Holy Bible translated into modern Yup’ik

The Holy Bible is now available in the modern Yup’ik orthography after nearly half a century of work put in by fluent Yup’ik speakers in the Bethel area and the American Bible Society. A number of elders were involved with the project.

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The new Yup’ik Bible, ‘Tanqilriit Igat,’ as it’s displayed at the Bethel Moravian Bookstore. Photo by Charles Enoch/KYUK

“Psalms 119:115- Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Qaneryararpet kenuratun ciuliqagtaatnga tanqigiluku tumkaqa tamalkuan,” reads Bethel elder Elsie Jimmie.

For the last 6 years Jimmie, or Iingicaq in Yup’ik, was part of the team that completed the conversion of the Holy Bible, or Tanqilriit Igat, into the newer and much easier to read Yup’ik orthography that was developed by linguist Steven Jacobson in the 1980’s.

Jacobson’s Yup’ik textbooks and dictionaries are in use in the Lower Kuskokwim School District schools that teach the Yup’ik language to their students. That was a primary motivator for the elders, says Moravian Pastor Jones Anaver of Kwigillingok.

“We wanted the youngest of our generation to be able to read and fully appreciate the Holy Bible,” said Anaver.

Anaver says the first missionaries translated the New Testament into an early form of Yup’ik writing that had no guidelines other than how it would sound using English writing rules. At that time they did not translate the Old Testament.

The team translated the Old Testament into Yup’ik based off the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and they rewrote the New Testament using modern Yup’ik Orthography.

Jimmie says the early translations took more learning to read.

“My father taught me to read the bible’s early Yup’ik translations after I learned English. In my experience, the new orthography is much easier to use and learn,” said Jimmie.

Jimmie says before the new bible was available she used to bring an English bible along with her Yup’ik one for reference when going to church events in other villages, in case she had trouble understanding the old Yup’ik one, which was often the case for those who relied on the first translations.

According to a letter to the Delta Discovery by the late Reverend Peter Greene, who passed away earlier this year, the project started in 1971 with pastors Teddy Brink and Peter Andrews under the guidance of the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society did not respond to inquiries at the time this story was written.

Jimmie says some elders who participated passed away, leaving their work unfinished.

“When people pass away, we would keep their translations and others would rise to continue the work. Most recently, Peter Green, Jones Anaver, Jacob Nelson and myself made the last push to finish the project,” said Jimmie.

Green and Nelson both passed away this year. Jimmie says wherever they are, they and the many others who helped can now rest assured with their goals achieved.

“An elderly man who couldn’t read or write called me some time after the project was completed. He was very happy the Bible was converted into the modern Yup’ik style because his grandchildren now fluently read and teach the Old Testament to him,” said Jimmie.

The new Yup’ik Bible was celebrated at the Bethel Moravian Church last October, and it is sold at the Moravian Bookstore in Bethel.

KYUK contacted the Bethel Moravian Church for information but they declined to interview.