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How many Languages are Spoken in Europe? September 26, 2022

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism, Statistics.
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The edges of Europe vary according to who is talking about what. Picture from Wikipedia.

An estimated 225 European languages are spoken in Europe. This can vary according to definitions of languages and definitions of Europe. I wondered how many non-European languages are also spoken in towns and cities across the continent and decided to see what I could find out. Fortunately, this is the kind of data I’ve been looking at for a while.

A tweet from the The Council of Europe (below) for the #EuropeanDayofLanguages, linked to an interesting set of Language facts.

The final fact on the list was that “Due to the influx of migrants and refugees, Europe has become largely multilingual. In London alone some 300 languages are spoken”.

This figure for London has been quoted a lot over the last 20 years and is supported by an annual survey across schools in England of “languages spoken at home”. Unfortunately schools only get to compare the language names that people put on the form with a list of about 300 languages and 16 different categories of “other”, that could be hiding rather a lot of unreported languages.

In Scotland the recent 2022 census used 605 language categories but it will take a while before data is released.

A significant number of censuses that were due to take place in 2020 or 2021 were delayed by the pandemic. Many census reports do not include data on languages and those that do will only cover a subset of any languages people have named on their forms.

There are over 7,000 languages in the world. It seems reasonable to assume that most of the national and provincial languages have representatives somewhere in Europe. It could also be expected that there would be good representation of other languages that have large populations and progressively less as the number of speakers in the homelands get smaller. However , migration from one country to another, isn’t in direct proportion to the size of a people group but is also related to the pressure to leave and the opportunities available. Statistics are available on the countries of origin of business travellers, students, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers but far less detail is collected on the languages spoken by people in each of these categories.

In short, from looking at the available data, the number of non-European languages currently known to be spoken by individuals and communities across Europe is about 200.

My best guess is that the number actually spoken by by more than two or three households in Europe is somewhere between 400 and 4000. I look forward to discovering better estimates and the methodology behind them.

Bible Translation milestones 1992-2022 August 17, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Statistics.
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Out of all the languages in which a full Bible or a New Testament has been translated nearly 60% have been published in the last 30 years.

It's not about numbers, picture of a lone sheep - the one percent focused on in Jesus' parable of the lost sheep, plus some counts of Bibles and New Testaments in 1992 & 2022
A Bible or New Testament is now available in 2,343 languages. In 1992 the total was 1020

This statistic is something I noticed as Jennifer and I prepared to preach at a church she first joined in 1992.

For me 1992 was my first real introduction to world mission,  a year acting on a tour with the Baptist Missionary society who were 200 years old. The tour was to celebrate mission, thank supporters and encourage a new generation – that I didn’t know I’d be part of. 230 years ago the full Bible existed in less than 40 languages yet until presented with new information many people thought that the gospel had gone to every country and mission was done.

By 1992 the full Bible had been translated into about 300 languages and the New Testament about 720.

2020 was a year many of us were overwhelmed with statistics about Covid pandemic, or when it struck closer to home focused our thoughts and prayers were focused on individuals and families not charts and numbers. Colleagues compiled a list of the phrase “wash your hands” in 635 languages, and helped produce other posters and health messages and for the first time the number of languages in which a full Bible exists, passed 700 out of over 7000 languages that are actually in use.

The latest figures for languages in which Bible translation has been happening is 724 languages with a full Bible, 1619 with a New Testament, 1241 with Selections or stories, and 928 with work started but nothing yet published.

But it’s not about counting products and projects

Each translation has its own story. Some take 10 years to complete, some 30, some longer …and the finished book is only part of the story. Bible translation isn’t about completed books, but about transformed lives.

Rags: A reimaging of the elder brother and the prodigal son July 20, 2022

Posted by Pete B in poems and stories.
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not quite the original story. Sometimes we struggle with how much the father forgives other people. Sometimes we struggle to accept that we have been both forgiven and restored.

Clothes in rags.
Life in rags.
Covered in filth.
Hair matted with blood.
Flies buzzing around an open wound.

At first I hardly knew him.

And then I denied him.

The shame he brought upon me
and upon our Father

How could he allow himself to sink so low?
How could he have the gall to return like that?

My Father saw him,
had been watching and waiting for his return all those years,
and he ran out to meet him?
to meet this,
this ungrateful,
irresponsible,
parody of a son,
my brother.

My brother no more!

My father ran out and embraced him,
threw his coat around him,
brought him back into my home,
he wanted to throw a party!

I wanted to throw up!

I left.

I was so angry.
So jealous.
Stupid really. I had it all.

I saw my brother later.
They’d cleaned him up cut his hair dressed a few of the more virulent sores and given him some fine clothes to wear.

I remembered how thin he looked when I first saw him.
Though it still showed in his face he didn’t look so thin in the body,

and then I noticed

– beneath the fine robes
he’d put his old rags back on again.


