Dialects and decisions

Shekgalagari is a small language in the eyes of the world, only about 65,000 speakers. But it is still diverse, with 5 distinct dialects spoken in Botswana. These are regional dialects, some of which are separated by big distances and some small. What is spoken in Hukuntsi is not always the same as what is spoken in Lehututu, a village only 9 miles away. Which is even more different than what is spoken in Shakawe, around 525 miles away. That dialect has been heavily influenced by other languages spoken around it, to the point where that dialect shares only about 25% with the other dialects of Shekgalagari.

These regional differences bring diversity to the language. But they can also cause problems for our translation projects. If we translate into one specific dialect only, the people who speak the other dialects will think that the translation isn’t for them; it’s for that other dialect. We don’t speak that way around here. But doing 5 separate translations would be decades of work. So how do we handle this?

The way that we have chosen to approach this is to use a basic form of Shekgalagari based on the work of a Mokgalagari linguist at the University of Botswana, Dr. Kemmonye Monaka. She did the field work and studied her own language, literally writing the grammar book for Shekgalagari. Her work allows us to use a basic dialect of Shekgalagari in our translation and then to spread in some regional variances. The end result is one that can be easily understood by all speakers of Shekgalagari, but one that also has parts of all dialects so that no one is “left out” by the translation.

This takes time to do well. This week in our workshop here, some of the Hukuntsi dialect speakers have insisted on using their dialect for certain things. When we were in Shakawe in February, there was some confusion on words that we were using in our translation that they don’t use in that region. We have to take time to explain why we use this word instead of another or this regional expression instead of that one. But ultimately our goal is to create something that is for all Bakgalagari people in Botswana, regardless of what dialect they speak. Bringing God’s Word to life should be something that brings people together, not pull them apart. Pray for the translation team as they walk this line among dialects and pray for the people to see this as THEIR Bible, no matter what dialect they speak.

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