Archive for Out of Africa

Of Tone Marks and Hebrew

Sometimes the collateral benefits outweigh the intended one.

Every weekday evening for a month this summer, Ankamah and I sat for two hours and tested the book of Genesis in Nkonya.

Ankamah is in his twenties, and soon heading off to study accounting.

He’s a fluent reader so we used a different testing style than I’ve used previously. He read the passage once through then read it again and back-translated it into English. As we worked he volunteered comments on where it could be improved or where he didn’t understand the text.  I typed in his back-translation and comments,  and asked additional comprehension questions.

Up to this point in time the Nkonya Translation Team has marked high spoken tone with an accent mark in all written work.  However we’ve talked more and more about writing Nkonya without tone marks.

Every so often as he read, Ankamah would make a comment about having difficulty with the tones. One evening he missed the difference between a future and past tense verb – getting it immediately when I reread it according to marked tone. “Missing the one significant tone because of the crowd,”  I thought.

For the next day I stripped all the tones except for the high tone marking future tense out of the passage, saying nothing to Ankamah.  We worked through  together.

I said nothing about the changes.  He said nothing.

Finally, half-way through I asked, “ Is this easy to read?”

“Oh yes,” he replied”

“Do you notice any difference,” I asked?

He looked closely at the text for a few moments before he recognized the sparsity of tone marks.

In fact, it had made no difference at all to him.  He was so used to ignoring the multiple accent marks that he didn’t even notice their absence.

A couple of days later I accidently gave him a chapter with every tone removed. When I was about to add in the initial tone on future tense he stopped me. “Let’s just see how it goes without it,” he said. No glitches in that passage.

Ankamah has started writing a novel in Nkonya. Up to now he was afraid that if he didn’t get the tones right people wouldn’t understand his writing.  No longer.

I thought of this yesterday as I was reviewing Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. Writing the consonants in Hebrew isn’t difficult – putting the vowel marks in, is.  I had just made a mental note to myself that at this stage in life I would never master the zillion minute rules and exceptions that govern vowels (or worry about not being able to do so), when I started thinking about Nkonya tone.  After all, in Israel no one but language students, little grade ones and weighty scholars, write vowels. I’m thinking that marking tone in Nkonya is a very similar case.


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Christ Affirms Culture

Perhaps one of the most moving segments of the recent Nkonya New Testament Dedication was a play mounted by the Tayi cultural group.  Drawing on historical music, dance, and formal protocol, the New Testament, “God’s New Oath” was presented by the Tayi Chief to the Chief of Nkonya who accepted it on behalf of his people to use it to lead, care for, and bless them.

When I figure out how to edit out selected segments of our hours of video tape I’ll try to put it on the blog.  For right now, here are some stills.

The Linguist for the Chief of Tayi challenging the Chief of Nkonya to forsake all evil and receive the newly written book, "God's New Oath"

A dance, traditionally only performed by virgins, celebrates the Chief's acceptance.

Presenting a copy of "Bulu Ntam Pɔpwɛ" to the Chief of Nkonya. Three times the question was asked, "Do you receive this?" Three times the affirmative was given, "Yo ,Nahɔ." " Yes, I have received it."

The Chief, leaving the gathering, New Testament in Hand.

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Hot off the Press

She didn’t have the privilege of attending school as a child.  She doesn’t read English. But she learned how to read her own Mother Tongue.  And now she has a New Testament in her own Language to read.

The New Testament in Nkonya

A New Covenant of Love

She can read it for herself


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A Seed Grew

Many years ago, when we first went to Nkonya, we came to meet a young Presbyterian pastor, fresh out of Trinity Seminary, on his way to ordination, with a passion for God. Rev. Joseph Badu-Sekyere’s mother tongue was Twi and he struggled with learning Nkonya himself, but he recognized the importance of the language as few outsiders have done.

Rev. and Mrs. Joseph and Annie Badu-Sekyere, today

I remember him saying.  “All my church elders speak Twi.  When I meet with them the conversation begins in Twi, then it slides into Nkonya, the matters get thrashed out and finally it resurfaces into Nkonya to give me a summary.”

He was convinced that just using Twi in the church was not sufficient to really touch hearts.

He instigated a committee that would translate the liturgical scripture readings for each Sunday into Nkonya so that they could be read alongside of the Twi.  The members of that committee were drawn from a number of different churches in town, not just from the Presbyterian Church.

Each week a hand-written copy of scriptures translated into Nkonya was read in addition to the Twi Bible.

People at the Catholic Church, whose liturgical readings closely parallel those used in the Presbyterian Church wanted to know why they couldn’t have Nkonya as well, and were invited to send someone to the committee meetings to take a copy away.

Word spread.  Other churches in other towns wanted the Readings. Typed copies started going out, then monthly copies, and finally quarterly copies produced on a computer, photo-copied and made into booklets.

As the work of Bible Translation began in earnest and as improved and finalized drafts were completed they were incorporated into the readings being sent out. Today they are sent out quarterly to every Presbyterian and Catholic Church in Nkonya.