How many unknown Bibles are there? June 23, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation.
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There are known to be translations of the full Bible in 720 languages and New Testaments in a further 1617. The answer to the question of how many unknown ones that there are should be obvious – “nobody knows”.

The known ones get catalogued in several places:

find.bible and ScriptureEarth.org exist to help people find scripture and other resources in all available languages.

progress.bible focuses more on being a resource for organisations involved in Bible Translation helping them to track where work is currently happening or is believed to be needed.

Many of the translations that exist are submitted to the Digital Bible Library, “an online digital asset and licensing management platform developed and maintained by the United Bible Societies”. From here they can be shared with platforms such as YouVersion and Faith Comes By Hearing, or the publisher isn’t quite ready to do that, simply stored to ensure that the latest electronic text is maintained in a standard format.

At a conference a few years ago I heard a seminar about work to digitise “lost translations” and at the start of the pandemic I helped spark some conversations that led to promotion of this Wycliffe, the Bible Society, and MissionAssist. Mission Assist’s keyboarding service has been running for over 30 years. At one point they had a “Bible for the Future” project, seeking to preserve texts digitally for when they were needed for reprints, revisions and further translation work, or could be shared online.

In the last few years I’ve been able to help track down and pass on information about a few translations that were known to exist but not easily available online, starting with some of those spoken in Europe. These include old translations which have scanned copies or exist only in print in a library or archive somewhere, or newer ones that have been completed with or without the involvement (or sometimes knowledge) of local Bible societies and translation organisations.

The most recent example I came across is in the Piemontèis language of Italy, (also called Piedmontese or Piemontese), available at https://pms.m.wikisource.org/wiki/La_Bibia_piemonèisa and translated by a retired pastor from the region who now lives in England.

The new testament is “a stylistic revision of the New Testament in the Piedmontese language of 1841, with a scrupulous comparison of the best Greek text at our disposal.” and the Old Testament makes use of the Net Bible and it’s 60,000 accompanying notes.

The language itself is currently spoken by between 700,000 and 2,500,000 people with varying estimates as to how many people can read and write in it (A 2006 survey quoted on the English version of Wikipedia suggests only about 2% of speakers can read and write in it, The Piemonteisa version of Wikipedia suggests 500,000-700,000 people).

Meanwhile, if you want to read a version of the New Testament from 1834 then the digital version of “L Testament Neuv de Nossegneour Gesu-Crist: tradout in Lingua Piemonteisa” can be found in the Reading Room of the Racconigi Castle with information about it found here, and perhaps more widely available sometime in the not too distant future.

Finding the Bible in the 4th Swiss Language June 13, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement.
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Switzerland is one of the many countries that doesn’t have a single national language. It has four (German, French, Italian and Romansh), but while Romansh was recognised as a ‘national’ language in 1938 it wasn’t at that point an ‘official’ language, and though it had been written for centuries, its different dialects had different orthographies.

In 1968 work began on a new translation into Romansh. The New Testament was published in 1988 and some of the old Testament (Psalms and Prophets) in 2014. These are available via the Swiss Bible Society but in a standard form of Romansh that official reports suggest hasn’t been as popular as hoped for.

For an earlier full translation you’d have to look a little harder.

adapted from image at wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Switzerland by Tschubby, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bibles can be found on YouVersion in German, French and Italian but there isn’t anything there in Romansh. Neither is there anything on Bible.is or ScriptureEarth.org. Find.Bible has links to two portions in Romansh – but the links didn’t work (I’ll let them know).

The complete Bible was first translated into one of the dialects of Romansh in the 16th century and you can see a picture of a copy from 1679 on Kings College website.

I did find a version from 1818 on Google books, and even created a printable QR code to make it easier to share (click to follow the link, right click to save the QR code), but…

…while a Bible that is available is better than one that can only be found in history books and museums, translation and accessibility are only two factors in encouraging actual engagement with scripture, and even these two conditions require a bit more than “does something exist” and “can people get hold of it somehow”.

Modern Romansh speakers (and according to latest statistics there are about 40,000 of them) might be interested in looking at the 1818 translation, but that doesn’t mean they will find it easy to understand or indeed preferable to one in another of the languages they speak.

Scripture engagement specialists are not focused on a tick box approach of language and availability. Before “Appropriate translation” they speak of the need for “Appropriate language, dialect and orthography” and along with “availability” comes “accessible forms of scripture”. These are just four of eight conditions that emerged from many years of research and form the basis of many training programs and of a new website featuring a Scripture Engagement guide that helps communities think through some of these issues for themselves.

Pentecost 2022: Encouragement for a more multilingual church June 4, 2022

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism, worship.
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I’ve been blogging for a while about #multilingualchurch. Here’s why – A rich diversity of language and culture was God’s idea!

This is an idea explored a few times in a new book, “Language and the mission of God“. This is an ebook with a suggested price of $25 but a minimum price of “FREE” , that asks, amongst other things, “How does our perception of language influence our lives and ministries?”

