Adding zip and pow!

I’m now catching up with backlogs after a successful 4-week trip to the north of Ghana. We got several Old Testament books in Kasem checked with the translators, Jonah, Abraham and James.  As well as several of the minor prophets (Hosea, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum) we checked verse-by-verse through Jeremiah (8 days) and Lamentations (1 day). Each time I work with the translators I find I have expanded my understanding of a new area of the language. This time it was ideophones.

Idephones seem to occur in most languages and can be described as ‘a vivid representation of an idea in sound.’  They relate to sensory perceptions such as colour, sound (onomatopoeia), smell and texture, and often are linguistically distinct elements of the language, falling outside the normal phonological and grammatical categories. In Kasem they usually function in an adverbial capacity.

The OT prophets had vivid revelations from God, often expressed in visual terms. The Hebrew word הִנֵּה <hinneh>, usually translated “behold” in the more literal English versions, is a frequent reminder that God’s revelation came in visions, or as very vivid first-hand experiences. The word occurs 140 times in the book of Jeremiah. Ideophones seem to be a way of capturing this impact in Kasem.  Here are some examples used in Jeremiah:

bigila-bigila fat, well-fed Jer. 5:8, 28, 46:21
bele-bele agitated, distressed Jer. 30:6
bɔge-bɔge in uproar, confusion Jer. 16:8
bugi-bugi uncontrolled, ablaze Jer. 25:36
buri-buri sudden collapse Jer. 51:58
chwolololo tall and towering Jer. 46:18
diŋ-diŋ tight, secure Jer. 50:33
fugi-fugi overflowing, boiling over Jer. 46:8
jalam-jalam aimlessly Jer. 15:17
jilli all together as a group Jer. 25:11
keleŋe swept clean Jer. 43:12, 49:10
kere-kere shocked (face) Jer. 30:6
mura-mura smashed in pieces Jer. 50:23
nyelamm completely consumed Jer. 15:3
palalala spread wide and open Jer. 10:12, 40:4, 51:15
pare-pare spread out Jer. 25:33
vera-vera persistently Jer. 46:22
zɔŋ-zɔŋ completely destroyed Jer. 4:6, 48:20

These are just examples of Kasem ideophones used in Jeremiah. There are plenty more! We do need to test these for acceptability. There doesn’t seem to be a problem using these expressions in written communication, but we need to be sure they are understood and accepted across the language area.

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5 responses to “Adding zip and pow!

  1. Welcome back. Nkonyas love ideophones too. Haven’t gotten around to formally listing them though. I should. How did you get Hebrew script to show up in your blog?

    • Thanks for your comment. For the Hebrew I did a copy and paste from the OT text resource which we use in the translation. I haven’t tried typing Hebrew in directly.

  2. Thanks for posting this — wonderful to see examples of ideophones used in Bible translations!
    I highlighted an example from Nyungwe (a Bantu language of Mocambique) some time ago in a post on my Ideophone blog.

    adisasullivan, can I ask you about the Nkonyas? I work in Akpafu so that’s right around the corner. Would love to hear more about your experiences.

  3. Just had a look at your Ideophone blog. Great stuff. New Testament was recently published in Siwu as I expect you know. Not sure if they made use of ideophones in the translation though I did come to Volta Region (Santrokofi) to check some of their work a few years back.

  4. Philip, yes, I was in the area when they launched it last April (and also visited the Santrokofi NT launch). I happen to know the translators and literacy committee members very well. Haven’t seen many ideophones in the Siwu NT, though there are some.

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