Mr. Emmanuel Latse, a member of the Wurupong Church of Christ, a congregation that doesn’t even use liturgical readings, was on that first committee as a volunteer. Now, project coordinator of the Nkonya Translation Team,  he has made sure that first every week, and then every quarter, for over fifteen years, Nkonya scripture has gone out to be read in churches.

Mr. Emmanuel Latse

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Tsúfɛ́ dwɛ́ Bulu lɛ́hɩɛ dwɛ́ anyánkpʋ́sa

Children’s Day programs at church, or Recitals presented by Primary Schools in Ghana often utilize a well loved formula.  It is certainly used throughout Nkonya.

Picture a row of children ranged across the front of the stage.  Each in turn announces his or her name and gives a short recitation in a clear voice that easily carries to the back of the room.  Similiar to, but very different from the bashful presentations that grace many Canadian Christmas programs where children are put on stage before adoring parents.

“My name is Adisa Sullivan. I come from Red Deer, Alberta.

My quotation is from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only beloved Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

The quotation is most often given in English, the language of school instruction. Sometimes it will be given in Ewe or Twi, also languages studied in School. Until recently, reciting it in their best understood language, Nkonya, was not an option.

I often think of a Presbyterian Catechist who said, “I have been a Catechist, and have read the Bible in Ewe for many years, but I didn’t understand the death of Christ until I read it in Nkonya.”

This is why I was so impressed when I attended a children’s service in  Nkonya-Asakyere and watched children recite and read in their own Nkonya language.

Yohane 3:16

Tsúfɛ́ dwɛ́ Bulu lɛ́hɩɛ dwɛ́ anyánkpʋ́sa.Mʋ́ sʋ ɔlɔpʋ mʋ Bi ɔkʋkʋ́nʋ́ ɔkʋlɛ pɛ́ ámʋ há, mɛ́nɩ ɔhagyíɔha ánɩ́ ɔlɔhɔ mʋ gyi omóowu, mboún obénya nkpa ánɩ́ ɩtamatá.

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Do you say your prayers in Latin?

Less than a month from now the New Testament in the Nkonya Language will be dedicated.  Is this significant?

This clan head and elder, never had the opportunity to go to school.  He now reads his own language fluently and the realization that God speaks Nkonya changed his life.

Foster Ofori,  shared his uncle’s story with us. Foster said:

“Before I started working with the Nkonya Language Project I could not pray in Nkonya. What I knew was, that God understood Twi, or Ewe, or English. So I always prayed in one of those languages. But if I used them, I saw myself that it didn’t reach and wasn’t adequate. I had to force to pray little by little. And even if someone else prayed, I didn’t understand everything.”

“At this work place, where Nkonya was being written, I heard a white person praying in Nkonya and I realized, surprisingly, that God understands Nkonya.

So I began learning how to pray in Nkonya bit by bit. Since it was my own language it didn’t take long. Truly, if I am praying in Nkonya I can see that there is spirit in it in a way that wasn’t there when I used other languages. It came through my praying in Nkonya that my wife, my children and my ‘Junior Father’ – my father’s younger brother, all pray and make their requests to God in Nkonya today.”

“The greatest thing is what has happened to my Uncle. Originally he owned a shrine and worshipped its god. He was the last of my living Uncles, and we had no idea of how we could persuade him to become a Christian.”

“Then he heard me praying in Nkonya and that made the difference. He told me afterwards, that because he had never gone to school and didn’t know how to read, he thought that he could not become a Christian. But, when he heard me praying in Nkonya his reason for not being a Christian finished. He saw that he could pray to God in Nkonya and that God would respond. This realization moved him deeply because he had been troubled for some time by a dream he had dreamt.”

“In the dream, God and Satan were dividing up the dead. When they finished separating them into two groups, God’s people were given white robes and a separate place to stand. An angel stood before them holding a plate covered with a white napkin. He put his hand under the napkin and served communion to each of them and they were all happy. However, Satan’s angel stood in front of the ones who belonged to Satan, holding a raw chicken head. He cut small pinches off it and this was the only food that was given to them.”

“After the dream my uncle used to worry about what God would do to him after his death. But now he has seen that he can pray in Nkonya and God will respond and that it is possible for him to join the Christians if he dies.”

“Truly, I started to teach him bit by bit in Nkonya. Now he has been baptized and has taken the name John and he worships God.”

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15 Billion to Spend

A spin off benefit of going to the pool in the pre-dawn hours is that I often listen to BBC’s Business Report on CBC Radio One.   And sometimes one catches interesting things.  Like the fact that China, a country on the hunt for more resources to meet its needs, has just signed deals with Ghana that total over 15 Billion in loans and get it in on the ground floor with Ghana’s newly discovered off shore oil and will give it 80% of the shares of a new Bauxite Refinery.

I once picked up a book that was designed to give North American Business etiquette tips for cross-cultural enterprises.  It was organized by country.  The only entries for Africa were Egypt and South Africa.

No wonder China is seizing a wide open door of opportunities on the continent.

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