Another exciting article about the recently published New Testament for the Gullah speakers in the Sea Islands of Georgia and the Carolinas appears in the latest issue of Christianity Today online. There is, I believe, an important lesson for all English users of the Bible to be learned from the effect that this New Testament in the heart language has upon Gullah speakers.
Gullah is an English creole language, with many words originally from English. But Gullah has a grammar distinct from that of English. The lesson for those of us whose heart language is English can be drawn from these lines from the C.T. article:
Most Gullah speakers know English, but reading the Bible in the language they first learned changes their experience. Ravenell [a middle-school teacher from South Carolina] says, “For me, it was like I had come home to the Word of God when I heard it in Gullah.”
Now, listen carefully to the effect that the Gullah translation is having even on Gullah speakers with college degrees, people who can speak English well (as their second language):
Along with the emotional appeal, the Gullah translation also brings clarity. “[Gullah speakers] are accustomed to thinking that the Scriptures are not meant to be understood,” Frank [the linguist who helped the Gullah translators] says. “They’re pleasantly surprised to find that the translation into Gullah speaks clearly, and it helps reinforce their culture instead of having to go through another language like English in order to understand God’s message.”
“Even I, who have a graduate degree and have read the Bible in English all my life, can better understand the Bible now,” says Emory Campbell, another translator. “It makes a whole lot more sense to me.”
Have you ever sensed this effect upon you when you have read a translation of the Bible that was written in the form of English that is your heart language, rather than a special church English? If not, I encourage you to find a Bible which is written in your English, your heart language. Read it. Listen to your mind and heart as they process that translation. You need not use that Bible as your study Bible, if you already have a preference for a different dialect of English for study. But I think it is a very special thing for anyone to experience the power of the written Word of God in their own heart language, including English speakers who may have have only read or heard the Bible in a speciality dialect different from the English they learned at their mother’s knee.
Try it! You might like it. You might even find your heart warmed by hearing God’s Word written in language that speaks most directly to your mind and heart, since it was your first language.
“And the Word became human and dwelled among us.” And the written Word has also been incarnated in our own words and is dwelling among us. Will we listen? Dare we listen? If we do, it can change us.
Update: Heart language, as used in this post, is usually a person’s first language.