Bible Society of South Africa

English Bible for the Deaf – Background

How is the EBD translated?

These are the most important principles that the English Bible for the Deaf uses. Any reader who is aware of the limited vocabulary and the language impairment of Deaf readers should understand most of the reasons why the text deviates from normal English in this translation. 

Correct English
The language that the English Bible for the Deaf uses should never be incorrect English.  Yet we need to use a form of language that our Deaf target group can understand. All the formulations need to move between the two beacons of what we should say and what we can say so that our readers understand the text.

The majority of Deaf people in Africa have not attended secondary school and in some countries the average reading ability of a Deaf person is equivalent to that of a hearing child between the age of 8 and 12. Less than 0,5 % of all the Deaf people in South Africa have passed matric.

Not necessarily the best form of English
After giving the first few chapters to the Deaf readers we have had to go back to the beginning and reformulate the text. We were aware of the fact that the target group readers do not have a good knowledge of English, but we were surprised at the large number of unknown words that even the better developed group pointed out as unknown. This makes the project more difficult, but at the same time shows the great need for a text like this and broadens the basis of our target group and increases the number of readers who could benefit from this translation.

There are various instances where we had to adapt the grammar and syntax in such a way that it does not always represent the best form of English. We are forced to make some exceptions to some of the grammatical rules that normally apply or are custom in English.

Impossible to accommodate all the Deaf readers
We will never be able to translate the Bible so that it is simple and easy enough to accommodate all the Deaf readers because some words that are known to one group of Deaf readers will be unfamiliar to other groups of Deaf readers. There are also some very basic words that some Deaf readers do not recognise. However, we need to draw the line at a point and choose how feasible the project can be and how thick the printers can manage to produce a Bible in one volume.

Bridge words to assist recognition
In some chapters a word might be unknown, but in another chapter the context or a bridge word might help the reader to recognise the word. That is why we cannot be consistent throughout the Bible with the usage of certain words. Initially we considered using words in an italic font to indicate where we use bridge words or an extended description of some concepts to help readers recognise some difficult words. But because our mandate and definition of translation for Deaf readers forces us to go beyond the normal practices of translation, we use these insertions not for additional information to help readers gain more knowledge, but see it as part of the basic expression that is needed for Deaf readers to understand the text, mostly words and phrases that belong to the same semantic field as the unknown words. In a translation for hearing readers, these insertions could be seen as paraphrasing, but for the EBD this is necessary to help the Deaf readers recognise the text, making it the best possible translation for them.

Preference for more recognisable forms of verbs
Verbs that are known to the Deaf readers in the present tense often become unrecognisable when they are inflected e.g. in the past tense form.

bring    –>    brought
think     –>     thought
see     –>     saw
take     –>     took

The EBD tries to avoid these inflected words as far as possible and give preference to forms of verbs that are easier recognised by the Deaf readers. 

thought     –>     started to think,
gave     –>     has given.

Short sentences
Sentences are kept as short as possible and longer units are divided by commas, even when a comma would not necessarily be used in the English language. This makes the size of each unit more digestible for the readers.

Indication when using names
For Deaf readers the majority of English words are unfamiliar. Any unfamiliar name would not necessarily be recognised as a name but seen as just another difficult word. Therefore, where possible, all names are indicated as being a name by using explanations.

E.g. there was a man, his name was Methuselah, the Jordan River (not only the Jordan), the land of Mesopotamia.

Where names consist of two words, the names are always linked with a hyphen to show that it is only one name or one person or place, e.g. Beth-Shemesh, Ben-Hinnom, Kiriath-Jearim.

Digits for numbers more than one
Numbers written in letters bring about longer words and greater uncertainty. Deaf readers prefer numbers written in digits, e.g. 7 000 instead of seven thousand. The only lettered number is one and first, but following first will be 2nd, 4th  etc.

Limited vocabulary
The vocabulary that we can use is limited. The America Sign Language which is the most extensive Sign Language dictionary in the world has just over 6 000 lexical items. In most of the other countries, less than 3 000 signs have been listed as concepts that the Deaf people use and have created signs for. It is said that Deaf readers have less than 25% of the vocabulary that hearing readers use.  Our challenge is to formulate the text in such a way that they will understand the message of the Bible using, as far as possible, this limited vocabulary and accept that a precise translation will not always be possible.

Preference for verbs
Verbs are preferred to nouns. It is easier for Deaf readers to understand verbs, because in Sign Language every story or event is played out in a living miming way, verbalising events. Verbs help them to visualise the action and help to simplify sentences and the words being used. They will not say: Thank you for being willing to let us use your house, but they will rather use a verb and say: Thank you that you have opened your door for us.

The term kingdom of God is better understood if translated as where God is King.

Preference for active voice
Passive voice is difficult for Deaf readers because it refers to a construction where the action is not undertaken by the subject, which normally cannot be combined with the prototype verbs to do or to make. Deaf speakers do not use this kind of construction, they prefer active voice because that is the way they communicate in Sign Language.

No reference to oneself in the third person
Referring to oneself in the third person is unknown to Deaf readers and when sentences are structured in this way the readers will misunderstand it and think there is another (3rd) person who is speaking. When Jesus says in John 9:36-37: ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Deaf readers normally misunderstand these kind of sentences and we will have to indicate that Jesus is talking about Himself, in this way:  ‘I, the Son of man…’

Rhetorical questions
Rhetorical structures are unknown to Deaf readers. In all the rhetorical styles in the Bible, the meaning of the words should be given explicitly to the Deaf readers. If these are not explained the readers will misunderstand what is written or asked. A rhetorical question must therefore be answered.

E.g. in Isaiah 50:2  ‘Was my arm too short to help you?’ (NIV) or ‘Have I lost my power to rescue and save?’ (CEV)

For Deaf readers an answer to the question is necessary: ‘No it is not, I can help you.’

Sensitivity for the use of the word hearing
Expressions that use hearing as knowing or obedience should be avoided. Romans 10:14: ‘How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him?’

Deaf people can hear with their eyes and are therefore not excluded here, although the formulation might be understood in that way. It is very common for hearing people to intertwine the meaning of hearing and observing. People say: ‘Did you hear about the fire?’

John even says in Revelation 2:7: ‘If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Does this also apply to Deaf believers? Of course it does. The EBD’s formulation of this will therefore be: ‘If you understand or believe what the Holy Spirit says to the churches, then you must obey.’

No personification of concepts
Many stories are told and things are explained by giving a personality to an object. If Paul says love is patient, he proclaims that everyone who is full of love will be patient. The meaning of his words, and not the style or personification must be conveyed to Deaf readers, by changing the text to: ‘Someone who loves will be very patient’  or ‘If I love, I will be very patient’.

Footnotes to explain difficult words
There is a long list of words that some of the Deaf readers have indicated as being too difficult for them to recognise. In some cases we can rephrase the sentence or support it with a bridge word, and where possible we try to create a footnote. There are many words in the Bible that Deaf readers do not understand and we have tried to use easier words to help them. We can not use too many easier words, because we must translate the right message of the Bible. So we have used the right but difficult words, and explained them at the bottom of the page in a footnote. There is a small letter next to all the difficult words and at the bottom of the page readers can look for that letter to see what that word means. If there is an *asterisk next to a difficult word in a footnote, readers can look at the back of the Bible in the Word List what that word means. We have also made more than 100 drawings to show the readers what things looked like in the times of the Bible.

Quotation marks
There are three kinds of quotation marks that the EBD uses.

When the first speaker starts to speak, his words begin and end with one ‘quotation mark’.

When he quotes another speaker, the 2nd speaker’s words are marked with “two quotation marks”.

When the 2nd speaker quotes another speaker, the 3rd speaker’s words are marked with ”’three quotation marks”’.

Any other speakers quoted by the 3rd speaker, will not be marked and where possible, the words of the 4th speaker will be translated into indirect speech where no quotation marks are needed.

The EBD does not follow the custom of starting every new paragraph in a long speech with quotation marks. The only use of quotation marks is when a new speaker starts to speak.

Names are normally not written in quotation marks if they consist of only one word, e.g. Her name will be Eve. Where a name consists of more than one word, quotation marks are used, e.g. The name Ishmael means ‘God hears’.

Limited punctuation marks
The EBD does not use semi colons (;) and exclamation marks (!).

Spelling of names
The EBD follows the latest trend of spelling of names as used in the 2011 edition of the NIV (not the 1984 version). There are some changed usages like hyphens between multi worded names (Kiriath-Jearim) which are made to help the Deaf readers recognising these words as a single name.

No abbreviations of Bible book names
Because the majority of Deaf readers only know a few names of the Bible books and other familiar names, all the names of the Bible books will be written in full.  No names like Hebr, 1 Cor or Rom will be used.

Preference to town, not city
The majority of Deaf readers have no problem in recognising the word town, more than those who are familiar with city. The size of most of the dwellings or towns in the Bible would in any case make town a more appropriate description. The EBD prefers towns except for bigger cities like: Rome, Salem, Jerusalem, the City of God, the Holy City, Jericho, Babel, Hebron, City of David, Samaria, Damascus, Babylon, Susa, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, Athens and Ephesus.

Number of footnotes
In the final publication of the Bible there will be only one distinct footnote explained at the bottom of each page and in every verse where this keyword appears, an alphabetical letter in front of the word will indicate that the meaning of the word appears at the bottom of the page. To assist the printers and people who have to do the final layout of the pages, we were requested to insert a footnote in each verse where the keywords appears and the text thus has a temporary plenitude of footnotes which will be removed later.

