There are folks, you may or may not know, who make it their business to translate things into a written language for apes. Instead of words, the apes recognize and “read” lexigrams — picture symbols for words or concepts — that they have been trained to recognize. Occasionally we see stories about chimps or other apes who have learned to recognize and use hundreds of symbols (a review here).
At socialfiction.com, researchers are into “Primate Poetics,” an exploration of ape language. And, they have used lexigrams from the primate vocabulary to translate the world’s oldest known epic into ape language. “Gilgamesh for Apes” translates the story of Sumeria’s great hero-king into sentences like “Gilgamesh big house many bedroom make. Enkidu said, we not go there. Monster has nest in forest. Enkidu is scared. Gilgamesh is not scared. Gilgamesh has knife.” The translation effort is somehow appropriate, because the cuneiform script used to write Sumerian also employs ideograms, like a symbol for “house,” along with symbols that represent syllables.
I pass this on in case you have a chimp or bonobo on your Christmas list and are having trouble what to buy. Discovering this story, however, reminded me of another translation story I ran across lately, one having to do with translation issues faced by mission-minded folks who also happen to believe the King James Version is the only truly inspired version of the Bible.
A few months back I received (unrequested) the Summer 2008 issue of The Unpublished Word, a quarterly publication of “First Bible International,” which is affiliated with Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Franklin Road describes itself as an “independent, fundamental Baptist church” that adheres to a belief in “the verbal inspiration and authority of the King James Bible,” among other things.
“First Bible” is a mission effort of the church, described as “a fundamental approach to the 10/40 window.”
One of the biggest issues it faces is based in its belief that the King James Version is the only inspired and authoritative Bible. Some KJV-only adherents believe it is wrong to translate the Bible in any other way and criticize such efforts, insisting that missionaries must teach new converts to read and understand 17th century English so they can then read the “real” Bible.
The folks at Franklin Road are “progressive” enough to think it’s possible to translate the Bible into other languages, though striving to make the translation a “King James equivalent.” In an article in the summer issue (you can download it as a pdf file here), editor Charles Keen argues that it took 1,000 years for the English language to develop into the form we find in the King James Bible, so translators should be given grace and not be expected to produce a perfect King James equivalent the first time.
And you thought Southern Baptists were conservative?