“One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish.”
Does God Value Diversity in Language?
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9,10
Language Diversity is a Curse!
“‘Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11:8-10
How Should We Respond?
- Translate Into The Most Vital Languages! Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Considering the great amount of work to be done, I believe we ought to work on Bible translation projects in the languages that are least likely to die out. This seems to be the wisest course of action. And fortunately this is being done. One class I took at GIAL was specifically geared to help me understand language vitality. We were taught what questions need to be asked, what actions need to be observed, and what to listen for to understand which languages are going to be around in the future. Wycliffe/SIL does an amazing job at surveying and cataloging language statistics that make this job a lot easier.
- Let Languages Die! As a Bible translator my work will do a lot of things. By developing an alphabet and teaching literacy we will be preserving a language. And I think this is a good thing in some ways. As the article above mentions, it preserves cultural knowledge which I am so thankful for. However, the most important aspect of being a Bible translator is that we are bringing them the Word of God in a way that they can understand. It is understanding the Bible that is of utmost importance. And if other people groups are moving towards fluency in a majority language, I think we should let that happen and rejoice that we can send our missionaries elsewhere. Because for those receiving a translation and those losing the language of their ancestors the end result is the same: understanding God’s Word! To try to get the latter group to preserve their language instead of understanding another is to do the opposite of Bible Translation.
Stacey and I are Christians first and foremost and (aspiring) linguists second. In our hearts we want people to be able to understand the Bible and if it is possible for them to understand it in French instead of the heart language of their ancestors, so be it. Our priority in missions is to win souls, not preserve languages.
I feel like there will be those who disagree with my conclusions here. And if so, please know that these are musings of a man with 5 months of linguistics who has yet to actually be on the field. Please feel free to comment on this post and let me know what you think. Correct my theology if needed. We are all working toward the same goal, let us be wise as serpents together!