At translation workshops, many translation teams gather together to work on a practical task and exchange their experience with their instructors and with one another. The entire process resembles a massive brainstorm session. The intensity of the work gives birth to new translation decisions and sometimes even to completely new approaches to translation.
There is an old Abkhaz legend about a widow. Her husband was killed, and she raised their three sons alone. When the sons grew up, the time came for them to avenge their murdered father according to their ancestral law. But who of them would become the avenger? The widow suggested casting lots to determine this. She would bake several pieces of flat bread and hide a small piece of wood in one of them.
Good Bible translation is not a simple process. Each translated text goes through at least four drafts with various checks at each stage (exegetical checking, internal reviewing, philological editing, field-testing, consultant checking, external reviewing, etc.). But even after the translation is completed and the book has been published and delivered to the region, it still needs to be somehow distributed among its potential readers, which is not an easy task either. Distributing the Bible in areas with a predominantly Muslim population may be dangerous because many people are prejudiced against the Bible and see it as a tool of westernization or russification – a real threat to their ethnic culture and to the worldview foundations of their community.
By the middle of the 1st millennium B.C., an alliance of 26 tribes was formed in the eastern Transcaucasus (at present, the territory of Azerbaijan). They formed the polyethnic kingdom of Caucasian Albania, which in the 4th century A.D. adopted Christianity as its state religion. Parts of the Bible were translated into the Caucasian Albanian, or Agwan, language, which belonged to the Lezgic language family. However, this translation was lost during the early Medieval period, and parts of it were discovered only in recent times. In the 12-17th centuries Islam came to dominate in the region, so nowadays the Lezgic peoples are mainly Muslim. They practice folk Islam, but traces of their Christian past are still noticeable, and in folklore traditions one can still find traces of ancient paganism...
What is needed to become a Bible translator? Among very small ethnic groups that speak an endangered language, sometimes it is enough to simply have a good command of one’s mother tongue, even if it is only the spoken form of the language. But for larger languages with a well-developed literary tradition, IBT’s translators are usually professionals in the spheres of linguistics or literature. Such is the situation in IBT’s Dargi (or Dargwa) project. The team presently consists of two translators and a third, potential translator, all of them specialists in their language. But professional language interest alone is not what leads someone from a different religious tradition into a project to translate the Bible. What motivates those who become Bible translators to choose this path?