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July 24, 2009 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Linguists and Missionaries often find themselves in similar situations. The Jesus Film Project.

Sample video

The sample video has voice over in Kilega. If you want any recordings or texts in Kilega, they are more than likely from missionaries. Is this a pernicious effect of religion on language, or should we see it as a simple fact, that languages spread through religious channels?
posted by fcummins (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Every agency is free to learn and translate their materials into other languages, but it's only religious ones that usually care to. Is that a bad thing? I prefer to think that Kilega speakers can make a choice about their faith just as much as anyone else can
posted by Think_Long at 2:48 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Linguists and Missionaries often find themselves in similar situations.

Ow. You made me hurt my head trying to find a punch line.

So.... close...
posted by rokusan at 3:13 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Linguists and Missionaries often find themselves in similar situations.

That's not entirely true. Cunning missionaries are far less popular with the ladies.
posted by Malor at 3:25 PM on July 24, 2009 [10 favorites]


But they have positional advantage. Ok, that's a derail. Meanwhile....
posted by fcummins at 3:29 PM on July 24, 2009


Every agency is free to learn and translate their materials into other languages, but it's only religious ones that usually care to. Is that a bad thing? I prefer to think that Kilega speakers can make a choice about their faith just as much as anyone else can

Perhaps, but if choosing a religion is participating in a market of ideas, then the people who control the flow of information in that marketplace are immensely powerful. I'm not criticizing the work that the SIL undertake here, as it is accessible to all, including secular bodies and even other religions. But I can't follow the statement that this kind of missionary work really involves free choice on the part of the individual convertee.
posted by Sova at 3:48 PM on July 24, 2009


I enjoy their ethnologue compedium of the languages of the world and referred to it often while taking lingusitics classes. (They produce summaries of languages spoken in each country - languages of Canada, for instance.) I met only one prof who defended the work of missionaries as very important linguistic work and undervalued academic achievement (with the side benefits that langauge transcription data could be used by academics, governments could print educational materials, and so on) that missionaries should earn linguistics degrees after their work was done.

I am undecided on the nefariousness of outsiders transcribing languages, but I had the impression that most developing nations do not have the infrastructure to do linguistic work whether because of economic or politcal reasons (or agendas, priorities, etc.). Perhaps it is better to be done by outsiders than not to be done at all and have languages disappear without any documentation.
posted by philfromhavelock at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2009


Linguists and Missionaries often find themselves in similar situations positions.

There we go.
posted by gurple at 4:18 PM on July 24, 2009


This just seems appropriate here
posted by jtoth at 4:24 PM on July 24, 2009


I meant a good punch line. Slackers.
posted by rokusan at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2009


They also did a recording of the Jesus film specifically for Native Americans, with Native Americans voicing all the parts in English. A friend of my family's played Jesus.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:06 PM on July 24, 2009


If you want any recordings or texts in Kilega, they are more than likely from missionaries. Is this a pernicious effect of religion on language, or should we see it as a simple fact, that languages spread through religious channels?

No, no, and no.
posted by Brian B. at 5:08 PM on July 24, 2009


Linguists often rely on missionaries and translations of the Bible into obscure languages to fund their work. Is that relationship getting too close for comfort?
posted by homunculus at 8:34 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Think_Long summed it up best.

If critics don't like that missionaries are taking the trouble to raise their own funding from supporters, study an intensive course set of linguistics and anthropology (often resulting in a graduate degree), go and spend years living on-site in a foreign land, dealing with the challenges of living as an expat for years, learning sometimes two or three languages in order to do their job, adapting to a new culture, working hard with the locals to help them develop an orthography, document linguistic identity, grammar, lexicon, etc., develop literacy and medical programs and then translate materials of spiritual, medical and social significance into the new language, then the critics should go do it themselves.

(By the way, the Editor of the Ethnologue and his wife are about the coolest cats you'd ever hope to meet.)
posted by darkstar at 8:40 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


As an "English teacher" (heh) in Japan, I sometimes felt like a missionary. At the time I certainly felt the need to explain how superior western culture and its "individuality" and "freedom of expression" were to Japanese culture, even though I didn't speak the language or know anything about the country. I also worked for an American company whose management and senior teachers were all LDS (I learned it's not politically correct to call LDS folk "Mormon") from Utah. They were so American they wore Lands End clothing.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 PM on July 24, 2009


What think_long said.

When it's a commercial product offering their website in umpteen languages, we dismiss it as simple equation -- reaching a larger audience means more sales. Or we might even praise them for being aggressive re: accessibility. But if it's a religion trying to make a message more available or accessible, then it's a potentially bad thing?

Also, would this question occur if the religion were Buddhism, I wonder?

Lastly, what Malor said. :)
posted by rahnefan at 7:00 AM on July 25, 2009


Before I get a thousand reminders...yes I know many Buddhists don't consider it a religion. I mean no offense.
posted by rahnefan at 7:03 AM on July 25, 2009


> I am undecided on the nefariousness of outsiders transcribing languages

Personally, if I hear someone proclaim the nefariousness of outsiders transcribing languages, I conclude that person is a fanatic and pay no further attention to what they have to say.
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


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