Work Papers
of the
Summer Institute of Linguistics
in Saint Lucia

Number 12:

Cultural Dimensions of Translation 
into Creole Languages

by David Frank

A paper presented at the Conference on Bible Translation in Cave Hill, Barbados, in May, 2004.

© 2004 SIL International

Cultural Dimensions of Translation into Creole Languages

David Frank
SIL International


Translation is much more than the substitution of the words of one language with the words of another language. To be meaningful and communicative, a translation must take into consideration mismatches between the source language and the receptor language. The translator must constantly make adjustments for differences in lexical range, for differences in word order, for differences in grammar, for differences in idiomatic and figurative usage, and in terms of what can be assumed and what must be made explicit.

Often, to translate an idiom word-for-word is equivalent to translating half-way. To translate a story from two thousand years ago and from half-way around the world without checking to see if it is understood is to translate inadequately. To translate the scriptures without making adjustments based on comprehension checking can be an exercise in futility, like throwing a twenty-five foot rope to a person drowning fifty feet off shore, and saying you will meet that person half-way.

The Greek New Testament source text contains references to geographical (e.g., lake, desert, winter), biological (e.g., camel, fig tree, wheat), political (tribe, emperor, tax), cultural (scroll, tunic, wineskin, cornerstone), and theological (justification, propitiation, righteous, holy, prophesy) concepts that are not natural to the New World tropical islander context. How do you translate words and concepts that are in Greek but not in Creole? This is indeed one of the challenges to be faced. In trying to make the translation not sound like a translation there are other, perhaps even greater, challenges. How do you make sure the grammatical patterns used are completely natural, and not carry-overs from the source language? How do you make sure to use only images, figures of speech, and idioms that communicate clearly and naturally in the receptor language? How do you recognize and use natural discourse patterns? The solutions to all of these problems can come from the right combination of training, effort, and natural aptitude, and there can be different levels of success. Even a native speaker cannot be expected to do a good translation into his own language without an adequate understanding of the source text, without a thorough orientation to translation principles, without consciously studying the patterns of his or her own language, and without testing the translation to see how well it communicates.

In translating from one language to another, there are two dangers. First, the translator, not really focusing on the meaning being expressed, perhaps not even understanding it, carries across the words, idioms, metaphors, grammatical constructions, etc., from one language to the other. This would be a literal translation – literally translating the form, that is, but not the meaning. This type of translation is relatively easy and is what one would tend to do if not thoroughly grounded in translation principles, and experienced. The problem, of course, is that the resulting translation is not natural-sounding, and the meaning is not clear. As France (1972:5) puts it, “In translation the important point is… to achieve the same degree of vividness as the Greek intends, by whatever idiomatic means the language offers. Beware of making a lively narrative stuffy by being too literal. Translate idiom into idiom.”

Another danger, though, is that in an attempt to make a translation natural-sounding and clear in meaning, the translator might reduce the somewhat cryptic, figurative language, to its literal meaning, to the best ability of the translator. The translator might, for example, go too far in explicating the text in the process of translating it, turn all metaphors into similes or abandon them completely, or translate poetry as normal, everyday sentences. This is over-translation. The result might be clear enough, and use only natural constructions, but at the same time be dull and lifeless.

This study is based on the author's extensive experience in translating the scriptures into Creole languages, first working for sixteen years with a team translating the New Testament into St. Lucian French Creole,1 and more recently working with a different team translating into Gullah, an English Creole spoken along the coastal southeastern United States.2 The St. Lucian Creole New Testament translation was published in 1999 by the Bible Society in the Eastern Caribbean, and the Gullah translation is still in progress but is scheduled to be published within the next two years by the American Bible Society.

The three main criteria of a good translation are that it is clear, natural, and accurate. The focus of this study is on bridging the cultural gap in translating into a Creole language a text that was originally intended for a quite different audience, making well-informed adjustments where appropriate. Awareness of the differences in language and culture are essential, and also a procedure for testing the translation to see how it is understood.

