their text.  I use this the most to judge if something is missing, added or wrong in their translation.
  7. Peeking out at the top right is the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.
  8. The NIV larger window box.
  9. Finally, the actual vernacular translation that I am checking.

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What was really exciting though about Paratext was that you did not just work on this project by yourself in your local village any more.  Of course you want to save to your local hard drive as you go along.  But Paratext is part of the global work of United Bible Societies and many other linguistic organizations who share their project information and their translations with others around the world.

So when you do an “Internet Server” back up of your work, it sends the data to the Paratext server on the other side of the world, and can be made accessible to anyone else who has been approved to work on the translation.  So we have literally gone from doing local translation projects to doing global translation projects.

There is so much more I’d like to tell you about this, but that will have to wait until the next article.  I hope that some of you who have read this have found this very interesting.  And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with what I am showing you, just like I did so many years ago with the joining of technology and linguistics.

Bible Translation In The Digital Age

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Making Advances in Bible Translation Through Technology

Pioneer Bible Translators, with whom we work, just sent out their May “E-News”, an electronic newsletter to keep people updated on what PBT is doing around the world.  The first article, reprinted below, immediately grabbed my attention as I too have seen over the past two decades just how much our work is being affected positively by the electronic technological revolutions of our day.

Thankfully I was not doing Bible translation in the time period where the translators had to do everything by hand or slow and sloppy typewriter copies.  When our family went to the small village in Papua New Guinea in 1997, we brought along our massively heavy IBM desktop computer and full-size desktop monitor.  What a beast of a machine.  And if we didn’t have good solar power days, then we still had to rely on doing some work by hand.

As you read the opening paragraph, you will see it mention the use of a box filled with cards.  In the earliest days of Bible translation work, they literally used 3” x 5” recipe or blank cards, and would file them by categories and by alphabet in their shoeboxes.  When one of the breakthrough computer assisted translation tools was created, they decided to lovingly call the translation software, “Shoebox”.

                                

A small brown box sat on a shelf in our village home. Filled with note cards, that box represented years of study and work; it was a handwritten dictionary. It came to us from a missionary who had spent decades ministering in that area, learning the language by keeping a record of each word on a card. With pencils and manual typewriters, a missionary labored to bring the New Testament into a language for the first time. It was a daunting task, but that didn’t stop him.

In the past 30 years God has brought about a transformation greater than anyone could have imagined. Drawn by a vision to see God’s Word changing lives in every language, missionary teams from numerous Bible agencies have devoted their lives to translation all over the world. Of course, it wasn’t simply Westerners drawn into the task. As Christian communities around the globe grew, they themselves recognized the need for a Bible in a language they understood well.

    

While the numbers of translators and translation projects grew, their tools also expanded and became more and more powerful. Instead of relying solely on handwritten work, translators gained access to computers. Suddenly, drafting texts, making copies, checking spelling, and revising all became more doable tasks.

By 1996 the New Testament was available in the languages of 84 percent of the world’s population.[i] Now it is estimated that only 700-900 million people remain in the world without the whole New Testament in their language, of which 350 million have no Scripture at all.[ii] 

New technologies have not simply opened the door to faster progress in the translation task; they have also created new possibilities for communication. Today digital Scripture distribution is a reality. Downloadable over the Internet, print-on-demand, live streaming audio, and text via cell phones—these abilities will only grow in the coming decades, giving people unprecedented access to the Bible in whatever their situation.

Over the coming decades, if the people of God will mobilize more Bible translators, innovate ever greater technologies for the task, and give more resources toward Bible translation, we have the chance to make the greatest contribution toward obeying the great commission in history. Lately, missionary recruits have been flocking to Pioneer Bible Translators, and we are praying that God will continue to add to our team so that we can double our number of teammates again by 2018.

Our goal is to fill the gaps in the Bible translation movement so that we and our partners will see churches with Scripture transforming every language group by 2050. Your support of Pioneer Bible Translators moves us closer to this reality and we thank you!

                                

I too want to thank so many people and churches who have stood with me and my family over many years as we have worked hard to help get God’s Word into the hands of the people of Papua New Guinea.  We know that there are literally hundreds of people who pray for us and for our translation work on a regular basis.  We also know that we would not be able to do as well as we are doing in this ministry work without this prayer coverage.

I would also like to thank the many people who have helped us financially to do this work.  PBT is what is known as a “Faith” mission.  By that we mean that every missionary (including us) do not receive a guaranteed salary from our mission, but rather, we live by faith trusting that God will prompt churches and individuals to help support our work financially.  Presently, we are receiving only 75% of our projected budget, but we are still moving forward by faith that God will supply the need at the time we need it.

Perhaps God may be calling some of my “Listening Post” readers to join us as financial partners as well as supportive readers of this devotional blog.  If God has spoken to your heart about helping support our work as I have written so much about in these blog articles, please send me an email to norm.weatherhead@gmail.com  and I can let you know how you could become a partner with us in this important ministry.  May God bless you all as you read these words.

                                

[i]Wycliffe Bible Translators 1996. Bible Translation Needs Bulletin. Dallas, TX: Wycliffe Bible Translators.

[ii]Forum of Bible Agencies. Forum of Bible Agencies International, 2011. Available from http://www.forum-intl.net