We’re attending a meeting this evening to get to know some of the people who are involved in beginning a Bible translation for Hong Kong Sign Language. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are many different sign languages around the world. It is currently estimated that there may be 400 or more sign languages around the world. Sign languages are distinct from the spoken languages in an area with their own grammar and vocabulary.
The relationship between sign languages is also not necessary connected to the relationship between spoken languages. For example, while hearing people in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan speak Chinese languages, Hong Kong Sign Language is related to a couple of the Sign Languages used in China, but it is distinct from Taiwanese Sign Langauge which is related to Japanese Sign Language.
The photo above shows how to sign the Lord’s Prayer in Hong Kong Sign Language. The Pastor of the Hong Kong Deaf People Christian Church created it to help his congregation learn the Lord’s Prayer. Because sign languages are not universal, each sign language has it’s own way of signing this prayer and articulating the content of the Bible.
The group, tonight, was discussing how to sign key terms.
They were viewing short video clips showing someone signing different key terms, and then everyone was discussing them. In my video (above) you may hear a couple of people speaking Cantonese. It is not the Deaf who are speaking, but the two hearing people who work among Deaf in Hong Kong who were participating in the meetings.
For some concepts they were also discussing if new signs needed to be created and taught or if current signs could adequately translate the meanings of biblical terms.
One term under discussion was emmanuel — God with us. Two options for signs (see above) were discussed at length. The one on the right some felt looked more like God was sitting among us because having your pinky finger out indicates sitting. Whereas the sign on the left, with your fingers clenched together, others felt more adequately translated to the concept of God with us in Hong Kong Sign Language.
This project is just beginning, so it will be interesting to see how it develops in the next few years. From what I saw it looks like this Bible translation will be done on video as many other sign language translation have been done. They are receiving assistance from ViBi, an organization which is involved in Bible translation in Japan. I’ll be visiting them when I leave Hong Kong.
Discussion about key terms is a process that takes place throughout every Bible translation whether for a spoken or signed language. The discussion usually begins before any translation has taken place and continues throughout the translation process. After a translation is complete sometimes new key terms are discovered or the language changes so that new key terms are needed that more fully capture the meaning of biblical concepts. At this point a revision is needed.
Finding adequate ways to articulate biblical concepts is something even Jesus does in the New Testament when describing the Shema to two teachers of the law - look here to read about Bible translation in the Bible.