Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

What language is spoken in Syria?

Monday, May 1st, 2017 by Camilla

Ever wanted to know what language is spoken in a country? Research is easy – Google will start answering the question before you’ve even finished asking it.

Sometimes, however, you may be asking the wrong question to start with… is a new site sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators that highlights both the many languages of different countries and regions and also provides links to Scripture resources such as online Bibles, audio Bibles, and powerful Bible-based films such as the JESUS Film.

Initially focuses on the languages of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Over time, the site will be expanding to cover a wider area, and other languages spoken by people coming to Europe as students, workers, and refugees.

The main languages in Syria and Iraq can be divided up into Arabic, Kurdish, Aramaic and Turkmen, but each of these are actually groups of languages, each made up of several distinct languages and many of those having further dialects and variations. The map (used with permission from illustrates a number of Arabic and Kurdish languages.

Some books of the Bible were originally written in Ancient Aramaic, and some of Jesus’ words are recorded in Aramaic even in some English Bible translations (for instance in Mark 5:41). But even though this is one of the primary languages Jesus spoke while on earth, it’s a language not many of us know much about. Aramaic originated in Syria and became a common trade language across the Middle East, and there are now 19(!) distinct Aramaic languages. is also available in German or French, and offers a page of links to other sites that offer resources for refugees in other languages.

Curious about the insider stories of real Bible translation? Sign up for our free magazine, Words for Life!


Together We Can

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 by Martin Horton

I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there-all nations and tribes, all races and languages. Rev 7:9-10 (MSG)

In November last year, there were fantastic celebrations in the Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea, as 11 language groups celebrated receiving a mini-Bible in their own mother-tongue.

What is in a Mini-Bible? They consist of the Gospel of Mark, which is the easiest gospel to translate, the book of Acts which covers how the church was established and then a panorama of the Old Testament which includes sections of the Old Testament that cover key Biblical events mentioned in the New Testament.

These were completed through a project called VITAL* which adopted the PNG Branch’s motto, ‘Together We Can’. Karla Watt, who was the project manager, believes that this motto sums up a new approach to Bible translation. In essence it is about the value of team work. VITAL is a multi-language translation strategy designed to meet the needs of language communities and dialects of the East Papua Region of Papua New Guinea that had no other way to begin a programme in the near future.

Karla goes on to explain,

The expatriates brought their Bible, linguistic, exegetical and software A to the table, while the nationals from each group brought the expertise in their languages so that “together” we could accomplish the task.’

VITAL has helped 14 language groups print books in their languages. These include literacy materials, AIDS materials, trial dictionaries, portions of Genesis, a Mark Bible Study and first editions of Mark as well as publishing and launching the Mini-Bible for 11 languages in late 2016.

Please pray for the work of VITAL and the people of Milne Bay:

  • Pray that as the fruit of 10 years work goes out to 11 language groups in Milne Bay, lives will be transformed as people read and understand his great love for them in their own heart languages.
  • Pray that those who aren’t able to read will be reached through listening to God’s word on Megavoice Storyteller MP3 players.
  • Pray that these teams will be motivated to continue translating God’s word using the equipment and training that they received through the VITAL Project.

Looking for more ways to pray for Bible translation? Sign up for our free magazine Words for Life which includes a prayer point for each day, or have Bible translation prayer points emailed to you each day.

*Vernacular Initiative for Translation and Literacy (VITAL) is a project run by SIL who are one of our language partners.

International Mother Language Day 2017

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 by Alfred

February 21st is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) International Mother Language Day.

It is a day to celebrate the diversity of languages around the world and to communicate the importance of valuing and protecting mother languages as being a vital part of culture.

The Director General of UNESCO reminds us of the personal and cultural importance of the mother languages:

‘The mother language, in which the first words are uttered and individual thought expressed, is the foundation for the history and culture of each individual…. Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members.’

UNESCO also notes the importance of mother languages in education:

‘Children who start off learning to read and write in their mother language do better in school. Literacy programmes in mother languages bring learners the self-confidence they need to participate in their community and make informed choices.’

The work Wycliffe Bible Translators does is part of preserving mother languages around the world, not for the sake of language alone, but so communities can know that God values them, and values their languages, as they are. Language should be a way of coming to God, not a barrier hindering people.

Wycliffe works not only to translate the Bible, but to develop writing systems in language groups that have never been written, to encourage literacy and to help communities with health care, agricultural information and learning their human rights.

Wycliffe is working on behalf of minority language groups worldwide; to provide God’s word in the mother tongue of every remaining language group that needs it.

Find out more about Wycliffe’s work and how you can support it.

What kind of love?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 by Ruth

In order to get the big picture of God’s Story in the Bible across, the little details – even down to a single letter – need to be carefully considered. But how much difference could one letter actually make?

Translator Lee Bramlett and his wife, Tammi, had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?

Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you dvi your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.

“Could you dva your wife?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you dvu your wife?”  Lee asked. Everyone laughed.

“Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say dvu. It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God dvu people?”

There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.

“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked. “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected his great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of me and not because of you.”

Without the Bible in the language that people can understand, God’s message of love isn’t getting through. More than 160 million people speak languages that could communicate God’s love clearly to them, but they still don’t know it because there isn’t a single verse of Scripture translated into their language. It’s time to #endbiblepoverty.

Story originally from Bob Creson,
Photo courtesy Lee Bramlett and Wycliffe USA.

New Bible translation statistics

Monday, November 21st, 2016 by Phil

Wycliffe Global Alliance has published their annual update of Bible translation statistics. In a snapshot of data from around the world, the update gives the headline numbers for the availability of Scripture in the 7,097 languages used around the world today.

The most striking figure this year is the significant increase in languages known to have some Scripture. Standing at 2,932 in 2015 this has shot up to 3,223 for 2016.

bt-stats-2016Why the dramatic rise? Some of the increase reflects the growing Bible translation movement, 2400 projects taking place in more than 165 countries; some is due to an expansion of what is counted. The count now includes a growing number of audio and video Scripture translation products as well as printed books. But this year’s figures are also the result of improved research. ‘We have access to more data from more organisations,’ says Peter Brassington, Wycliffe’s point person for the annual statistics update, ‘meaning we know more this year than we did last year’.

‘By working with more organisations we have a better idea of what is going on around the world and a fuller picture of the current state of Bible translation.’

However, there are still gaps in knowledge and understanding as Peter is quick to point out. ‘We know much more this year than we did last, but we also know that there are still gaps in our knowledge. There are parts of the world we would love to know more about concerning what’s happening within the communities, as well as their felt needs for ongoing work’.

While it’s a great achievement to have passed 3,200 languages with access to some Scripture, it’s important to put this figure in context. Some Scripture does not even mean the language community has access to a whole book from the Bible, it may just be a passage or two. And while the number of languages with access to complete Bibles has increased by 82, to 636, there are still 1.5 billion people without access to the full Bible in their primary language.

To read November 2016 full statistics and associated information, visit

Stopping a snowball in its tracks

Monday, July 18th, 2016 by Camilla

When a language dies out, a culture generally dies with it. It’s feared the ancient Nanai language of Russia might be on its way out, as younger generations seem to use it less and less.

But translators believe oral Bible stories may help save Nanai souls and perhaps their entire culture.

As a Wycliffe team of translators began meeting Nanai people in remote villages along the Amur River, some conversations took them by surprise.

church in far east russiaOne Nanai woman was curious about Christianity. ‘Do you read the Bible?’ asked Anton Barashenkov, who works for Wycliffe. ‘Did you try to read the Bible in your language?’

‘Yes, I tried,’ she said. ‘I have this book.’ She showed him a translation of Luke’s gospel – the only portion of Scripture available in Nanai. Next, Anton thought he’d hear the woman say that God’s word came alive for her as she read it in her heart language.

Not this time.

‘In my own language I couldn’t understand anything,’ she told him. ‘Our language usually is not used in written form. If we had something in audio format, or some video, I could hear it and I could use it with pleasure. But we don’t have it.’

Therein lies the reason Wycliffe Russia is working to translate oral Bible stories into a disappearing language. The Nanai people, especially older generations, have their own cultural identity. Their ancient language is spoken only in a few homes, or for cultural display. Just a handful can still read or write it.

The Wycliffe team has been talking with older Nanai people and listening to their stories and family traditions. The work of translating helps Nanai storytellers craft accurate Bible stories to share with their people.

The intent is to help create a bridge for the Nanai elders, so receiving Christ as Saviour doesn’t have to mean rejecting their culture and assimilating into someone else’s.

So why spend time and resources to help preserve a language if the next generation isn’t overly concerned about losing it? Anton has heard a common answer from the elder Nanai people.

‘They understand that their language and culture is dying,’ he says. ‘If their language does not exist, their culture also cannot exist. They’re at a checkpoint in time when they could completely forget their language and culture or they could raise it back,’ he says. ‘What if, he asks, no one around the throne of God is worshipping in the Nanai tongue?’

