When God Speaks Arrernte

Neil Broad, SIL Eastern Arrernte Translator
Neil Broad, SIL Eastern Arrernte Translator

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by Neil Broad, SIL Eastern Arrernte Translator

Most Aboriginal people do not describe themselves as being "Aboriginal." Instead, they choose to define themselves as part of a group who speak a common language - their language is their primary means of articulating their identity. So, people will call themselves an Arrernte person or a Pitjantjatjara person or a Warlpiri person - in other words: "I am someone who speaks the Arrernte language and this is what defines my sense of community and belonging." Identity is then shaped through families and kinship systems, through inter-relatedness.

If community for Arrernte people is defined by their interconnectedness through language then what does it mean having God's Word in their own language? Here are some comments from Lorrayne Gorey one of the Arrernte speakers who worked for many years as a co-translator of the Arrernte Bible.

"This was my real job, given to me by Ngkarte (God). I can feel the Spirit when I translate. I know Ngkarte is watching me ... inside me... in what He is telling me. We launched the first Arrernte Bible 'Ayeye Ngkarte-akerte' at Santa Teresa in 2003 after my uncle passed away . . . When Neil spoke, we cried. We could hear our uncle speaking through Neil's words. It was really clear. Other people could hear him too. Translation is a bit like talking to God, and He talks to you too."

If people connect to each other through the use of a common language, and this is their primary means of defining their inter-relatedness and their sense of community, then what happens to that community and sense of connectedness when God speaks their language? They connect to Him as being integral to who they are.

After nearly 28 years working as translators with Eastern and Central Arrernte speakers, we are hugely thankful that the entire New Testament and Genesis, parts of Exodus and Ruth have now been published in the Arrernte language. God, who speaks their language, is shaping the Arrernte speakers' sense of community and identity. The task of Bible translation involves working with people at some of the most fundamental human-worth levels of interaction, namely language and culture.

In April 2018, working with Global Recordings Network (GRN) recordists, we completed the audio recording of the remaining 40% of the entire Eastern and Central Arrernte Shorter Bible - all 5167 verses. Nearly three years earlier GRN recorded the initial 60%. Completing this hugely significant task is so very encouraging not just for us, but for the entire Arrernte speaking community of approximately 2500. There are only about 8% of Arrernte speakers who are able to read their own language so having the Scriptures available in audio form now means 100% of the Arrernte speaking community will be able to access the Word of God in their own language. We have had many reminders translating over the years that stories, traditions, songs and connectedness have always been passed on orally.

God's kingdom, His perspective and His values when expressed in the language of the heart, have the capacity and opportunity to shape who Arrernte people are, and what their community can become. God is an integral part of their community because He speaks their language and people can now hear His Word as well as being able to read it - Praise God!

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