• Jack

The Abouré Language

Our journey with Wycliffe has been full of unknowns. But as we approach our arrival in Africa, God has faithfully revealed more and more of His plans for us.

And now, we’re excited to announce that our first work in Africa will be with the Abouré translation project! It is a language spoken by around 93,000 people in southern Côte d’Ivoire, about an hour outside of Abidjan.

Let me tell you a little about how we got here:

When we first joined Wycliffe, our desire was simply to go where the need for translation work was. So, we asked that question to Wycliffe, and after a few weeks of praying and gathering information, we landed on Africa as our target, though not much more was known at the time.

Next, we were put in touch with the person in charge of placing new missionaries in Africa. After sharing with her my passion for languages and our excitement to join what God is doing in Africa, she asked if we were willing to learn French! (It’s hard to say no to that when you’ve just been talking about how much you love learning languages). After we said yes, she told us that if we had said no, her first job was going to be to convince us to learn French! But that was another answer to our original question: Where is the need?

Then, last year as we prepared for our departure to Switzerland, God began to make it clear that He was calling us to work in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. We had visited the office there back in 2019 and were excited about the work that was being done there. There is a lot happening and a lot still to do! But our primary concern was a lack of expat community. At first, it didn’t seem like a great fit for us, especially as beginners on the field. But soon afterward we were connected with another family that was heading to that office. They also have 3 young kids, and we all get along so well! That was such an answer to prayer to have someone that would be going into this mission field alongside us. And now we’re all learning French together and finalizing all our plans for the move to Africa!

Finally, after discussions with the directors of the linguistics team for our area of Africa, it was decided that we would start our work with the Abouré language!

And the exciting thing is that we’ve met this translation team already! When we took a trip to Côte d’Ivoire in 2019, we got to go see one translation project that was in progress. And that was the Abouré language! We met the team and they shared with us the work that they have been doing, both in translation and in literacy. They are teaching their people how to read their own language! It’s so exciting! They told us when we were there, “Our goal is that when we finish the translation, the people will all be able to read it.” We are excited to come alongside them and help.

Talking with a member of the Abouré team

Abouré Translators

Abouré Translators

My job as a linguist means that I will be helping the Abouré people create resources that will aid with the translation of the Bible. There is a team of Abouré speakers that have been working on translating the Bible for a few years now. But they’ve asked for help. Specifically, I’ll be helping them through an aspect of language called Discourse Analysis. Let me give you an example of what this is. Consider the following excerpt from Luke 14 (NASB):

It happened that when he went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching him closely. And there in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they kept silent. And he took hold of him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this.

Anytime you tell a story, you follow certain rules that you are probably not even aware of. When you use a personal pronoun, like he or they, there are rules in English to be able to tell who that pronoun refers to. As a native English speaker, you can read the above story and know exactly who each person is in the story, even though when you think about it, it’s not super clear from just the words. There’s an intuition that comes from speaking English your whole life. These rules and intuitions are different in different languages.

This particular passage actually caused trouble when translators were working on the Tugbiri New Testament in Nigeria. When the locals finished reading a direct translation, they complained of not being able to follow the story or know who was doing what. That’s because, in Tugbiri, a pronoun can only refer to the last person mentioned. So, the first “him” in the passage referred to the leader of the Pharisees (just follow the sentence back until you get to a person that has been named). And the underlined sentence made absolutely no sense at all!

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Languages differ in how they introduce or follow characters through a story, how they hint to the reader where the climax of the story is, and even how a story is allowed to conclude. Our job is to be aware of how Greek tells stories and how a language like Abouré tells stories, in order to help bring as much clarity as possible to the translation.

I hope you noticed, too, what our role is with these teams. We get the privilege to come alongside the people that are doing the work and help, but they are the ones that lead the charge. They are the ones that drive the project and when they need help, our organization provides those resources for them. I will be part of the Linguistic Services Team, which can help with anything from phonological analysis of the language to helping create dictionaries. And it is thanks to your partnership that we can be here.

But this also means that I will get to work with other language projects as other needs come up. So, we will keep you up to date with the work that we are involved in. But for now, you can be praying for the Abouré translation project and the team we will be joining in just a few short months!

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