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

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement.

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.


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