In eastern Slovakia, “some people were thinking, ‘We already have the Slovak version; why a Romani translation?’” translator Marek says. “But others were saying, ‘This is our mother tongue. It’s much deeper, and we understand the Bible very well now, much better than with the Slovak.’”
Though school-aged children learn and study Slovak (the language of wider communication), Romani remains the language spoken in homes and neighborhoods. The Roma people expressed a desire for God’s Word in this language that best speaks to their hearts, and Seed Company stepped in to help.
Scripture in Audio and Print Ensures Accessibility While Promoting Literacy
In 2014, the Romani New Testament was published in print and audio. Many older Roma people can’t read their language, but Marek believes that having the New Testament available in a written format will help improve literacy among them. He says:
“For many believers, the Bible is the very first book in their lives. When they read the Bible, they want to read more. They want to know more about God.”
Now, the local translation team is busy working on a digital Old Testament that can be saved and shared electronically. It can be read or listened to through phone applications, a website, and social media.
But with all the ease of multiple platforms for quick distribution of God’s Word, many don’t realize the great effort it takes to get to that stage. Sometimes, hours are spent finding just the right word to express a concept in a relevant way. And what do you do when no word for that object, concept, or expression even exists?
A Window into Everyday Translation Challenges
When the team worked on translating the story of Samson and Delilah from Slovak into Romani, the second part of verse 13 stopped them:
Samson replied, “If you were to weave the seven braids of my hair into the fabric on your loom and tighten it with the loom shuttle, I would become as weak as anyone else.” (Judges 16:13b NLT)
Trouble is, there’s no Romani word for “loom,” let alone “loom shuttle.” The translators googled pictures of a loom, but they still weren’t quite sure what they were looking at or what Samson was asking his girlfriend to do. They debated on whether to use the Slovak or English word, but either way, they knew it would confuse readers.
Finally, they decided that clear meaning trumps a dazzling vocabulary. They settled on, “If you tie the seven braids of my hair around the strings in the machine, on which fabric is made, and catch it with the pin, I will lose the strength.”
“That one took about three coffees,” one translator laughed, remembering the time spent poring over that one verse.
Watch this fun video about how Bible translation works: