Praying for God's blessing on the words

POSTED ON 2012-05-15
  by Cathy Drobnick

Missionaries who are studying culture and language are learning much more than how to translate words.

Discourse irrealis? Communication situation? Semantics? Actor focus? Cohesion? Thematic prominence?

“What do these words mean to you?” writes Michael Hutteman. “Anything?”

“Every day you are using these tools to talk,” he continues. “You are evaluating speech to find the meaning within and you are carefully speaking in a way that you will be understood. You can organise, categorise, rearrange and dissect your own language. You are a natural linguist!”

But, Michael explains, being a “natural linguist” and pursuing the study of linguistics are quite different things.

Michael is attending an Advanced Language Workshop. He is “struggling to absorb and apply truckloads of linguistic theory.” With ten other language learners, he is discovering how to find and analyse patterns of the Lauje language.

He explains that as linguistics students they are learning to ask themselves important questions. How do the Lauje speakers begin and end a story? Where do they put the plot line? What is the verbal spice that makes Lauje stories powerful?

For Bible translators and for those who present the gospel to people who have never clearly heard the Good News about Jesus, studying a language intently is fundamentally important. But, in addition to learning  the language, it is essential to understand the culture and communication group that a given language represents—to comprehend beyond just words into how those words work in that people group.

It’s not an easy or quick project. “Though I need the answers to all the questions, it gives me a headache just thinking about it,” Michael confesses.

Pray for Michael and Amy Hutteman as they study linguistics and immerse themselves into the Lauje culture. Pray for spiritual insight as they embrace the Lauje people and build relationships. Pray that God will give them grace to do all these important things and still have time to invest in the other essential ministry God has given them as parents of two precious children.

And they request prayer, too, for the practical challenges of living in a remote place for God’s glory and purposes. “If you think of it,” Michael adds, “pray about all the washed-out roads between here and the village we call home.”

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