‘That would be a pity,’ he says.

This story originally appeared on our partner The Seed Company’s blog. You can read the original here.

Want to pray more for Bible translation? Use our Frontline Prayer modules to help you, your small group or your church pray for Bible translation around the world.

Bible Translation 101: Attitudes about language

Monday, May 30th, 2016 by Camilla

Fear took over my colleague’s face for a brief second when I told her I wanted to write this. Then she composed herself, and managed to explain, calmly, that my idea sounded intensely boring. What is one to do? I endeavoured to make this piece as interesting as I know the topic to be.

letters-3-1483552-640x480The topic is sociolinguistics (which I can agree we need to come up with a better name for). It’s about attitudes towards language, and it’s a bigger part of Bible translation than you might think. Language development and Bible translation would be a lot simpler if nobody had any real connection with or opinions about languages.

Picture the scene: a remote people group who have no written language, but want the Bible in their mother tongue. Based on listening to the language, a linguist will aim to devise an alphabet where each letter or symbol corresponds to one sound in the language. Such a system is logical and tidy, and makes spelling and reading as easy as possible. Job done, right?

Wrong. Stick a sociolinguistic filter on the lens and many changes may be necessary. Logical, rational choices of symbols may be rejected because the community associates them with another language group they consider themselves distinct from, because they associate a specific symbol with a different sound, or because a symbol just plain doesn’t feel ‘right’.

If you think this sounds strange, test your own linguistic attitudes about these suggested changes to English spelling. Or take a look at Shavian, a completely different alphabet specifically designed for English in the 1950s. How would you feel about using the v symbol for the ‘oo’ sound in ‘wool’?

You may think only communities with long-standing traditions of literacy have feelings about what their written language should look like – but this isn’t the case. Knowledge of other writing systems, whether scant or extensive, and feelings about neighbouring language communities are often in place long before a linguist starts sharpening his or her pencil.

Writing systems are in fact just the tip of the iceberg – attitudes about language affect every stage of a Bible translation. When a language has several different dialects, should the written language be a mixture of all of them or be based on a specific one? How do you choose which one? Are local staff members well-respected by the community? Are there words that would be useful in the translation but which have unfortunate connotations? These questions, and many more like them, are sociolinguistic questions.

Ignoring sociolinguistic factors could be serious and result in a lack of local ownership and ultimately the rejection of the writing system and resulting Bible translation. After many years’ work, a project could be back at square one.

If you liked this post, please check out the rest of our Bible Translation 101 series.

Where faith comes by hearing: making audio Scriptures in Tanzania

Monday, January 25th, 2016 by Nick

The majority of people in the world belong to oral cultures. For them, faith literally comes by hearing. With this in mind, one of the tools we use to share Scripture with these communities is audio recordings of Bible stories! So how does Scripture go from words on paper to audio?

Jo Clifford shares a great step-by-step account of one of the many trips she takes to record Scripture, this time to Mpanda in Tanzania. From invitation to hanging blankets over wooden frames, this is a brilliant window into the world of Scripture audio recording:

‘I regularly receive requests from various language projects to do audio recordings of Scripture. A couple of months before a trip I need to prepare the script of the audio recording – taking the Scripture text and dividing it up into the different characters (narrator, Ruth, Boaz, Jonah etc). Then copies of the parts are given to the different people who have agreed to read for us, so they have time to practice. I discuss with those hosting the recording work what location might be best. The preference is for somewhere quiet, with power if possible (otherwise a generator is necessary to run the equipment). I also ask if there are blankets available for soundproofing the studio structure as well as some wood to make the frame. I bring the rest of my recording equipment.

When I am recording I rely on others to help me. I explain the recording process to the person who has come to read the part. Before we start recording I always get people’s consent to use their voice.

JoC recording3

Jo at work

I usually ask for at least one translator of the language being recorded to be present to follow the reading and make sure words are read correctly. I have the text so I can generally follow along, but I don’t know the languages and some languages incorporate tone to express meaning.

Before a reader begins, I often paint a picture of the context to help them think about what they are reading. To get the most realistic recording, I often ask if there is special way of saying something in their culture which signals for instance an attitude of prayer or of showing fear or celebration.

At the time of recording I will do a rough edit of each clip. The same evening I will go through all that has been recorded that day and edit each clip, taking out breaths, clicks from lips smacking together and any extra space between phrases and sentences.

