Preserving Languages With Fish
Participants at the 10th Conference on Oceanic Linguistics, co-sponsored by Wycliffe’s partner, SIL, learned why documenting names for fish can be a key part of preserving a people’s language and culture.
Dr. Brenda Boerger, SIL special consultant for language and culture documentation, told linguists, ethno-botanists and ethnoarts experts meeting from around the world in the Solomon Islands, about the collection of 240-plus names of fish and related terms for a Natügu language dictionary project in 2015.
Boerger was an adviser to the Natügu language project in the Solomon Islands from 1987-2000.
Such fish information can be used by school teachers or included in a fish dictionary or encyclopedia (see photo above) for use in a language community, providing interesting reading material and enhancing literacy. Moreover, preserving this information in writing is a way to pass it on to the next generation.
Boerger said such information is part of a community’s shared knowledge, called “traditional ecological knowledge” or TEK. Every effort should be made to preserve TEK.
“When we lose language or knowledge about other parts of culture, it is like we have lost the anchor that makes us secure in who we are, and we drift like a coconut on the sea.”
Former Wycliffe Canada Leader Dies
Jack Newton, a former head of Wycliffe Canada, passed away this past August. He was 76.
Jack, with his wife Jeannette, served many decades with Wycliffe, including a stint as executive director of Wycliffe Canada, from 1988 to 1994.
Wycliffe Canada president Roy Eyre remembers Newton as someone who was always willing to serve—and did it with humility.
“He was not concerned with status or accolades, but about God and His mission. He was simply willing to do everything he could to further God’s mission,” says Roy.
“To me, he was an informal mentor. Having personally experienced the rigours and responsibilities of this role himself, he was always an encourager and willing to talk.”
A native of Calgary, Newton joined Wycliffe in 1966, four years after marrying Jeannette. Before his term as Wycliffe Canada’s executive director, Newton supported the field work in South Asia with SIL (Wycliffe’s key partner organization) and then Wycliffe Canada, in a variety of financial and administrative roles.
Newton was known for his friendliness, listening ear and a vibrant commitment to overseas missions. Under his leadership, Wycliffe Canada experienced significant growth in personnel and finances; emphasized strategic planning and organizational restructuring; finished a Calgary head office upgrading project; and expanded sponsorship overseas of literacy projects, several of which received awards from UNESCO.
Newton is survived by his wife Jeannette, as well as two children, Daryn and Cheryl, and four grandchildren.
Japanese students challenged about missions
Twenty-eight Japanese junior high and senior high school students were asked to consider cross-cultural service at Wycliffe Japan’s recent mission challenge seminar.
It was an exciting day for them as they participated in a simulation of crossing cultural boundaries and worked on learning a language that was new to them.
Wycliffe Japan is asking for prayer that because of the seminar, the students will have a deeper walk with God and gain a burden to cross cultures for evangelism and disciple-making in the future. The seminar was done in partnership with two Japanese Christian churches.
Meanwhile, Wycliffe Hong Kong celebrated its 30th anniversary this past year. The milestone culminated in a thanksgiving ceremony in mid-July, where the organization praised God for opportunities to partner with many churches and supporters during the past three decades.
Waterproof (and termite-proof) Scriptures are a big hit
A Wycliffe husband-and-wife team, from South Africa and Canada respectively, are among the very first adopters of synthetic paper for Scriptures translated for an indigenous people group.
Keith and Wilma Forster published the pocket-sized Psalms and Proverbs in 2016 using waterproof paper made with a PVC derivative—essentially a plastic product. The Scriptures are for the 157,000 speakers of San Blas Kuna in Panama. (The entire Bible in the language was dedicated in September 2014—see Word Alive, Summer 2015).
First included in English Bibles in 2005 by Bardin Marsee Publishing (whose Christian founders are outdoor enthusiasts), the paper is more commonly used for the labels on liquid dish and laundry detergent containers.
The Forsters say the waterproof paper, which is soft and pliable, is perfect for the San Blas people. They live on islands and in the rainforest, where moisture can ruin paper. Moreover, destructive termites do not eat the waterproof pages.
“We are very excited and enthusiastic about the advantages that waterproof (synthetic) paper provides for all people groups—especially those who live in harsh environments such as jungle, island communities, and all difficult-to-reach areas around the world.”
The San Blas Kuna believers are excited as well. When the Kuna man in charge of distribution took the first copies to the San Blas Islands, he did a demonstration in front of various congregations. He spilled muddy water on the pages which could easily be wiped off and he tried unsuccessfully to tear one page—all with no damage.
“The folks were incredulous—and impressed!” report the Forsters.
There are plans to publish the entire San Blas Kuna New Testament and hymnbook on the cutting-edge paper.
Computer font released for the "bride of calligraphy"
Wycliffe’s key partner organization, SIL, has released a digital computer font for a wide variety of minority languages across southwest Asia that use the Nastaliq style of Arabic script.
SIL has named the new font Awami Nastaliq. Awami means “of the people” in Urdu, a language spoken in Pakistan and India.
Often referred to as “the bride of calligraphy,” the Nastaliq script is considered one of the most complex and beautiful on the planet. But it is one of the most difficult to render as a computer font because of its right-to-left direction, vertical nature and context-specific shaping.
In creating the new font, SIL font developers have ended a long technical struggle. The challenge was to produce the font with a correct shaping, while at the same time avoiding unsightly and confusing overlap of dots and diacritics (marks by letters that indicate a difference in pronunciation).
Because the Nastaliq style is written diagonally, some of its letter sequences get quite tall, which can result in collisions with the previous line of text. SIL’s computer font includes a feature to use shorter forms of some of the letters to help avoid this problem.
SIL has been developing digital fonts for lesser-known languages for nearly 30 years. Awami Nastaliq joins 22 other font families created by SIL font developers.