Friday, November 19, 2010

Some Economics of Religious Translation

I’ve previously insisted on the importance of religious translating (including interpreting) and lamented that it’s given short shrift in mainstream translation studies other than historical ones. My arguments have been the amount of activity that it generates for Expert and Advanced Native Translators, and its profound cultural influence. Now comes news of another aspect, more mundane but still impressive.

Wycliffe Bible Translators is a leading worldwide organisation in its field with HQ in Florida (see photo). It was founded in 1942 by William Cameron Townsend, a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians of Guatemala. Now it’s campaigning to translate the Bible into all the two thousand or so languages in the world that don’t have it yet. To that end, they’ve already raised $250 million in donations, including one of $50 million from a single benefactor. And that’s not all. It’s only one quarter of their target of one billion dollars. I’m betting that over time they’ll get it too.

Think of how many translators that’ll subsidise. What effect will they have on the two thousand languages, many of which don’t have a writing system yet? What effect will the translated Bible have on the receiving cultures? A speaker at an International Translation Day meeting a few weeks ago in Toronto, Maya Chacaby, whose language is Anishanaabemowin (aka Ojibwe), said that for small communities like hers, translation was the only way to save a language threated with annihilation in a country dominated by English and French. For which reason, she often works as a translator "without any remuneration."

Christian Today,, November 18, 2010.

Marika Kemeny. Glendon's International Translation Day examines quality translation for a variety of voices. InformATIO (Ottawa), 39:3.5-6.

The Wycliffe website is at

Photo: Wycliffe

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