Taking Advantage of Existing Vocabulary in Translation

Creole languages are not as limited in Biblical vocabulary as one might think. While there are plenty of hurdles to overcome in translating the New Testament in the way of lexicon, grammar, and rhetoric, still St. Lucian Creole has a good foundation on which to build. The Roman Catholic church has been involved in St. Lucia since the days of the formation of the French Creole (see Frank 1993). Long-established Creole words include disip ‘disciple’, zapòt ‘apostle’, fawizyen ‘pharisee’, nanj ‘angel’, batizé ‘baptize’, glowifyé ‘praise’, and miwak ‘miracle’. A pawabòl (‘parable’) is even a speech genre indigenous to Creole, denoting a message with a hidden meaning. Similarly with Gullah, there is a long Christian tradition.

Besides the specifically Biblical vocabulary that already exists in the receptor languages, there are other affinities that ease the translation task. Island people can identify with the fishing occupation of the disciples or the farming imagery used in the parables. Translating modern-world concepts such as airplanes, computers, x-rays and satellites into Creole would increase the likelihood of having to resort to borrowing to fill the void. It could be argued that there are already now words to express such modern concepts in French Creole, such as plén, konpyouta, and èkstré. One might reason that any language can and is expected to borrow vocabulary for foreign concepts from other languages. Both English and French, for example, have done this extensively.

So what about borrowing as a strategy in translation? I heard a preacher in a countryside church in St. Lucia one morning say “Ou pa sa chapé righteousness Bondyé” (“You cannot escape God’s righteousness”) and, in a prayer, “Nou ka wimèsyé’w pou fellowship sala” (“We thank you for this fellowship”). Is it legitimate to say that it is reasonable and appropriate to borrow an English word any time a Creole word is not readily available? Apart from the problem of comphrehension, virtually any St. Lucian would tell you that this is not ‘good Creole’, despite the fact that this sort of borrowing is done all the time. The bigger problem, though, is that when key terms are borrowed rather than translated, the core of meaning is not likely to be understood by the hearers.

Dealing with Unknown Concepts

As is to be expected in translation, the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament does not always meet up with simple, straightforward counterparts in Creole languages. There are different possible solutions to this problem, some elegant, some common, some reasonable but not especially felicitous. The solutions to the problem of translating foreign concepts can either solidify and strengthen the Creole language or undermine it.

In order to translate well, the question to ask is not “How is this word translated into Creole?” but rather “How would this idea be expressed in Creole?” The natural tendency is to translate word for word, thus carrying the form of the source language into the receptor language. Training and attention are required for the translator to be able to see beyond the words to the underlying message and then express that meaning meaningfully and idiomatically in the receptor language.

In addition to proper names, which constitute a problem area of their own, and everyday vocabulary, there are about one hundred key terms in the Greek New Testament that had to be rendered somehow in French Creole. For some of these like ‘to worship’, ‘Jew’ and ‘prophet’ a suitable word was already available to make the job easy. For others like ‘blaspheme’, ‘synagogue’ and ‘elder’, much study, thought, dialogue and testing were required before a translation was judged to be satisfactory. In many cases a phrase was required to translate what was a single word in the Greek. Following are some examples:


ensilté non Bondyé ‘insult God’s name’


ofisyé légliz-la ‘officer of the church’


wèsté san manjé pou adowé Bondyé ‘remain without food to worship God’


lézòt nasyon ki pa jwif ‘other nations that are not Jews’


fo bondyé ‘false god’


an bwèt koté yo ka bay zannimo manjé ‘a box where they give animals food’


titja lwa sé Jwif-la ‘teacher of the law of the Jews’


Kay Bondyé ‘House of God’

It is important to remember when translating that words often have ranges of meaning, including secondary and extended senses, and that there are times when one word in one language with all of its senses cannot be consistently translated the same way in another language. A simple example is that ‘to have’ in St. Lucian Creole would be ni, but to say “She had a baby” (using ‘have’ in the sense of ‘to bear, to conceive’) one wouldn’t use ni but rather , ‘to make’: I an ti manmay “She made a baby.” The primary senses of English ‘have’ and Creole ni match up, but not the whole set of extended senses.

