Twenty-one More Languages Now Have the Bible
READING, England - The Bible - in its complete form or portions of it - is now available in 2,233 languages, according to the 1999 Scripture Language Report issued by the United Bible Societies (UBS). This means that people can read the Word of God in 21 languages more than last year’s figure of 2,212.
The Scripture Language Report contains statistics relating to translation achievements based on information gathered up to December 31, 1999. It provides the totals of Bible Portions (one complete book of the Bible), New Testaments and Bibles published in 2,233 languages, and lists Scriptures received and registered with one of the receiving libraries since the publication of last year's Report.
Five New Bibles
There are five new Bibles, all produced by the national Bible Societies, in languages which have never before had the Bible: Azumeina in Tchad, Kiryol in Guinea Bissau, Nuer in Sudan, Nzema in Ghana and Pakpak Dairi in Indonesia.
The New Testament in these languages may have been in existence for some time. For example, the Azumeina New Testament was first published in 1978. However, the importance of the completed Bible is to put into context the New Testament teachings and life of Christ, as well as the development of the early church. The history of the Jews, their faith and traditions are important in understanding much of Christ’s ministry. The Old Testament also conveys the character of God and his concern for his creation.
Widely used languages
The United Bible Societies aims to encourage and support Bible translation projects in languages that are widely used. For example, there are more than 1.2 million speakers of Pakpak Dairi, more than 840,000 speakers of Nuer and upwards of 150,000 speakers of Azumeina, also known as Marba. (A report on the launch of the Nuer Bible on January 9 will be sent out on e-mail news shortly.)
Three New Testaments were registered with the American Bible Society (ABS) library last year: these are in languages in which there was no known Scripture. Speakers of Naga: Maring (India), Ontong Java (Solomon Islands) and Umbu-Ungu: Andelale - a language in Papua New Guinea - all celebrated the arrival of these Scriptures. The first two were produced by the national Bible Societies, the last was done by The Bible League.
Nineteen new Portions in languages that have no recorded Scriptures were registered at the library during 1999. The Books of Luke and Acts were published in Dhatki by the Bible Society in Pakistan, while the first complete Gospel (Luke) in Sylhetti was made available in Bangladesh. This was translated under the auspices of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and published by the Bangladesh Bible Society.
Sylhetti is spoken by more than five million people. The language once had its own unique script, but following the mass migration of Bengalis this was obliterated, and today Sylhetti is written using the Bangla script.
Five new languages received Portions thanks to SIL translation programs, all of these were in Papua New Guinea. The island of Papua has by far the largest proportion of languages in ratio to its geographical size and population in the world. In Papua New Guinea there are 817 living languages according to the SIL Ethnologue of the world’s languages; in Irian Jaya, the Indonesian part of the landmass, there are 256.
When sufficient translation work is done to complete the New Testament, the translated Bible Portions are gathered together. Sometimes some revision is necessary. They are checked for consistency and often some introductory notes are written. Then they are published as a complete whole as the New Testament. The Chagga-Vunjo New Testament for the Kilimanjaro-dwelling people of Tanzania was registered last year. John Mlay is now well into his work translating the Old Testament.
The Kifuliru-speaking people of Dem. Rep. Congo, the Klao, and the Krahn (western) speakers of Liberia, and the Lusoga of Uganda have all received New Testaments in their languages for the first time. Thirty-four first-time New Testaments are reported, 21 of which are published by national Bible Societies or the UBS, eight by The Bible League, three by Wycliffe Bible Translators, one by the International Bible Society, and one by AITB the national Bible translation organisation in Côte d’Ivoire.
Ten of these New Testaments are for people in Papua New Guinea, one example being the Umanakaina New Testament which is being much appreciated by the 2,500 people living in small villages high up in the Owen Stanley Mountain Range in the south east of the island.
Another first was the St Lucian Creole New Testament, which was dedicated on October 10 last year. To have the New Testament in their most natural language evoked strong emotions and a sense of national pride among St Lucians. This was the first English-based Creole New Testament in the Caribbean. It was also the fruit of a successful partnership between the Bible Society and SIL.
In addition, 51 new Portions are reported for the first time and a number of revisions or new versions appear in languages that have already been recorded. Together with its member Bible Societies, the UBS is currently involved in 708 translation projects, 45 of which are at the production stage.
The table included with this release gives an overall picture of the spread of translation work to date. Because Portions are absorbed into a New Testament and these disappear when a Bible is produced, it is confusing to compare the enclosed table with any previous year's statistics. While the Portion and New Testament columns can change up or down, the Bible column increases. According to the SIL Ethnologue, there are more than 6,500 languages in the world, and the current figure represents only one third of this number.
The 1999 Scripture Language Report is a statistical summary of printed Scriptures containing all languages and dialects in which Scripture publication has taken place at any time since the invention of printing in the mid-15th century. Ancient and constructed languages are also included as part of the overall picture of Biblical translation. The report is compiled from data received in the libraries of the American Bible Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society by the end of last year. Some major Scriptures may have been omitted because copies of these were not received at the libraries and could therefore not be properly identified and catalogued. (WR 349/1 -03.00)
A STATISTICAL SUMMARY OF LANGUAGES WITH THE SCRIPTURES
A summary, by geographical area and type of publication, of the number of different languages and dialects in which publication of at least one book of the Bible had been registered as of December 31, 1999: