Scholars in Press: An Interview with Christian Locatell

Editor’s note: This interview was originally published October 24th, 2016.

Scholars in Press: An Interview with Christian Locatell

Education: BA in biblical languages from The Master’s College; MDiv from Westminster Seminary in California; Graduate work in linguistics from SIL at the University of North Dakota; MA in applied linguistics from the Cook School of Intercultural Studies at BIOLA University; PhD in biblical languages from Stellenbosch University (expected graduation 2016)

Favorite things: I love hanging out with family and friends, drinking good scotch, smoking good cigars, watching good movies (i.e. Brave Heart!), in that order.

How did linguistics intersect with biblical studies in your life (or vice-versa)?

My interest in biblical languages came out of a desire to understand the Bible better. As I thought about how best to apply what I was learning, it seemed Bible translation was a big need that I could do my part to fill. It was my desire to do Bible translation that led me to pursue linguistic training so that I could have a better knowledge of both the source and target languages in translation.

What informal or personal educational experience stands out the most to you in your learning career?

I think what stands out the most are those energizing times when I have been able to have great conversations with others about biblical languages and linguistics that I’ve walked away from with a greater understanding of how language works, and in turn, how to better understand the language of scripture. Perhaps more than anything else, those have been the times that have helped me synthesize and internalize foundational concepts that have been very fruitful as I’ve continued to think about language, interpretation, and translation.

What would you say is your linguistic niche, or what are you most interested in? (limit of two topics)

One area of linguistics that I’m very fascinated by is typologically (cross-linguistically) consistent grammaticalization paths (which necessarily involves the interface between semantics and pragmatics). I would have to agree with Elizabeth Robar’s sentiment that these paths seem to offer some empirically rigorous and conceptually satisfying explanations of the complexity we see in language.

A niche to which I hope to contribute is a thorough revolution in bringing up-to-date linguistic knowledge to bear on biblical studies, Bible translation, and biblical language pedagogy.

Where is your field headed? What advances are being made others should be aware of?

As I mentioned above, I think more and more biblical studies scholars are realizing that biblical languages, because they are the product of human cognition as all other languages, must be understood in light of broader research in linguistics. It will simply no longer do to try to study the biblical languages in a static vacuum (even if a relatively big one, i.e. semitics or classics), because they did not exist in a vacuum. And again, one of the most promising advances that has proven to be very fruitful is linguistic typology and grammaticalization.

How do you hope your work will contribute (or counter) to this end?

I’m currently working on an application of cognitive linguistics to Hebrew causal discourse connectives (especially כי). By explaining these constructions in terms of the conceptualizations speakers intend to prompt in the mind of hearers, I hope to provide an example of how this approach can be applied to the variety of discourse connectives in the biblical languages and target languages of instruction and translation in order to better understand and communicate the meaning of scripture. I am also currently working with Alex Andrason on an application of grammaticalization paths to the raging debate surrounding the Koine Greek verbal system. As expected, this approach already seems to have loads of potential in terms of explanatory power and implications for better exegesis, translation, and biblical language pedagogy.

What is your end goal with your training? (e.g., teach, research, preach, translate, etc.)

As I said above, I hope to have a career in Bible translation. Ideally, that would begin with fieldwork among an understudied language group leading to a translation into the language in conjunction with a church plant and theological education. I would like to eventually gain enough experience to train cross-cultural translators and church planters.

*Update: Christian was recently accepted as an associate of the Nida School of Translation Studies for 2016.

What books / articles are you currently reading or enjoying most? (Limit 3)

  1. The Bible in Translation by Bruce Metzger
  2. “The Literal-Idiomatic Bible Translation Debate from the Perspective of Cognitive Grammar” by David Tuggy in The Bible through metaphor and translation: a cognitive semantic perspective, Kurt Feyaerts (ed.)
  3. Causal Categories in Discourse and Cognition, Sanders and Sweetser (eds.)

Who have been your biggest role models?

  • William Tyndale—And I have to give three reasons: 1) First to translate the Bible into English from the original languages. 2) So foundational that 80 English translations up to the RV (and its successors) is estimated to be his in those portions he successfully translated. 3) He was willing to die a torturous death for this.
  • Meredith Kline
  • My relationship with him is still young, but I have already received tremendously formative instruction and direction from Christo van der Merwe that has been foundational for what I hope will be my life’s work in translation.

What is one piece of advice for those following in your tracks?

Spend as much time as you can every day in the biblical languages to internalize them and become intimately familiar their conceptual worlds.

Do you have online resources you would like to refer people to, either your own or others?

I’ve just been turned on to Daily Dose of Greek by a friend and it looks like an easy way to get in at least a little Greek every day.

I’ve also been really encouraged by Bible Translation Fellowship which is a newer organization encouraging the integration of linguistics, biblical languages, and theological education in the field of Bible translation.

Finally, you can find links to some of my work on my profile.

If you liked this interview and would like to read more from the series,  start here: