"The language of the Bible should be sumptuous!"
Autumn 2018 Newsletter on the Yakut project

Russia is big, and the difference in time between Moscow and Yakutia (Sakha Republic) is six hours. I asked our Yakut translator Sargylana about her most recent translation news after she had completed a week of working with the translation consultant at the IBT Moscow office, and during our talk I was surprised to hear that she was getting up at 4 a.m. every day – in Yakutia it was already 10 a.m., and Sargylana didn’t want to get used to Moscow time. However, after a long work day and inevitable household chores in the evening, she was going to bed according to Moscow time, which left her just 5 hours for sleep. But such is her amazing dedication that trying to persuade her to take better care of herself seemed useless.

The time zone is not the only thing that is different in Moscow and Yakutia. Another major difference is the climate, and though everyone knows that Yakutia is a very cold place, fewer people know that almost every year Yakutia has a very short but hot period in the middle of summer. During this time the temperature may rise to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the taiga forest frequently catches on fire. In wintertime, on the other hand, the main trouble for the population is frostbite. Several years ago Sargylana’s own nephew, who was a little boy at the time, was on the verge of losing a finger to frostbite. The doctors thought that amputation was inevitable, but many people prayed for the boy. The doctors were therefore surprised and relieved to announce that the boy’s hand could be spared and treated medically. Praise God, this was a real miracle! “If it had been amputated,” Sargylana says, “his whole life would have been ruined – everybody would think of him as an alcoholic, since it is usually drunk people who stay out in the cold too long, get their fingers frostbitten, and need to have them amputated.”

Sargylana shared one of the secrets of her highly professional approach to Bible translation: “When I start my translation work, I go away from the city,” she shared. “The problem is that in the city people speak mostly Russian, and even when they speak Yakut, their speech is very correct, but dry and drained of its natural beauty. Even my own speech becomes clumsy, while returning to the village is like taking a dip in living water. My tongue becomes liberated. I start speaking like ordinary Yakut people do. The best place for me to go when I start my translation work is Vilyuisky-ulus, the region of Yakutia where my mother lives. The Yakut language of our native village preserves its primeval richness and flexibility.”

“I never start my translation with putting down my draft on paper immediately,” Sargylana continues. “I always read my version aloud first, because Yakuts are a very musical people, and it is important to make the translation sound pleasant. If I stumble when reading my own translation to myself, I understand that it is not smooth enough. Fortunately, we all know each other in the village, and whoever comes into the house, I ask them to listen. These can be people of different ages, but it’s the older people who immediately hear what can be improved and whose comments are most precious. Once my former classmate Sergei came to our house. His life has not been successful by outward standards. His house burned down when he was drunk, and since then he has been living with his friends. However he is the best mechanic in the village and he is such a person that even when wronged, he harbors no grudge against people. He is also the most avid reader in our village, and if you could only hear him talk! The time he came to our house he spoke Yakut worthy of being written down by the best linguistic scholars. His speech was sumptuous. This is what the language of the Bible translation should be – vivid, flexible, delicious. I see the primary reading audience of our Bible translations not necessarily in those who are already Christian believers, but in common Yakut villagers, like Sergei, who know and treasure their mother tongue.”

I asked Sargylana if these common villagers ever read books, and was pleasantly surprised to hear her unhesitating affirmative reply. “Indeed they do!” she said enthusiastically. “It’s typical for our villagers to read a lot. The older generation are all great readers and book lovers. Alas, I can’t say the same about children or teenagers. They turn away from reading and stick to computers. Even my own nephews who live in the village are like that. They study well at school, but I never see any of them with a book.” I asked Sargylana if she felt it was useless to give her Scripture translations to her nephews, since it could be expected that children would find it boring to read the Bible, which requires patience and thoughtfulness so untypical of children. But Sargylana’s face lit up.

“Oh, yes, that’s true!” she smiled. “However, that nephew of mine, whose finger was saved from amputation… He is 14 now. My brother says that he always takes the Yakut Children’s Bible with him wherever he goes. Once somebody died at my brother’s work, and there is a Yakut tradition that after a person is buried, his friends should spend a night at the place where he died. My brother went there with his son, and the boy took the Children’s Bible with him even on this occasion. They needed to stay awake for the whole night, but my brother has poor health and needed to sleep, so he took his son with him to keep vigil, and the boy was reading the Children’s Bible all night long. I have never seen him with any other book in his hands. How joyous it is for me that my nephew enjoys reading it so much!”


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