(The Importance of Using Familiar Language)
At All-Nations, one of our translation values is accessibility: translating into familiar, present-day language. This goes beyond the obvious choice to translate into the Mixtec language for Mixtec-speaking people. It refers to the words and expressions used in the translation.
As a general rule, a translation team aims to use the current generation’s common vocabulary. A translator in Papua New Guinea told us, “Our team aims for the lingo of people 30 to 40 years old.” Like they do with English, teenagers tend to use slang terms that are not appropriate for written texts. In smaller languages with rapidly shifting vocabulary, older people may still use terms that feel outdated.
An All-Nations translator preparing to work on the Sungai Scriptures in Southeast Asia commented, “I think it's important that our Bible translation targets the young and middle-aged (20-40 years) section of Sungai society. Older Sungai people's speech is outdated and not used much by the younger generation.”
This approach is important if we want a translation to be accepted and effective in reaching people’s hearts.
We could think that the Bible should use language that sounds special and feels elevated and profound. If God is high and holy, reading His Word in high and formal language almost feels appropriate, doesn’t it?
But God is intimately involved in each person’s life. His Word speaks to our daily walk. Our Christian experience is just as alive and present on the job or in the kitchen as when we are at church. The things of God are part of our everyday speech.
Still, many of us struggle to use normal speech in our prayers or in church. A Bible that uses everyday English may sound strange if we grew up using the King James Version, whose language was last updated about 250 years ago. We may subconsciously expect God to use special-sounding language in His Word.
When you think about it, no one speaking English today would say, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And no one translating into modern English would even think of putting such an expression in evangelist Philip’s mouth. Similarly, when teams translate Philip’s question to the eunuch, whether in Mixtec or Sungai, they want the result to sound just as normal as “Do you understand what you are reading?” sounds to us.
We seek to translate the Bible using language that is both current and normal.