JoC recording2

Editing audio recordings

[Then] I will start to put all the clips together to make each chapter and will add the sound effects.  I will play it to the translators who speak the language to check all the text is correct, that they like the sound effects and that I haven’t edited something out by mistake!

When the translators are happy with the audio, then I can produce the MP3 tracks which can be made into CDs, or be put onto a mobile phone, uploaded onto the language website and put onto the language Scripture app.’

Interested in finding out more about the work of Wycliffe and how you can be involved? Come along to one of our one day events First Steps!

Wrapping up Scripture translation? Bring in the translation consultants!

Monday, January 18th, 2016 by Nick

What does a translation consultant do? Bible translation is currently active in around 2000 languages, however, before Scripture is pressed and printed, a translation consultant comes in.

Following on from last Monday’s post, Why does Bible translation take so long?, today we’ll be taking a look into exactly what a translation consultant undertakes, thanks to a brilliant blog post by Eddie Arthur and his wife Sue (herself a translation consultant).

‘There are two essential aspects to a translation; firstly that people can understand it and secondly that it means the same thing as the original.’ – Eddie Arthur

Once all the hard work of an initial translation has been completed it’s up to a consultant to ensure it meets the two criteria mentioned above. It’s their job to sign the translation off and give the go-ahead when it’s ready to be published.

What makes a consultant? Well, you need to be familiar with the original text and have experience in translation. Once a consultant has been deployed to a project, they review the entire translation, holding fast to the importance of accuracy. In her role, Sue has been checking that the meaning aligns with the original Greek and studying back-translations (you can find out more on back-translation by having a read of another of our blog posts Belt and Braces).

Constant communication needs to be maintained with the translation team, face to face and through mediums such as Skype. Along with the team, someone external is also brought in who is less familiar with the translation text.

There is also testing, or village testing, which is where the text is read to native speakers of the target language who do not know the original passage and then asking questions about it.

This is all really very thorough. Again, why do this? Eddie writes:

‘Very simply, because God’s word is important. We need to know that people can understand what the text says and we need to know that the text is an accurate representation of what Paul wrote. It is worth taking time to get this right. In general, testing, consulting and revising the text takes longer than the initial draft of a translation.’

Eddie’s post What Does A Translation Consultant Do? gives great insight into his and Sue’s experience of what it means to be a translation consultant.

Curious to know more? Come along to one of our introductory courses later this year! Find out more about First Steps – a day to explore the world of Bible translation.

Kasem Scripture launch

Monday, January 4th, 2016 by Nick

This is a very special story of two Wycliffe members, Philip and Judy Hewer, who spent time working with the Kasem language group and who recently had the joy of being able to join in and celebrate the completion of the Kasem Bible along with colleagues and old friends.

Back in 1962 when Wycliffe first started work in Africa, the Kasem language group was one of the first language groups to receive a Wycliffe team. With around 366,000 speakers, Kasem is a language that is spoken in both Burkina Faso and Ghana and November 15 saw the long awaited completion of the Kasem Bible!

Photo by Otabil ArthurPhilip and Judy joined the Kasem project 10 years after its start, settling in Paga, a Kasena* village on the northern border of Ghana. After getting to grips with local language and culture, they facilitated translation of the New Testament, as well as preparing literacy materials and training volunteer teachers for adult classes. The Kasem New Testament was published as early as 1988!

Though they have been back in the UK for many years now, this November Philip and Judy returned to Ghana to celebrate the launch of the whole Bible in Kasem. On the day, people pressed forward to buy a Bible in their own mother tongue and once they had their hands on one, many were so deeply engrossed that they paid little attention to further proceedings.

Representatives of supporters from the UK were also able to travel to Ghana to join in these celebrations. Tony came to represent Philip and Judy’s original sending church in Maidstone, who have faithfully supported their work with the Kasena by means of a monthly gift for 43 years! So many people and churches in Ghana, in the UK and around the world have been part of bringing the Bible to the Kasena people in the language of their hearts.

Now they may respond to God’s message in a way appropriate to their own culture without the need for interpretation by outsiders.

Kumasi 018 Presby music group ota (2)   Kumasi 068 a Bible at last ota (2)   Kumasi 083 Bible reader 4 ota (2)

For further information on the Kasem, including sound samples of the language(!), visit

Interested in supporting the work of Bible translation? Find out more on how you can Go, Give or Pray.

*Kasena is the adjective form of Kasem

Photos by Otabil Arthur