Greek is rich in abstract nouns, and that was another problem area when translating into St. Lucian Creole. Examples besides ‘glory’, discussed above, are ‘fellowship’, ‘righteousness’, ‘knowledge’, ‘majesty’, ‘holiness’, ‘justification’, and ‘redemption’. But many of these abstract nouns are semantically related to verbs, adjectives, or adverbs that do exist in Creole, so the best solution is often to adjust the sentence to use a part of speech other than a noun to translate an abstract noun. To express “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” in Second Corinthians 4:6, after a great deal of study and thought we came up with pou nou sa wè klèté sala épi kopwann mizi gwan Bondyé gwan, “for us to be able to see that light and understand how great God is great”. Here the abstract noun “knowledge” was translated by a verb meaning ‘understand’, and “the glory of God” was translated as ‘how great God is great’, using an adjective and an idiomatic grammatical construction that is natural in Creole. In Mark 1:4, which says John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” the only one of these four abstract nouns that did not give us a problem was ‘sins’. We ended up saying épi i ka pwéché konmisyon Bondyé ki di sé moun-an pou tounen hòd péché yo épi batizé, épi Bondyé kay pawdonnen péché yo, “and he was preaching God’s message that told the people to turn away from their sins and be baptized, and God will forgive their sins.”

Dealing with Mismatches in Background Knowledge, Customs, and Worldview

Figurative usage of language is quite language specific. Koiné Greek was rich in figurative language, and so also are the Creole languages with which I have greatest familiarity. But the figures of one language cannot be expected to match up with the figures of an unrelated language and culture. In creating a text in one language based on a source text in another language, sometimes an implicit component of a figure needs to be made explicit in order for the nature of the comparison to be clear. Consider, for example, the simile “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed…” In the cultural context in which these words were first uttered, about 2000 years ago in the Middle East, the hearers knew that a mustard seed is very tiny. In the St. Lucian context, though, the hearers/readers of the Kwéyòl New Testament translation might not know what the significance of a mustard seed is in this comparison, and so in translation the point of similarity was made explicit: “Si ou ni lafwa ki piti kon yon piti ti gwenn moutad” (“If you have faith that is small like a tiny little mustard seed” – Luke 17:6).

Sometimes, of course, the implicit element is clear enough without being made explicit, as in “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”, and sometimes all the components of the simile are explicit in the source text as in “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (all from Matt. 10:16). Other times in translation, inasmuch as we are dealing with figurative language, it is more effective to abandon the imagery, or to change the image to a more familiar one. For example, there is a word for “snow” in Kwéyòl, but the word is, understandably, not too familiar to most people. One should consider, in translation, what sorts of similes are used in the receptor language. How would the concept of “whiteness” be expressed as a simile in Kwéyòl? One suggestion that was seriously considered was “white as the inside of a coconut.” In Rev. 1:14, which says in English “His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow,” one of these two parallel similes was translated using an idiomatic construction that is not a simile, and the other translated as a simile but with a substituted image: “Pa dé blan chivé nonm sala té blan! I té blan kon koton!” (“Not two whites the hair of that man was white! It was white like cotton!”)

If sometimes in translation a simile has to be abandoned because it might not communicate effectively, it is also reasonable to think that sometimes a simile might be introduced where there was not one in the source text. In Luke 24:4, to translate “in dazzling apparel”, we said “had yo té ka kléwé kon zéklè” (“their clothes were shining like lightning”). In II Corinthians 10:10, where it says “his bodily presence is weak,” the translation reads, “i menm fèb kon an mòpyon” (“he himself is weak as a louse”).

There is an old word for “shepherd” (bèwjé) in St. Lucian Creole but it is not commonly known, so we preferred at first to translate “shepherd” as “gadyenn mouton” (“guardian of sheep”). This worked fairly well until we turned to Psalm 23, which begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” There was no way to use the term “gadyenn mouton” without suggesting that the Lord is the guardian of my sheep. Since that is not the idea of this Psalm, but rather the idea is that God is watching over us as a shepherd watches over his sheep, we turned back to the old word for “shepherd” and translated this metaphor literally.

There are times in translating figurative language when the image involves a term unfamiliar in the receptor language, and so it has to either be changed or explained. There are no foxes in St. Lucia, nor a word for “fox”, so Luke 13:32, which says, “Go and tell that fox…” was translated as “Alé di sèpan sala…” (“Go tell that snake…”).

There is a sort of mixed metaphor in Acts 7:51 that proved tricky to translate: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.” In this case, the imagery of circumcision, hearts and ears were all abandoned, while a figure of having a “hard head” was used to translate “stiff-necked”: “Tèt zòt wèd tèlman! Zòt ka fè menm kon sé moun-an ki pa konnèt Bondyé-a.” (“Your heads are so heard! You are doing just like the people who do not know God.”)

Luke 10:11 involves a symbolic gesture. Here Jesus told his disciples that when they leave a town that does not receive them, they are to announce, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you.” When we translated this and checked it for comprehension, we asked a naïve language helper why she thought they were to say this. She thought the disciples were putting a curse on the people, the way a practitioner of obeah in St. Lucia might use natural elements to manipulate the supernatural. So we translated this as “Jik lapousyè vil zòt‑la ki pwi an pyé nou, nou ka soukwé kont zòt pou moutwé kon sa Bondyé pa plè èk sa zòt ka fè‑a” (“Even the dust of your village that sticks to our feet, we are shaking against you to show that God is not pleased with what you are doing”).

We struggled with how to translate the idea of “united” until we remembered the words of a prominent politician on the campaign trail: “Annou manché tjè nou ansanm” (“Let us join/unite our hearts together”). The more familiar use of this word for most people would be “to put a handle (a manch) on something such as an ax.” Recalling also that sometimes it is said that a young couple is walking as though they are “manché” (in English we might say “joined at the hip”), this term became the solution to a set of problems. We used this in Rom. 6:5, “Because if we are already manché with him in his death, clearly we will be manché with him as he is raised from the dead also”. We used it to translate the familiar verse used in weddings from Eph. 5:31, “So a man will leave the house of his father and mother and he will be manché with his wife.” We used this to translate the difficult word “fellowship” in I Corinthians 1:9, saying that “God… has called you to live manché.” And in Eph. 2:16, we translated “reconcile” as “manché these two nations together as one nation.”

The St. Lucian Creole language is rich in proverbs. Some samples include “Si ou wè bab kanmawad ou pwi difé, wouzé sa ou” (“If you see your friend’s beard on fire, sprinkle water on your own”), “Piti hach ka bat gwo bwa” (“A small axe can cut down a big tree”), and “Tout kochon ni Sanmdi yo” (“Every pig has its Saturday”). There is even a speech genre called pawabòl whereby the meaning is veiled; a person seems on the surface to be talking about one thing, but he is really talking about something else, and only an “insider” would be able to understand what is meant, possibly leaving other listeners in the dark, so to speak. The fact that the meaning of a live metaphor, a proverb, or a parable is somewhat obscure is what makes it interesting. To translate a text containing metaphors, proverbs and parables into Kwéyòl by making everything implicit explicit would be to result in a translation that is not dynamic, nor faithful to the tone of the original.

Often, a proverb or a parable can be translated literally, so that the meaning may not be explicit but the reader/hearer, familiar with the nature of proverbs and parables, can fill in the semantic gap and figure out what is really being said. The fact that the meaning is expressed in the form of a metaphor, proverb or a parable and the reader/hearer has to do a little work to make sense of it can result in the message being appreciated more and retained better, and make the storytelling event more enjoyable. Metaphors, proverbs, and parables are also useful for drawing out analogies. It is interesting to note that the English word “talent” comes from a Greek word referring to a unit of money. We got this word in English by means of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

The whole idea of a parable is that it uses an image of a familiar situation to represent something else. In translation, if the image used is of something unfamiliar to the speakers of the receptor language, it is not advisable to keep the unfamiliar image and laboriously explain what it means. An example would be the parable of the wineskins (Mark 2:22). There is no word for “wineskin” in Kwéyòl, and to translate “wineskin” by using a descriptive phrase (see Barnwell 1986:35-36) would take the focus away from the point being made and give that focus instead to the cultural differences. Especially since some English translations of the Bible use “bottle” in place of “wineskin”, after some discussion about what people have experienced and what makes sense, we decided to use “boutèy” (“bottle”) in the Kwéyòl translation.

