By Lindy Pate
Every language has idioms which are not understood by outsiders. Outsiders may simply find such phrases incomprehensible or slightly funny. The language of Apal is no exception. One time I overheard a conservation about bad water. Apparently, in a neighboring village there was lots of bad water on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. As I listened, I was trying to think of a reason that normally good water would be bad on the weekends. How would water be exposed to contaminants only part of the time? Later I expressed my confusion to Martha Wade, a translator who has worked with the Apal for 30 years and knows theirs idioms. Apparently, ‘bad water’ refers to alcohol. After knowing that, the conversation made perfect sense.
Apal also has a whole set of idioms that use the ear. As Christians we are supposed to follow God’s ear and now follow satan’s ear. Wise people have long ears. God has long long ears. So naturally, the phrase, short ears, refers to people who are foolish. One time I lit a match in a building where fire is forbidden. I didn’t know, so I apologized when corrected. One of the Papua New Guinean translators responded that it was okay because I was getting an ear. I’m still working on getting an ear in hopes that I will have long ears one day.
Lindy is a Bible translator being mentored by Martha Wade among the Apal language group.