Thursday, 27 May 2010

English - not what God would do

My generation have grown up with English as the global communication language. The French resent it - the history of Africa is marked with what the English saw as colonial expansion and the French perceived as a linguistic war with English. Chinese and Arabic are indeed on the ascendancy - the popular languages to be learned in Sixth Form or university, because of the changing world market. Of living languages, it's still handy to read German, French and Dutch if you read theology, and there are many new computing languages to be learned; and text-spelling to be lamented. But by and large, English is so common as a global language that my generation expects it.

My generation of Brits (and, I imagine, Americans) are horrified when they holiday somewhere and the shopkeepers don't speak English: how will they cope? They never thought to consult a local phrasebook - the days of stumbling through mispronouncing phrases with wild gesticulation in order to get something resembling what you want for lunch, are gone (it's assumed). You want a scientific paper universally recognised? You write it in English. You host an international meeting, run an international business, or are in an International Church in some European city? Rest assured, by international, you mean English-speaking.

It embarasses me. Perhaps I learned it in the world of IFES - that the indigenous principle doesn't mean translating stuff from English, exporting American methods, and having English-speaking international Assemblies. At this point, I can hear no-one protest: nobody seriously plans to feel English-language empirialistic, after all. It just happens, because... it works. It's possible. It's quicker and easier. Similarly, Dewi Hughes wrote about the effects of theological schools teaching in Spanish in Latin America, here.

So the question comes, why bother translating the Bible into so many languages which are spoken by so few people? Perhaps we don't voice the question, but our lives betray that we're thinking it: Why Not Just Teach Everyone English? Listen to a few minutes from Wycliffe, in which the practicalities are really a side-issue. The issue at heart, is what sort of God we portray. Register on the Lausanne Global Conversation website (above) to interact with readers and listeners around the world.


Dave K said...

very helpful.

Larry said...

Like Dave said, v. helpful. Reminded me of why I really dislike English these days.