In at least one case, we had to abandon a proverb completely and give the interpretation instead. In Luke 23:31, where it says “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” we said “Paski si yo ka twété mwen ki inosan kon sa, ki mannyè yo kay twété sé moun-an ki koupab-la!” (“Because if they treat me who am innocent like that, how will they treat the people who are guilty!”)

An idiom is a phrase that functions as a single semantic unit, not to be taken literally (Beekman and Callow 1974:121). It is important in translation to recognize idioms in the source text and to translate meaningfully. There are times when it will work to translate an idiom literally, but not often; there are times when one has to abandon the idiom and translate according to the meaning; and there are times in translating naturally when one might use an idiom in the translation where there was not one in the source text. It is very easy for a translator to fail to recognize an idiom in the source text and translate it literally but less than meaningfully. That is where the importance of comprehension checking comes in.

We felt like we were making an idiomatic, dynamic translation on those occasions when we found a Kwéyòl idiom to translate something. After all, idioms are used in the source text, and if we have to abandon some because they are not meaningful in the receptor language, it would make sense also to introduce some where appropriate. The term we found to translate “mercy” and “merciful” is “tjè fèb”, literally “weak heart,” as in Luke 1:50, “His mercy is on those who fear him,” translated as “I ni on tjè fèb pou sé moun‑an ki ni wèspé pou li” (“He has a weak heart for those people who have respect for him”; the English idiom “soft heart” sort of captures the sense.) Similarly, we used the idiom “djòl fò” (“strong snout”) to translate the abstract noun “boldness” in II Corinthians 10:2. A little later in the same chapter (v. 12), when Paul writes about some people who “commend themselves”, we said “Yo menm ka bat tanbou yo épi yo menm ka dansé” (“They themselves beat their drums and they themselves are dancing”).

There is a rather difficult idiom in II Corinthians 6:11, which says in the RSV, “Our mouth is open to you.” Some of the other, less literal English translations say here, “We have spoken freely/frankly to you.” We were pleased to find a corresponding idiom in Kwéyòl that communicates the same idea: “Nou pa té mété dlo an bouch nou pou palé bay zòt” (literally, “We did not put water in our mouths to speak to you”).

Some idioms can be nonverbal. In English, we associate one’s nose up in the air with being “uppity, conceited”. In Kwéyòl, that also signifies pride, but a good kind of pride. So in I Corinthians 15:31, where Paul speaks of “my pride in you,” we translated that as saying “Zòt ja lévé né mwen” (“You have raised my nose”). In Psalm 22:7, which says “They make mouths at me, they wag their heads,” that was translated as “Yo ka tousé né yo èk yo ka fè sin anlè mwen” (“They snort [literally, ‘cough  their noses’] and make signs on me”).3

The use of a euphemism in a translation would be based less on where a euphemism is found in the source text, and more on the rules for propriety in the receptor language. We found that whereas people were not offended to see “harlot” used in the familiar King James Version of the Bible, presumably because that term is not too meaningful to them, they were shocked to hear the Kwéyòl equivalent “djanmèt” used in the translation, as in I Corinthians 6:15. We found we had to use the euphemism “fanm lawi” (“woman of the street”) instead.

It is sometimes interesting and informative to consider what people think of the function of the scriptures in everyday life. For example, in St. Lucia one can “read a Psalm on your head.” That is, there is a certain ceremony that some people practice in secret involving lighting a particular kind of candle, writing a person’s name on a piece of paper and putting it under the candle, and reciting one of the imprecatory Psalms, such as Psalm 109. In other words, the Psalms are associated with putting a curse on someone (see Frank 2002). When we announced that we were going to publish selected Psalms along with the New Testament in Creole, people wanted to know which Psalms were going to be translated and how we selected the ones we did. (We didn't happen to focus on the imprecatory Psalms in making our selection.)