Footnotes in the beginning of the Bible
There are some unknown words that are so frequent in the text, that it is not possible to explain them on each page like the other footnotes because of our limited capacity of pages. These footnotes will only be explained on the first pages of the Bible and will be marked with a •bullet.  For these footnotes the readers will have to page to learn the meaning. They are words like:  Lord (7 200 occurrences), Christ (914), king (3 735), son (2 300), took (904), saw (822) and got (438). 

Multi worded keywords in footnotes
Some combinations of words do not convey the same meaning as the individual words, like daughter-in-law, fortune-teller, hail-stones or witch-doctor. These footnote keywords had to be combined to reflect the correct meaning. These keywords have been linked by a hyphen.

There are also other multi worded keywords that had to be linked to show the readers that they are being explained as one footnote, these are footnotes like: cherub_angels, mountain_country, musical_instrument, and Holy_Spirit. In some cases where Deaf readers understand the 2nd word, it is not necessary to link these words, like Sabbath day, offering bread and love flowers.

English spelling of words
The EBD uses a South African British spelling and not an American or Microsoft spelling. Some of the words that differ are:

colour not color
harbour not harbor
baptise not baptize
neighbour not neighbor
saviour not savior
easy not eazy
realise not realize   
litres not liters
metres not meters
judgement not judgment
armour not armor
advisor not adviser
jewellery not jewelery
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Capital letters for the Lord
The EBD uses Capital Letters for the personal pronoun of God. A few translations do this to show respect for the name of God. In the EBD the reason for using capital letters when referring to God, is a grammatical utilization for readers who struggle to make a distinction between the object and subject in a sentence because they are not familiar with all the customs and rules that indicate whom is referred to. Only personal pronouns (He, Him) for the Godhead are capitalised, not the possessive pronouns (his). Deaf people seem to understand this distinction well because the personal pronoun (He) normally is signed with a finger pointing at the person (towards heaven for God), where the possessive pronoun (his) is signed with a closed fist, indicating something in his hand or in possession of it, the hand being held towards the person who possess (who have something).

Capital letters after a colon
Full sentences always start with capitals, also after a colon (:).

Preference for the usage of some words

Prefer Not  
go out get out
afraid scared
he said it so that they can understand he said it clearly, plainly
the poor people the poor
what which
sacrifice as verb offer
offering as noun sacrifice
sick ill
someone somebody
everyone everybody
a tree has good fruit gives or bears
teachers of the laws scribes
pure and impure clean and unclean
forefather ancestor
lake (of Galilee) sea (of Galilee)
oldest manuscripts best manuscripts
will (for all) shall
big large
bow with his face to the ground to or against the ground
named him Isaac called him Isaac
he said to himself he thought
because for
staff walking stick
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All headings of pericopes are formulated in the present tense as far as possible.

Seven phases in the translation process
Phase 1 text is created by the Project Leader according to the principles and definition which are approved by the Translators Committee of the Bible Society. The Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf is one of the main aids in this process, transforming the text that was written for hearing people, to a text for the Deaf.

This text is send to a Deaf Intra Translator. He marks expressions that are unclear or not understood and they are discussed and changed where necessary and where it is not possible to find an understandable word, a footnote is formulated that explains the meaning of the word.

The text is send to the Source Language Experts. They test the text according to the Hebrew and Greek source texts and make sure that it is within the meaning of the source languages and conveys the same message as the Hebrew and Greek texts. The changes that they make and the corrections are applied to the text.  

This text is then sent to 15 Deaf Readers in three different groups. They are Deaf readers from the Noluthando School for the Deaf in Kayelitsha, students from the Deaf Christian Ministry for Africa at Worcester and learners from the College of the National Institute for the Deaf. These readers indicate what words they don’t understand and three coordinators make sure that they do understand the rest of the text in the right way by communicating it in Sign Language. Their suggestions for changes are send back to the project leader and he amends the text where necessary.

The text is then send to an English Linguist who also knows the problems that Deaf people have when reading English. She sees to it that no incorrect language is being used, although some of the formulations are not necessarily the most common way of communicating in English. When those suggestions and corrections are being made, the text is ready to go to a wider range of Deaf Readers.

This phase 5 text is sent to different churches and different groups of Deaf readers through Africa, which includes schools for the Deaf, churches for the Deaf, Deaf clubs and individuals who check if the text is easy enough and if most of the Deaf will be able to understand it. All Deaf readers who want to be included in this phase, can send their names and e-mail addresses to [email protected] and they will receive the text.   

The final phase is when the text of the EBD has been approved and the drawings are added to the text and the proof reading is done. Then the layout of the pages and preparation for the printing will start. Please pray with us that the Lord will bless everyone involved with good understanding and faith and that He will help us in sharing his Word and his love.

Translation Team

The translation is done by the Bible Society of South Africa and the team for the English Bible for the Deaf translation initially consisted of more than 22 people, including professors in the Old Testament and New Testament, 16 Deaf readers and an English linguist who have helped to formulate this text.

Bible Society of South Africav.4.20.15
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