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Early this past Friday morning we received a call from our colleague David in Nigeria.
We never know what to expect when we see that +234 Nigeria country code on the phone. Often the calls are very brief, a greeting through loud static on the line. A lot of “Can you hear me?” and having to repeat yourself. Friday was different. The call was crisp and clear, and it brought us very welcome news.

David, who currently lives in Florida, is in Nigeria on a one-month visit. He took along with him a paper that Becky has written as part of her linguistic studies. (Remember how we went to Nigeria in 2013 and Becky presented a conference paper on the way home? That paper was published in December 2015.) David works in translation checking with several different language groups including Ut-Ma’in.

David called to tell Becky that he had an “ah-ha moment” when reading her paper. During the translation process, the back translator* was not using past-tense in the middle of the story. This was obviously of some concern, but it was not known what to do about it, or if it was a personal style choice of the person doing the back translation. David’s “ah-ha moment” was when he read the part of the paper which says that past tense only occurs on the first few verbs of a story. The rest of the verbs do not use a past-tense marker; they have the same form as a present tense verb – even if they refer to an event in the past. (Send us a quick email if you’d like to read the paper for yourself.)

Reading Becky’s analysis of how the verbs work in Ut-Ma’in brought a great deal of peace and understanding.

We praise God that Becky’s Ph.D. work:

  • is not just affecting people around her here in Oregon, but also those halfway around the world in Nigeria.
  • is not just improving her skills for some future work in Nigeria, but is impacting translation activities right now!

* Back translation is a process where the translated materials are given to a third party (or team member who did not do the translation), and that third party then ‘translates back’ into the first language. For instance, if Hugh were to translate something from English into Spanish, then a colleague – Alejandro – might take the Spanish version and translate it back into English. Then we might look at that second English version for clues on where to make the meaning clearer in the Spanish version so that the versions in both languages communicate the same thing.