This post was written while we were in Chad.
A while back, my good friend Mike Washburn (who is currently senior pastor at the Full Life Church of Fremont, Nebraska) asked me, “Why are you selling dictionaries?”
It’s the kind of question Sharon would ask, the kind that makes me stop and think about why we do what we do. So for Mike, and for myself, I wanted to write a little tonight about why I do this.
Here’s what dictionary selling looks like: I sell dictionaries in the language I have worked with since 2003. This version was produced in 2007, before I left the country, but we will improve it over the current term. The dictionaries cost me 1311 CFA each (about $2.62) and I sell them for 2,000 CFA each (about $4.00).
The higher price allows me to sell them to other distributors like the five pharmacies and the bookstore who are currently selling them. Thus, they are able to get a bulk of the profit for helping me to sell them. After a tithe, any additional profit will ultimately go into producing more literature. I also sell them on the street, showing the few copies in my hands to anyone who looks my way. If anybody motions to me to come over, I go tell them what I have.
Benefits for Selling Dictionaries
These dictionaries are a practical assistance to a people concerned about the future of their language.
It brings me in contact with a lot of people I would not normally meet. I have met military commanders, students, merchants, fathers and elders through these dictionary sales. Several are eager to help us in any way they can.
In Chadian culture, it is impolite to ask someone which tribe they are from. But we know this: if we produce other literature, we need to find where the beneficiaries of this translation live. As I walk down streets where the people who speak our adopted heart language live, people see the dictionaries and tell me what language they speak! This allows me to tell other linguists where the people speak “their” language, and what people want.
With every dictionary that is out there, I meet people who eagerly correct the misspelled words, or the words I misunderstood. So materials I produce in the language in the future will be easier to read and better understood.
The sale of these dictionaries justify my reason for being in Chad to those who issue my visas and allow me to stay in the country. It is something practical to point to when people ask, “What are you doing here?” It allows me to learn where to stock or sell future literature in the language, and to learn how the distribution systems work. Thus, we will be able to deliver more literature with less effort as time progresses.
Benefits of Language Work
I have received helpful suggestions for making a better dictionary, such as including a section of helpful phrases for non-speakers who want to make gentle steps toward their friends. It turns my work from something usually found only in libraries and universities into something useful to the people group I have come to serve.
Language provides a road for peoples normally living in opposition to one another to move from fear and suspicion to friendship and concern, which in turn promotes peace and mutual understanding. By providing dictionaries at affordable prices, people from the other ethnic groups are learning a few words in their language and a bit about the culture. When they approach the people around them with this knowledge, friendships develop, and God’s love can pass from one person to another.
Let us know how much you use a dictionary by leaving a comment below: