Life and God, Translated
Each language provides unique and irreplaceable perspectives through which to understand life and God.
For an infinite God, there must be infinite ways to praise him. There are over 7,000 languages spoken and signed around the world. Each language provides unique and irreplaceable perspectives through which to understand life and God. Trinity Western University hosts the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL), which provides linguistics instruction for both undergraduate and graduate degrees offered by TWU and ACTS Seminaries. Alumni are serving language communities in linguistics, literacy and Bible translation across the globe.
In the Field Methods class, students learn to hear different sounds and make sense of them in face-to-face interaction with a mother-tongue speaker of a non-European language from around the world. One year, our language teacher was Mary Ngugi. Her mother language was Kikuyu, from Kenya. Mary interacted with students to help them collect words, phrases and stories.
Mary once shared over lunch, “I find that some students want to get me to say translated phrases from English. I have learned about my own language because Kikuyu doesn’t want to speak in the same way as English.”
Mary elaborated, “A student today asked me how to say ‘my mother.’ But Kikuyu doesn’t want to say ‘my mother.’” Kikuyu wants to refer to her as ‘our mother, the mother of us all.’”
A North American student responded in surprise, “But what about the woman who gave birth to you? Wouldn’t you say, ‘my mother’?”
Mary replied again that “she is our mother, the mother of us all.”
Mary reflected on her own learning, “When I think about ‘our mother,’ and how she is the mother of us all, it gives me new insights into prayer when I say, ‘Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.’” Mary paused for emphasis, “He is the Father of us all.”
Through Mary’s perspective from her mother language, students caught a glimpse of a community-minded view of God. International Mother Language Day (February 21) recognizes the inherent significance of each voice and perspective in the global community.
We benefit through learning from one another. Our perspectives become broader and richer, and our worship of the infinite God — our God — becomes that much deeper.
Written in collaboration by some of the staff and students at CanIL: Larry and Kim Hayashi are on staff at the Canada Institute of Linguistics/TWU. Larry Hayashi is an Instructor of Linguistics at TWU Langley. Larry and Kim have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators since the 1990s, having lived in Edmonton, A.B., Belgium, Cameroon, Texas, and Oregon. They have been residents of Langley, B.C. since 2001. Grace Galbearth and Jael Watson also contributed to this article — linguistic students who are currently living in the U.S. Mary Ngugi is a graduate of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at ACTS Seminaries and resides in Maryland.