Testing the Translation

Coming up with a way to translate something is only half of the job. We could research and find what concepts already exist in St. Lucian Creole, or coin a phrase when a term does not already exist, but the problem is in knowing how well a chosen expression communicates. Saying something is easy. Saying something that communicates well and is effective is much more difficult. The methodology used in the St. Lucian Creole Bible translation project involves extensive testing to make sure we have achieved our stated goals of clarity, accuracy, and naturalness.

Here is a list of the different types of checks done on the translation relevant to the topic at hand, viz. lexicon: comprehension checks, team check, consultant check, and consistency checks, and oral read-through. In addition to these checks that were carried out one or more times for each passage of the translation, several surveys were conducted to double check how well certain words were understood and to ascertain the target audience’s preferences.

As the translation progressed over the years in St. Lucia, we regularly took out time to do two comprehension checks on each passage translated. We would hire a ‘naive’ language helper who knew Creole well but did not know the Bible well. We would read the translation to him or her a passage at a time and then ask probing questions to see how well the language helper understood the translation. Even when the translation might seem perfect to us, we could usually find places where the meaning was unclear or understood the wrong way by the naive language helper. Sometimes the misunderstandings were astonishing or comical.

Once, when translating the requirements for a church deacon, we used the word méwité, which to us meant ‘deserve’, to say that a deacon must be someone deserving of respect (I Tim. 3:8). When we read this to a naive language helper and asked her to explain what it meant, she said a deacon must be someone who is lacking in respect. Puzzled, we asked her how she used the word méwité and she gave the example Kafé sala méwité sik, “This coffee deserves / is lacking sugar.”

The word manm is sometimes used to mean ‘member’ but it is more commonly used to mean ‘muscle’. One woman we checked with said the phrase sé manm légliz-la made sense to her: it meant “the muscles of the church”. Similarly, dwa can mean either ‘right’ or ‘bedsheet’, and where we were trying to say that Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge one person thought that he was exchanging his bedsheet for the porridge.

Given our goals of clarity, accuracy, and naturalness, the comprehension checks are designed to check for clarity. To double check the accuracy, a translation consultant abroad studies a back translation into English of our translation and then comes to St. Lucia to conduct his or her own tests similar to our comprehension checks but using an interpreter. To check for naturalness, we read the translation to reviewers, or let them read it if they are able, and we ask them to focus on whether this is the way Creole speakers would really use language. Even though mother tongue speakers draft the translation, when translating from another language it is very easy for the form of the source language to be carried over into the receptor language. The team check, where a native speaker on the translation team other than the one who translated that particular book reviews the translation, is one kind of naturalness check we did. Later, when the whole New Testament was in draft, we held an oral read-through that lasted over a month, in which each book was read out loud by someone other than the translator, and other mother tongue speakers not on the translation team were also present to hear the translation read. This gave another good opportunity to comment on the naturalness of the translation, and many improvements were made on each page of the manuscript as a result.

Sometimes when reading the translation out loud we know our translation is technically correct but we still get some valuable feedback as to how it comes across. Once, upon hearing a selection of the manuscript read aloud, some people gasped when they heard the word djanmèt and said that word couldn’t be used in the Bible. They were accustomed to hearing the archaic ‘harlot’ in the King James Bible, which did not convey a lot of meaning to them.

The St. Lucian Creole word sab means ‘sword’ and lanm means ‘blade’, so to say ‘two-edged sword we said sab dé lanm, literally ‘sword of two blades’. The only problem is that sab can also mean ‘sand’ and lanm can also mean ‘wave’, so one person in our oral read-through said sab dé lanm sounded like it meant the ‘sand of two waves’. We had to be vigilant in watching for anything unnecessarily crude-sounding, anything comical-sounding, and anything that did not sound like the way people really talk.

