Engineering Translation | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Engineering Translation

  • October 1, 2014
  • By: Bill Gardner with Richard Gretsky

For the over 30 years, William and his wife, Lori, have worked as linguists with Wycliffe. During that time, they’ve lived in the Philippines, Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Kenya, and will soon be heading to Canada to teach at the Canada Institute of Linguistics.

I often tell folks I meet: “I studied electrical engineering, and it led me directly into Bible translation.” After they chuckle, I go on to say that I am only half joking. Although the two fields aren’t normally thought of as compatible, the skills I learned in engineering, e.g. how to analyze systems and use computers, have benefited me greatly in my work with Wycliffe.

For example:

If you can think like an engineer, you can think like a linguist.
In engineering, I was taught to think in extremely precise, regimented and highly technical ways. This is also necessary for linguistic work.

Linguistics is all about analyzing the various systems in languages: the phonology (sound system), morphosyntax (grammatical system), semantics and pragmatics (meaning systems) and sociolinguistics (social system). These are all crucial elements for effective Bible translation and Scripture engagement. For people to be able to learn to read the Bible in their own language, Wycliffe’s teams need to analyze the sound system and the sociolinguistic context, and develop an orthography (writing system) for that language. Teams also need to understand the semantics and morphosyntax of the language in order to develop dictionaries and make decisions on how to translate key terms.

You might be surprised how far computer skills can take you.

Back when I studied computers in college, we were still using punch cards (things have come a long way since then!), but the computing skills I learned as an engineering student have continued to serve me well. I regularly use wonderful programs that help perform tasks like analyzing the sound system of a language and translating the Bible into another language. And now people can consult halfway around the world by email and programs like Skype. This technology greatly facilitates the work of Bible translation.

So, although Bible translation wasn’t what I had in mind when I got my education, my training in analyzing systems and in using computers was a big part of what enabled me to work with Wycliffe.

I had no idea that I could use my electrical engineering skills to excel at Bible translation, but I have been able to. How might your skills be useful in Bible translation? 

*There are many kinds of roles in Bible translation, including engineers. To learn more, check out the jobs on our career page.