Sign languages and Bible translation

Children sign in Kerelan Sign Language

There are over 30 million Deaf people in the world. Most of them do not have a mother tongue, because their parents are hearing. The do not use a spoken language but a signed one. More than 200 sign languages have been confirmed, and there could be more than 400 in total.

Why translate the Bible into sign languages? Why can’t Deaf people just read it?
First, it’s not their language. For most Deaf people, sign language is the first language they learnt and the language of their heart.

Second, many Deaf are illiterate. This is partly due to poor literacy in many countries, but also because reading can be more difficult: letters correspond to sounds, sounds that most Deaf people have never heard. Each combination of letters has to be memorised separately, and reading is more like looking at a list of phone numbers than words -- not exactly something that clearly speaks to your heart!

Third, the grammars of sign languages are very different from those of spoken languages.

Despite this plain need for sign language Bible translation, no sign language has a complete Bible: in fact, there is only one whole sign language New Testament, in American Sign Language.

What does a sign language Bible look like?
Sign language Bible portions can be produced in many different forms. These include videos, animations, sign writing and line drawings.

Are there many Deaf Christians?
There is a big need for Bible translation among Deaf communities: only 1-2% of Deaf people are Christian, which means that Deaf communities are some of the least reached in the world. Without the ability to access God’s word in a language they truly understand, how can they come to know God?

You can make a difference for the Deaf particularly if you have media skills in illustration, video or animation technology, but also by prayer or by supporting translation projects for the Deaf financially. Find out more about how to Give the Story.

Wycliffe Bible Translators partners with The Seed Company and DOOR International, working with Deaf communities to support their Bible translations.

  • If you are normally based in the UK, ask us a question about this role, or how your skills might be suitable for this type of work using our online contact form or by phoning us on 0300 303 1111.
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