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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.

Finding Hidden Diaspora Languages: Who is looking? January 19, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, refugees, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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As part of my wider interest in Multilingual Church this is part 3 in a series on finding hidden diaspora languages. This section looks at “who is interested” (which includes perhaps anyone who makes it to the bottom of this blog), and who is interested enough to collect and explore the actual data.

Lots of organisations, both Christian and secular, collect and share information about or for the many diaspora communities

“Diaspora” is a title used both by self defined members of specific diaspora communities and those outside.

Today, some churches and Christian organisations talk about diaspora mission and think in terms of how we can find many ‘unreached peoples’ living in some of the major cities of the world. 

But how many? Which ones? And how do we connect?

Global Gates is one example of an American mission organisation, asking “Where should Christians prioritize work and prayer to see the least-evangelized peoples in North America reached with the gospel?”. Their publicly downloadable data covers just under 60 people groups across 60 metropolitan areas in the USA. They invite submissions of new information but state: “the people group must number at least 5,000 in the city to be included”.

Several other organisations including PeopleGroups.info and Joshua Project are looking for and sharing information.  Most are still only scratching the surface in terms of diaspora language information, but at least they are raising the questions. 

Who lives around us? 

Where else can we find members of a specific people group outside of their homeland? 

Personally, I have been interacting with other data sources and some of the people behind them for a number of years, first as a writer, webmaster, and communications specialist with Wycliffe UK, Wycliffe Canada and Wycliffe Global Alliance, then as an advocate and explorer of digital engagement (an emerging field within Scripture Engagement), and more recently in a broader field of missiology as well as data specialist with the SIL Global diaspora team.

In the last few years SIL has begun to talk about MUSE (Multilingualism Urbanisation and Scripture Engagement). We knew that people weren’t just moving from the villages to the cities, they were moving all over the world. And so without adding to the acronym there quietly emerged an SIL Global Diaspora Team, gathering data, stories, and a lot of questions with a remit, “to help SIL discern and articulate best modes of engagement with dispersed language communities and those who serve them, and to encourage and develop initiatives that advance meaningful development, education, and engagement with Scripture in urban, refugee and broader diaspora contexts.”

It is helpful to ask who else is interested in the questions of where languages are being spoken, and what languages people speak? Two clear audiences are Bible Translation agencies and Churches but they are not the only people. Governments and agencies collect or at least use what is available in terms of data on languages to plan and provide services. Thinking about who else wants to know opens up the way for discovering partnerships or data sources.

Questions I asked when presenting at the Bible Translation conference included:

  • Who is responsible in our organisation for knowing where to look and who to ask?
  • Is there someone responsible in your organisation?
  • How do we connect?

You can find key organisations, authors, and data sets through literature reviews, google searches, following some key social media feeds, and occasionally doing searches for key terms showing up in the news such as “languages” , “multilingual”, “multicultural” and “intercultural”.

Here are just a few of the organisations I’ve identified that collect information on communities and/or languages. They are all talking to each other yet but a lot of the available data can be explored and analysed.

Open Doors doesn’t specifically give information on languages but provides information about religious persecution of Christians. Many of the remaining needs for Bible translation are in countries on Open Doors World Watch list and different ethnic groups from these countries are often among the hidden diaspora, not yet recorded on the sites above.

The graphic at the top of the page also includes some sites for accessing scripture and other resources. The final links on this page points back to my first post in this series Finding Hidden Diaspora Languages: Intro and a bit more on Why it matters.

Finding (hidden) languages: Why? November 13, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism.
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I was excited recently to get a detailed list of the 300 plus languages spoken in 152 local authorities across England and Wales. I already had the list of languages (Available here) but now I have details of where they are spoken and some clues as to by how many people, and I hope to use this to encourage churches to think more deeply about the languages spoken by the people inside their churches and the people around them. This includes new migrants who might need help learning English, but also people who speak English well alongside one or more other languages they grew up with.

In education, schools and local authorities want to have a better idea of the language backgrounds of their pupils and their families to help them in planning and provision. Some may continue to see other ‘languages spoken at home’ as a barrier to education, others are seeing that using ‘home languages’ more at school provides fresh opportunities for individual pupils or even the whole class.

Screenshot from an excellent video on First and Other Languages by Hampshire County Council

A video from Hampshire County Council in 2020 states, “Anyone involved in education understands the benefits of being able to speak and use more than one language – an asset that is becoming increasingly useful in our connected world”. Sadly one reason that they need the video, and the accompanying course is that this view hasn’t always been the dominant one.

A relatively new term used in multilingual education is “translanguaging”, explained in another resource pointed to by Hampshire, from Pearson International Schools “Translanguaging – what is it and how do you plan for it? FAQs“. I’ll be talking about it more as I discuss the implications with colleagues who presented on Bible Translation and Translanguaging at the Bible Translation conference I attended.

Photo of a wall at our local hospital

In healthcare, knowing the languages spoken in the community can be an important part of providing care, ensuring that some materials are available in multiple languages, and that translators are on call where needed. Working with SIL I’ve been aware for over 25 years that our work with local languages has a significant impact on health outcomes. SIL’s Language and Culture Archives have over 1500 resources categorised under Health and Hygene.

Again this isn’t always just about making information available to people who don’t speak or can’t read the national language, it is also about going the extra step of making it personal and relevant. In the UK one of the languages that didn’t show up in the 2011 census of England and Wales was Tetum, spoken in Timor. I spotted it on a census report in Northern Ireland and have since learned that there may be as many as 16-18,000 speakers currently in the UK. A couple of health authorities had already noticed this and produced information on Covid and vaccinations in the language.

In the church, making the best use of available data on people and languages has been part of making the case for mission, and making plans for centuries.

Some history…

In 1792 William Carey devoted a significant portion of his ‘Enquiry’ into setting out his understanding of the state of the world. Part of this was to combat a false narrative at the time that the missionary endeavour was largely complete, and that if God wanted to convert ‘the heathen’ he’d do it without the likes of ‘enthusiasts’ like Carey.

Some of the data today may help combat contemporary false narratives.

The Bible Societies kept records of what was known to have been done, and what was in progress. In 1939 Rev Robert Kilgour listed 1115 languages that had at least some portion of scripture, but stated that any definitive answer as to how many more were needed was impossible. That same year the secretary of the American Bible Society had used a figure from the French Academy suggesting that there were “2,776 languages in the world”. Levels of bilingualism were assumed for the non-majority languages, especially in urban areas and the aim was understood not to be translation for every language but ensuring that everyone had something in a language they could understand. “No doubt there are still several dialects in which it will be necessary to make a version of a Gospel in order to reach more surely the hearts of country folk.”
(A pdf of Kilgour’s The Bible Throughout the World can be downloaded at https://missiology.org.uk/book_bible-throughout-the-world_kilgour.php )

The assumption was that even then 90% of the world had at least something, and so conversely 10% did not. It wasn’t until Cameron Townsend. Leonard Legters, and other founders of SIL that a more comprehensive list of remaining languages began to emerge.

Speculation that there might be 1,000 languages gave way to the notion of “2,000 tongues to go” and the numbers kept going up as more languages were catalogued.

It became clear early on that the need for translation wasn’t quite as simple as counting languages and ticking off the list once ‘something’ was translated. In the early days of the Ethnologue some languages were classified as “too bilingual”.

It’s still common to present the big pictures needs to western monolingual churches and funders more in terms of languages than of people but the story is beginning to change, and that may in part be as we open our eyes and ears to the diversity in our own communities.

Beyond the issue of whether people need scripture in their own language in order to understand, are issues raised by theologian Lamin Sanneh and others about identity and connection. Bible translation is not just intellectual comprehension but head and heart connection. This is a view often reflected on by speakers of minority languages when the scriptures are first available in their language.

Some further research needed

Research and discussion needs to continue about the current and future role of languages in a multlingual world.

In 2019 SIL published a collection of essays on, “Language and Identity in a Multilingual, Migrating World“.

In 2020 SIL colleagues organised the God and Language Forum, reflecting on many issues including the theologies of language. An ebook is due early next year with a print one to follow in due course, but may of the individual papers are already available via the link.

As I’ll explain in my next post, while there is a lot of information about some of the places where some of the (mostly larger) languages are spoken, significant research also needs to continue into finding more data to answer the questions SIL is now encouraging project staff to think about:

“What are all the languages that this community uses?”

“Where are all the communities that use this language?” 

And the related questions I would love churches to consider:

“What are the languages spoken in your community?”

“What are the languages spoken in your church?”

Finding (hidden) Diaspora Languages – intro October 15, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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Good data can help us ask (and sometime answer) a number of questions. Two key questions I want to ask are: “What are the languages spoken in your community?” and “What are the languages spoken in your church?”

I’m looking forward to presenting a paper today at the 2021 Bible Translation conference, on how to find more of the languages that are spoken outside of their country of origin, and people that speak them. I’m also looking forward to saying why I think this is important.

I have a written a few posts on this already including, Ten Reasons for a More Multilingual Church, but I suspect that one reason that the church doesn’t talk much about language is that they still need to talk more about Race, Justice, Culture and Diversity.

I’ve read a lot more articles on issues around language use and linguistic discrimination (which can also include accentism), as well as about churches working towards greater inclusion and models of intercultural church. Part of my contribution into discussion and action in this area has been in digging deeper into data.

Did you know that over a 100 countries were due a census in 2020 or 2021? Some of these ask questions about how well people speak the national language (or languages) and about the main language(s) spoken at home.

2011 Census details for England and Wales include about 80 languages plus over 20 different broad categories of “other”. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own censuses and picked up a few more. Results from the 2021 census won’t be available until at least March 2022 (probably later).

Meanwhile, frequent reports of there being over 300 languages spoken in London are based on data coming from schools. (2015 data is online and a freedom of information request got me the latest list and the ability to delve deeper).

Prior to 2020, the US Census and American Community Survey had details on over 350 languages but might include more that get reported in the 2020 census. In a 2016 review, “Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes”American Community Survey Redesign of Language-Spoken-at-Home Data, 2016

Meanwhile, over 700 languages have been identified in New York.

While better data on the languages spoken in our multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual cities and towns is useful for Bible Translation and Scripture Engagement  – it may also be about justice, equity, inclusion, and richness.

In some upcoming posts I’ll share just a few of the questions I’m exploring.

Under the question of “Why?” I explore reasons for wanting to know more than is already known about the distribution of migrant languages and their speakers.

Under “Who”, I raise the questions of who has information and why.

In a category of “How” I explore how information can be obtained and arranged.

Exploring “What exists?” and “What next?”, I share some discoveries to date and further exploration that may be needed.

Are there 600 languages spoken in Scotland? January 29, 2021

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism.
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No one knows but the 2022 census might get closer to finding out.

I recently spotted the list of 600+ language classification codes at https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ods-web/metadata.html?metadatavar=language-classification#

I was waiting to hear if these are languages that have already been identified as appearing at least once in a previous census or just a selection from the 7000+ languages in the world that might be identified if made available on the list?

…and while I was posting this blog an email arrived

The list of 600 languages available on the Scotland’s Census website is known as the classification index. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are responsible for the census in England and Wales. The Scotland’s Census classification index is based on the ONS one so it is possible the 300 categories you have seen on their website may be a summary presentation. Enquiries on that would need to be made direct to ONS. An assessment was also made of the ISO 639-1 list of recognised written languages to check for completeness. For Scotland’s Census 2022 those who respond online will be offered suggested languages depending on what they begin to type (known as ‘predictive text’). If their language is not offered as a prompt they can type in their language therefore giving the ability to collect information on languages we may not have listed.

Business Management Unit, Scotland’s Census 2022

So I think the answer remains, no one knows quite how many languages are spoken in Scotland but if you speak one of the 600+ on the list and live in Scotland, you can report it one the 2022 census, and hopefully the same list is being used for the England and Wales, and Northern Ireland censuses. (despite being the United Kingdom we have three census boards)

Languages are both hard to count and to classify. YouTuber and linguistics graduate Tom Scott explains in a video that has been seen over 800,000 times since December, quoting a number that will be out of date by the end of February.

The answer is, of course, a bit more complicated than you might think. • Tom Scott, written with Molly Ruhl and Gretchen McCulloch


Those (including some Scots) not sure whether Scots is a language or a dialect, here is a sample of some aims articulated in a 2013 report written in Scots
it is thocht important tae:

  • promote mair the idea o bilingualism an multilingualism;
  • provide trainin for teachers throu professional oncome an initial teacher education on Community leids;
  • speir at weys that folk can access an uphaud their Community leids;
  • mak shair that folk gets alloued access eneuch tae their leid an culture.   
    scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1060   

You can also learn more at scotslanguage.com

Meanwhile, in preparation for the 2020 USA census, “Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes” (quote from census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2018/demo/SEHSD-WP2018-31.pdf .

The list of codes is at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/about/language-use/primary_language_list.pdf …and, just to be clear, Scots is on the list!

Speak English and… November 27, 2020

Posted by Pete B in multilingualism.
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There are schools and churches across America who think languages are important, and that being multilingualism is a gift.

Here’s a great video from the Seattle Schoolboard that I borrowed the title for this blog post from.

The original article I found this on states:

The Seattle school district serves 6,948 English language learners who contribute 162 languages to the total of 154 spoken by families across the district. According to federal data, Seattle’s 98118 zip code is home to speakers of 78 languages, more than any other zip code in the United States.

In the classroom, we recognize a student’s home language as an asset to learning. Parents are encouraged to support their children to read or speak in their home language first in order to build upon the competencies they already possess.

The following video was produced in partnership with Highline Public Schools, the Kent School District and OneAmerica to honor the linguistic diversity of our students and families.

Honouring Home Languages, Seattle Schoolboard, 2016

I found the article after coming across a US Census article about the 15 most linguistically diverse cities. I then googled to find out a little more about linguistic and cultural diversity in the Churches of Seattle, but those are subjects for another blog post.

“…the truth is we live in an increasingly global society and speaking another language at home is going to be a huge asset not just to the child not just to the family but to our country”

Of course if you think that there are a lot of languages spoken in Seattle or other ethnically diverse cities across America, that’s nothing compared to the ones spoken in the church worldwide. The question is do we recognise that as an asset and a blessing or simply see it is a barrier?

Lots of churches are recognising multicultural and intercultural churches as a blessing and are even learning how to incorporate multiple languages as part of normal church life. Read more on this and other blogs or share your own thoughts using the hashtag #multilingualchurch

Scripture in 1,500 languages on YouVersion? …that’s worth tweeting about November 14, 2020

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Statistics.
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The milestone of 1,500 languages on YouVersion was reached on 29 October 2020. When you combine this with what is available on Bible.is, global.bible other individual bible apps and sites we are fast approaching 2000 languages available digitally. But this is only the beginning of the story.

You can read more in a press release from Wycliffe UK which is helping spread the news further. And you could even retweet the news along with the nifty animated graphic below.

As I’ve said, making scripture available is great. The next step is making sure people know how and why to access it for themselves in all the languages that speak to them.

The goal of Bible translation isn’t translated Bibles, it is transformed lives. Wycliffe UK is involved in both, and have recently updated their page on finding and sharing Bibles.

churches can play a part by ensuring people in their community can access Scripture. I’d love to see every church website point people to online Bibles

Peter Brassington

You can quote me on that. Or better still simply encourage your church to add a link to online Bibles on it’s website, and consider small steps towards being a more multilingual church. Here’s five ways to use other languages a bit more in your church, and ten reasons why I think it matters.

Data and mission 2: Painting with numbers November 7, 2020

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Statistics.
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“The world is changing. The world’s need for Christ is unchanging.”

Wycliffe Global Alliance, Infographic 2020

I have have spent significant parts of the last 24 years asking about, and now explaining what numbers around ethnolinguistic groups and their access to scripture mean or don’t mean.

image part of a larger info graphic from wycliffe.net

Complexity begins with where you actually draw some of the lines between Europe and Asia or Asia and Pacific. Further complexity comes from the fact that many languages are not just spoken in one place – all English speakers do not live in England, and lots of people speak Spanish beyond the borders of Spain. This doesn’t just apply to the so called global languages.

My own analysis of some available data on where languages are spoken identified 1218 languages that are known to be spoken in more than one country …and also suggested that there might be gaps in some of our data.

This is something apparent on many national census reports where lots of languages get grouped together in simple categories, but even when people self report they don’t always report ‘their’ language for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many people not only speak more than one language, they can speak more than two. When asked someone might simply respond with the language that has the higher perceived prestige, or be believed to be the most useful in the context. This can perhaps be compared to people from small towns being asked where they are from and saying that they live ‘near’ a bigger city.

Multilingualism is also one reason why there is a difference between the reported number of languages that don’t have Scripture and the number in which translation is reported as needing to begin.

Some of the difference between ‘remaining need’ and ‘languages without scripture’ is simply that initial work has begun in a lot of languages but hasn’t yet resulted in published Scripture.

The infographic has to resort to longer text to answer the question:
In which languages is Scripture translation not needed?

Since 1999 Wycliffe and partner organization, SIL, have talked about the goal of “a Bible translation project in progress for every people group that needs it.”
Implicit in that goal is the idea that, although every people group needs the Bible, the Bible may not need to be translated into every language. This sounds shocking to some people until you look at the numbers and see that of the 7000+ languages listed by the Ethnologue about 200 no longer have any first language users, and just under another 200 have 12 or fewer speakers the last time anyone counted them.
Even in languages used by hundreds or thousands of people, there is often a clear shift underway as the next generation functions more and more comfortably in a ‘language of wider communication.’
Today many communities are taking greater ownership and action in
determining their own needs and are working in partnership with others
to achieve their own translation goals.

I’ve passed on most of the explaining of Wycliffe’s annual statistics to others and am now involved in several initiatives including looking more deeply at data around migration and multilingualism (see the #multilingualchurch section). As before …it’s complicated.

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