If it’s the first time you’ve been asked that, ponder it yourself for a while while listening to this very multilingual compilation of “the Blessing”.

Long before the “World Blessing, the “UK Blessing”, the “The Blessing Zimbabwe” or before that particular 2020 worship chart topper was sung in over 214 languages in over 100 nations around the world, it was God’s idea to bless not just one chosen people but to bless all the nations.

At Pentecost three amazing things happen:

  1. The Holy Spirit comes on a waiting but hidden group of believers
  2. He gives them the gift of speaking other languages (and the hearers a gift of being spoken too)
  3. He launches the church as something that is not confined by language or culture.
image pixabay

It’s 30 years since I first really heard about Pentecost in a way that spoke to me and made me realise that the fragments of the Bible I’d heard many times before might fit together into something that was both attractive and true.

Pentecost definitely isn’t the first appearance of the Holy Spirit but it’s the start of something new. Jesus had said he was going back to the Father (I recently saw a facebook post where someone talked of Ascension day as the day Jesus started working from home), and he had told his disciples to wait. He’d said that he would send a new counsellor.

As with many other things Jesus had said, the disciples probably didn’t get what he meant at the time, but with a possible threat to their own lives they had good reason to be hiding away.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the tired believers new courage to proclaim good news to those around them. May that be our prayer and practice in the church today.

Puppies and Kittens in the Bible #4 May 29, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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It’s four year since I wrote a trilogy of posts on Puppies and Kittens in the Bible …and time to say something new.

“don’t let that which was there to attract you, distract you”

This could be said of puppies and kittens, or of worship songs, church architecture, or “good” preaching. But you were possibly hooked in by the promise of puppies, so here is one.

#is_this_a_real_bible

The Peaceful Puppies Bible was indeed a real thing, published in 2012 and (according to the blurb on Google books) aimed at 6-10 year olds.

I have no doubt that many of the owners of Peaceful Puppies Bibles treasured them and loved each of the 12 cute pictures that allowed the book to deliver on its title. I wonder if as they’ve grown they have questioned some of the captions?

In the example above there is one verse, a simple exhortation, “live at peace with everyone” with two qualifiers, “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends on you”. The larger commentary however ignores the qualifiers, acknowledges that life can be tough but states, “God expects us to live in peace with everyone around us“.

No he doesn’t.

God expects that there are times it will be tough.

God expects that at times it won’t be possible, and it doesn’t completely depend on us.

Don’t let the cute puppy distract you. Read the Bible not just the comments. Read it in context. Read it with others. Discuss it. Pray about it.

And, while there is a time for study there are also times to simply rest in God’s word and be comforted.

You can read more on Puppies and Kittens in the Bible, along with a post on is this a real Bible and some further reflections on design in how to make the Bible look good and why it matters. You could also keep scrolling through your social media feed for the next cute or funny animal picture – there are times when we can can benefit from some gentle distraction.

More thoughts on design and engagement with scripture coming soon.

How to make the Bible look good (and why it matters) May 23, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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Before you read the post (you could) watch this video about how to sound smart in a Ted Talk. (or not)

The video is worth watching (and also says very little) because it is about how style and presentation make a difference.

It is a lesson that has been learned in the world of Bible translation and in the related, but not always respected, world of Bible marketing. The big difference?

The Bible is full of amazing content!

It’s stories have resonated throughout the centuries and its truths continue to transform lives for good. When people open and engage with the Bible they discover that “Good News” isn’t just marketing hype. This book really will change you life!

But the challenge is that people do continue to judge a book by it’s cover. They judge the Christians and the church and the Bible by what they see.

did the picture help grab your attention?

Some see an old book with a lot of pages that doesn’t fit with their view of life in the 21st century. They’ve seen it on TV waved by people who use it as a weapon, they’ve seen it held up in a court of law in a system that effectively uses it to call down a curse if they tell a lie.

Some see it as foreign and alien to their culture.

Some see at something to be respected, but not necessarily read at home.

Some see it marketed differently …and still don’t like it because the marketing looks like sales hype.

I’m not a fan of all of the options for Bible covers and bits to make it look attractive (see earlier post on “Is this a real Bible?“), but neither do I want to go for the lowest cost printing options with no thought to design.

I’m also not a fan of all the things we do to try and make church attractive to outsiders. I was once part of a church that had an old poster insider that said “Our church is about the people, not the building” – which was and is true, but from the outside the building looked very uncared for. Cleaning the windows, tidying the garden, repainting, updating the sign and noticeboard, were all part of the process of refreshing the building and the people, ready to welcome new people. At least one person who joined us in the months that followed told us, “I’d never noticed there was a church here”.

Looking ‘good’ is only one element of design in Bibles, Church buildings or events (or anything else). Design is about how well it works not just how good it looks.

The attractive looking “Digital Strategy Guides” at internationalmediaservices.org/strategy-guides have a few things to say about design and I hope to follow up with a few more posts over the next few weeks.

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