The Pragmatism of Written Language

A missionary came to Liberia for the sole purpose of doing literacy in a language in the southeastern part of the country. What prompted this move was predicated upon a request made years earlier by the leader of a prominent church that the Holy Bible be translated into his mother tongue. A high proportion of the population of this language group was members of his denomination, but a high percentage of them were illiterate and could not understand English well.

When in God’s own time the mission board came to the decision to honor the church leader’s request made years earlier, the question of literacy came up. The people had to read the word after it had been translated, or someone had to read it to them in their heart language.

After all the linguistic analysis and the development of the orthography of the language, all was set to begin literacy classes, but the people were hesitant to attend, they didn’t believe that their language could be written. Their thinking was that only the white man’s language (in this case English) could be written.

To demonstrate to them that any language can be written, it was agreed that one of the teachers leave the room and go out of earshot, and someone would give instruction to him to perform a task upon return to the room. Someone in the “class to be” was asked to make an action statement. It was written on the chalkboard. It read, “Jump three times and clap.” The teacher was called back to the classroom and asked to read the statement on the chalkboard. He read, jumped three times and clapped. Now everyone in the room was convinced that their language could be written. The news spread and people began to come to the class.

The Impact of Language

Your language is as personal to you as your name. Imagine yourself among a sea of people in a strange, faraway place, like on the other side of the world where all the people around you are speaking languages you don’t understand. Suddenly, you hear someone in the crowd speak your language. Won’t it give you a jolt as if you heard someone call your name in a place where you know for sure that nobody knows you, especially if that name is not a common one? Won’t you look around to see where that voice came from and who spoke it? That is how the word of God is when you hear it in your heart language, your mother tongue. It speaks to you directly and personally. It makes an impact on you.

While in exile we had a general meeting of believers from all the churches that had members in the community. During the scripture reading, I read from the then newly dedicated Klao (Kru) Bible. The response from the older folks of the Klao Language in the congregation was so overwhelming that a lady came up to me afterwards and asked, “Is this the first time your people are hearing these passages from the Bible”?

“Why do you ask”? I inquired.

“I say so because their response was very touching and contagious. I am of the candid opinion that they really understood and it touched them, and it was heartening to me”, she replied.

“They are hearing it for the first time in their own language straight from the Bible”, I replied.

This is what happens when you hear God’s Word in your heart language. It speaks to you directly and more effectively. You feel a part of it, identify with it, and make it your own.

Literacy Classes

There are Literacy Associations representing 16 major Liberian Languages, each with a core of literacy teachers, training people how to read and write these languages, namely Bandi, Bassa, Gola, Grebo, Kisi, Kpelle, Kuwaa, Dan, Gbarzon Krahn, Kaowlu Krahn, Tchien Krahn, Klao (Kru), Lorma, Mann, Sarpo and Vai.

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A Literacy Class in New Kru Town

You can learn how to read and write one of these languages being taught. For further details about these language literacy classes, visit LIBTRALO Office in the United Methodist Church Compound, 13th Street Sinkor, behind Boulevard Palace Hotel.

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