A Taste of Translation

July 3, 2014 3:25 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

TIUIf you’ve read my blog in the past, you may have heard me talking about Total It Up. Total is really T.O.T.A.L., an acronym for Taste of Translation and Linguistics, and is an event where people interested in Bible translation can get some small idea of what the experience is like.

I’ve been involved in this event multiple times, and it’s occurred to me that some of my friends and blog-followers might enjoy a little taste of Total It Up as well.

In linguistics, languages are broken down in many different ways. A single term is applied to the same structure, no matter what language you are currently working with. One of these structures, a morpheme, is defined as the smallest structure of a language that has its own independent meaning. For example, in English, the word unbreakable comprises three morphemes: un- (a bound morpheme signifying “not”), -break- (the root, a free morpheme), and -able (a free morpheme signifying “can be done”). In this way, linguists can break down a complicated language, allowing them to see how it works, and helping them to understand it better. In a way, this is the linguistic equivalent of dissecting a frog in biology class.KRILfWUi9SDrhGkPv5Qd6kA39JAnEEoNRvP9--6rwJw

With this in mind, let’s take a look at one of the first exercises attenders at Total It Up get to work through.

MBEMBE (E. Nigeria) – Lesson 1

Purpose: Practice in identifying morphemes, see verb word structure in a language different from English.


  1. Make morpheme breaks in the words so you can see the separate morphemes more easily. This will make it easier to identify what each morpheme is actually doing in the sentence.
  2. List morphemes in their grammatical classes (see the chart below) with meanings. Put hyphens where appropriate.
  3. Make a diagram for the Verb word (see the formula below).
  4. Using #1-10 as a guide, solve #11-13.

Thirteen Problems

  1. nwa ogwo                      ‘the child drinks’
  2. nwa oci                           ‘the child eats’
  3. nwa oci eten                  ‘the child eats fish’
  4. aci eten                           ‘you eat fish’
  5. oci eten                           ‘he eats fish’
  6. nwa mogwo                   ‘the child will drink’
  7. maci eten                       ‘you will eat fish’
  8. kogwo                             ‘he doesn’t drink’
  9. kagwo                             ‘you don’t drink’
  10. nkogwo                           ‘he will not drink’
  11.                                       ‘you will not eat fish’
  12.                                       ‘the child will not drink’
  13.                                       ‘the child will eat fish’


Nwa child
Eten fish

Now, look at all the parts you have, and fit them into the below categories.

Tense Negative .
Subject Person  .
Verb Roots
m- Future   . k- o- ‘he/she’ gwo- ‘drink’
 a- ‘you’ ci- ‘eat’

Finally, take the pieces and plug them into the following formula:

Tense (optional) + Negative (optional) + Subject Person + Verb Roots = Verb Word

TIU2As you can see, this looks quite complicated, but when you break it down, you can decipher any language. It may take some time, but with a little patience and work, you can begin to construct your own phrases in any language.

Translation can be a joy, and it is my sincere wish that more people would come to enjoy it. If you already know another language, or if you understand music or mathematics (which are just languages of a different sort), then you are well on your way to being a translator. Instead of seeing translation as a chore, I challenge you to see it as a science experiment. And once you can make that mental leap – from translation being “work” to being “fun”, you’ll never look at it the same way again!

Do your best and then post your answers in the comments. Let’s see how you all do.

Best Wishes!

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This post was written by Grace Fabian

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Grace Fabian