Shekgalagari Language Project
Rev. Carl and Kelsey Grulke have been missionaries with LBT since 2016. They have served in Botswana since 2018. Carl is currently working as Exegete and Project Coordinator and Kelsey as Scripture Engagement Coordinator among the people of Botswana.
The Gift of Language
In preparation for a reviewer’s workshop, the members of the advisory committee for the Shekgalagari project met. When reviewing Revelation, there was lots to discuss – it’s a tricky book!
One unexpected thing that came up in our discussions came from Revelation 6, where the four horses it talks about are described as white, red, black, and ‘pale’. We had a problem with “pale” because there’s not a good word for it in Shekgalagari.
So we had to talk about colors, which can often be a tripping spot for translation. What I call “orange” might just be called “red” in another language. Setswana has the same word for green and blue; they differentiate by calling something botala ja lethare (color of tree” or botala ja loapi (color of sky). Colors are often referenced by something else as well; the color orange in Setswana is borolwana, which means “color of this specific flower.” There are lots of issues to sort out when it comes to color!
We tried to come up with a color that would fit, but ultimately, we had to describe the horse as looking “sickly” instead. Which is the point of the verse: the horse that Death is riding looks “sick”; the Greek word there is translated here as “pale” in most English versions, but other places in the New Testament as “pale green” instead.
Translating Gender Distinctions
Shekgalagari (and Setswana) don’t have gender distinction in the third person. You can refer to a sibling of the opposite sex, but that depends on the gender of the speaker to be clear. This feature of the language makes calling Jesus the “Son of God” impossible in Shekgalagari. Instead, we use Ngwana wa Morimo (Child of God) to make the distinction that Jesus is the offspring of God, God in human form.
These language distinctions may seem like a challenge, but we pray that they help us all understand that God is bigger than any one language can express. Each time the Bible is translated into a new language, we see MORE of God through the eyes of a new culture and language. Praise God for the gift of language that does such wonderful things!
Translating the Epistles
The epistles are always a challenge because of the long, run-on sentences. That’s something that Shekgalagari (and other Bantu languages) don’t typically do. In Romans 9, we ended up having to re-structure verses 11-12 to get it to make sense.
In the English NIV, it reads: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that Godʼs purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.'”
Here’s what we ended up with in Shekgalagari:
“Gore maikaelelo a Morimo a go ithophela a eme, pele ga mawelana e belegwa kana be riha shengwe she she molemo kana she she mashwe, Rebeka a rewa ga ruwa: ‘Yo motyona o da go rihela yo moncwana.’ Gore go thopha ga Morimo go shegka ga riha gka rityiho, mbe gka pijho yawo.”
Roughly translated, it reads: “So that the intention of God in choosing for God’s self will stand, before the twins were born or could do anything good or evil, Rebekah it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the young one.’ That the choice of God would not be by doing deeds, but the call of God.”
It’s not a big difference, but it took time to work through to sound “right” in Shekgalagari.