In addition to all the usual tests and checks we decided to carry out a couple of surveys. We checked a set of fifteen religious terms that we had been disputing among ourselves. Most of these were words that might be classified as archaic, and we wanted to determine whether they were well enough known to use in the translation. About half of the words we tested this way, such as kwayan ‘believer’, ladwati ‘righteousness’, and bèlté pouvwa, a phrase we were experimenting with to translate ‘glory’, were rejected, and about half were retained, including lasajès ‘wisdom’, lagwas ‘grace’, and lanmityé ‘selfless love’. Some people misunderstood mizéwikòd, ‘mercy’, to mean ‘a curse’, so we decided to use it only in a few unambiguous contexts and use something like tjè fèb, ‘weak heart’ (a Creole idiom), elsewhere.

One of the words we tested in this survey and ended up rejecting was nati, which is supposed to mean ‘nature’. We had already gotten indications that people might misunderstand it to refer to dreadlocks. Our surveyors were testing nati with a group of villagers by reading First Corinthians 11:7. There was a young Rasta listening in from a distance, and when the survey was finished at that one site he called the surveyors over and said he was very happy to hear that verse, because it confirmed that God really does have dreadlocks. The verse in question had read An nonm pa ni pyès wézon pou kouvè tèt li, paski Bondyé ja fè’y menm kon i menm Bondyé yé, épi i ja ba li an nati ki menm kon sa li, or “A man does not have any reason to cover his head, because God has already made him just as he God is, and he has already given him a nati that is just like his own.” The surveyors, mother tongue translators Peter Samuel and Mano Leon, could not convince the man that that is not what that verse was supposed to be saying. The Rasta insisted that if the Bible said that then it must be true. It occured later to the surveyors that they might have quoted him Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians (2:13), which read, “When you were dead in your spirits because your life was a life of sin, you had not yet cut off and thrown away your sinful nati.”


A number of factors have to be considered in order for a translation to achieve maximum effectiveness. Accuracy and faithfulness to the original text are of course of primary importance, but a translation cannot be judged to be accurate apart from consideration of the effect it has on its audience. And apart from questions of accuracy and comprehension, the effectiveness of a translation depends on how the message is received. Is it in a language form that the intended audience will respect and to which they will pay attention? Acceptability cannot take priority over accuracy, but still it is an important factor in judging a translation. We have sought in our translation to use a language form that is respectable and should have the salutary effect of not only attracting an audience but also reinforcing Creole as a language. Our testing methods have helped us determine what communicates and what is acceptable as good Creole.


Barnwell, Katharine. 1986. Bible translation: An introductory course in translation principles. Dallas: SIL.

Beekman, John, and John Callow. 1974. Translating the Word of God. Grand Rapid: Zondervan.

France, R.T. 1972. The Exegesis of Greek Tenses in the New Testament. Notes on translation 46:3-12.

Frank, David B. 1993. Political, religious, and economic factors affecting language choice in St. Lucia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 102:39-56.

                         . 2002. The language of the supernatural world in St. Lucia. La Torre 25.399-409.

Tèstèman Nèf-la épi an pòsyon an liv Samz-la. 1999. Bridgetown: Bible Society in the East Caribbean.


[1] The principle members of the translation team were mother-tongue translators Peter Samuel and Mano Leon, working with David and Lynn Frank and Paul and Cynthia Crosbie of SIL International. A great many more people than can be named in this paper have also contributed to the St. Lucian Creole translation project over the years as checkers, reviewers, and sources of information.

[2] The Gullah translation project was begun in 1979 and is based on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. At present the main people involved in the translation effort are mother-tongue translators Ardell Greene, Vernetta Canteen and Emory Campbell, working with David and Lynn Frank and Elmer and Ruth Ash of SIL International. The author's involvement began in 2002, after the Gullah translation was already in draft, and extensive revisions are currently being made in preparation for publishing it.

[3] It is okay to substitute a more culturally-appropriate “nonverbal idiom” in translation in the context of poetic, figurative or didactic language, but in other contexts, if the text says a person did one thing, the translator should not say that he did something else. See Beekman and Callow 1974, chapter 2.