Dictionary launch marks step towards Bible translation

The launch on 29 December of a dictionary in the Gusilay language in Senegal has marked a key step in getting the Bible translated into the language. The dictionary,featuring 9,000 words, is the first time that the language has been extensively collected, written down, analysed and published.

David and Janet Wilkinson, serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators, have been spearheading the recent language work among the Gusilay. David says:

“Bible translation is a long process with lots of steps along the way. Although it’s unusual for a dictionary to be completed before translation even begins, in this case it has proved a vital initial stage.”

“With the Gusilay it started off being a practical next step,”

says Janet,

“following the death of Victor, one of the few known Gusilay believers and who had been the visionary behind translating the Bible into Gusilay. Starting with the dictionary also meant we could develop stronger relationships among the community, and gave David more time and ways to learn the language.”

“In addition, it has allowed more time to share the vision of having God’s word available in the Gusilay language with the wider local church and to locate some Gusilay believers who live outside the language area.‘The results of the whole process of making the dictionary have been far beyond what we initially expected.”

The dictionary will be of great use when the Bible translation starts. David comments: ‘The vast majority of Bible translation happens without translators being able to consult a dictionary in the language.So in our case we now have a very important aid to translation.’ It is also helping Janet as she analyses Gusilay grammar, a vital stage in the preparation for translation.

The whole process of making the dictionary involved more than 60 Gusilay people. Forty participated in a two-week workshop collecting Gusilay words, and others assisted with linguistics, spellings, meanings, and scientific recognition of species or specific cultural information. As a result, this has built rapport with the local community, and these relationships are also helping David identify potential people to be involved in the forthcoming Bible translation work.

“The dictionary is of course a great resource for the community, a way to preserve and encourage the use of their language, a tool for communities, schoolchildren, students, and those in the city who are starting to forget some of their Gusilay,”

says Janet.

“But it also shows the community that their language matters and that God wants to speak to them and make himself understood to them.”

The dictionary launch took place in the town of Thionck-Essyl (a town of 15,000, most of whom are Gusilay) and was attended by local dignitaries, a local radio station and many local people. As he unveiled the dictionary at the launch, the patron of the event likened it to a traditional storage basket that needed to be opened to reveal and appreciate what was inside.

Although books are expensive, the dictionary is already selling well, with 145 paid for and another 50 ordered. It is available across various locations; from the town itself, to major cities across the country,including the capital Dakar. News of the dictionary is travelling fast by word of mouth and also through digital media – especially WhatsApp! There is even aversion of the dictionary as an Android app for smartphones.

Just how much it means to the Gusilay people is reflected in what they say about the dictionary:

  • ‘On ne peut pas manger avecla langue d’autrui jusqu’à se rassasier.’ which roughly translates as ‘You can’t eat with someone else’slanguage and be fully satisfied.’
  • ‘I bought it because in my home I make sure that my kids speak Gusilay. They will learn to speak it much better with this book.’ (Jisal)
  • ‘Now our children can learn how to speak our language properly.’ (Longe)
  • ‘This is the present of the century. I don’t think you realise the significance of what you have made.’ (Badara)
  • ‘You have saved and preserved Gusilay.’

But the dictionary is just an initial step. The Gusilayare an unreached people group of nearly 20,000.

“God-willing, we hope to start translating some passages of Scripture within the next year,”

says David. Before that, however, he needs to do some more research into Gusilay culture to ensure they understand well the local context, while Janet needs to finish writing up an initial grammar analysis of the language.

“We also need to identify and train local people who will be the translators,’ says David,‘since they know the language far better than we ever will do.”

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