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The Blessing – how many languages will it be sung in? May 10, 2020

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism, worship.
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A new song based on an ancient blessing has quickly becoming the anthem of 2020 for virtual choirs around the globe. I first heard the “UK Blessing” performed by a virtual choir from 65 churches and received almost 2 million views in it’s first week.
The UK Blessing wasn’t the first and definitely not the last attempt to bring churches together from a single country.

One day blessings will be sung in over 7000 languages, but not necessarily to this tune

I like the song and love the significance of so many people coming together to sing (or sign) it. This same concept has been repeated in many different communities and countries so I went looking for how many different languages I could find it in and began adding them to a playlist.

To start with I found English (a few varieties), French, Spanish, Hebrew, Tagalog, Farsi, Italian, Malalayam, Hindi, (and another in both Malalayam and Hindi) Nepali, Romanian, Polish, Papiamentu, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Luganda, Mongolian, Lingala, Thai, Mandarin Chinese, Nigerian Pidgin, Tamil, Amharic, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Swahili. I’ve since added Shona, Ndebele, Xhosa (each part of The Blessing – Zimbabwe), Rukiga, Haitian Creole, BSL, ASL, Makaton, and Filipino Sign Language (There are 380+ sign languages in the world). One artist sings in Portuguese, French, English, Lingala & Korean. The Malaysian Blessing includes singers from 80 churches and includes English, Tamil, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Dusun, Kelabit and Iban. Then came Ukranian, Fijian, Ekegussi, Afrikaans , Vietnamese, Burmese, Mauritian Kreol, and Hungarian , and the list kept growing. I almost stopped counting at 70 but then I heard the Nigerian and Ghanaian versions and more recently a version for India with 31 different languages. So here is the full alphabetical list so far:

Albanian, Afrikaans, Ambon, American Sign Language (ASL), Amharic, Ao Naga, Arabic, Armenian, Assamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Batak Pakpak, Batak Simalungun, Bali, Batak Karo, Batak Toba, Bengali, Benin,Bhojpuri, Birom, Bisaya, British Sign Language (BSL), Bulgarian, Bundeli, Burmese, Cebuano, Chhattisgarhi, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), Cilacap, Dari, Dayak, Duala, Dusun, Dutch, Ekegussi, Ende, English, Esan, Farsi, Fijian, Filipino Sign Language, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hakha Chin, Hausa, Haryanavi, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Iban, Ibibo, Igbo, Ijaw, Italian, Japanese, Jawa, Kalabari, Kannada, Karenni (Kayah), Karina, Kelabit, Khasia, Khmer, Kikuyu, Kinyarwanda, Kokborok, Konkani, Korean, Kutai, Kyrgyz, Lampung, Lingala, Luganda, Macedonian, Makaton, Maithili, Malagasy, Malayalam, Malaysian Sign Language (BMI), Manado, Manipuri, Marathi, Mauritian Kreol, Mexican sign language, Mizo, Mongolian, Nagamese, Ndebele, Nepali, Nias, Nigerian Pidgin, Nishi, Norwegian, Odia, Okrika, Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Papiamentu, Papua, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Rukiga, Russian, Sadri, Scottish Gaelic, Shona, Sinhala, Spanish, Sunda, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tamil, Teluga,Ternate, Thai, Tiv, Tongan, Toraja, Turkish, Ukranian, Ukrainian sign language, Urbohobo, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Waray, Welsh, Xhosa, Yoruba, Zomi and Zulu.

…which brings the count to over 140 in 126 days! (as of June 2)

This also includes versions in 8 sign languages (so far)

According to Billboard.com the song, “The Blessing”, was written by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes on Feb 27th and first recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 1st. The main chorus is much older, based on Numbers 6:24-26

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”


These verses have been translated into at least the 700 languages that have full Bibles. It is available in at least 400 of those via bible.com and bible.is and others that can be found via find.bible and scriptureearth.org

In the weeks since I first posted about this I’ve added several updates, each ending with the same question:

In how many languages could be it be sung by the people connecting online to your church?

This final video is from one congregation in London, UK, in a city where well over 300 languages are known to be spoken (and others are yet to be counted).

Wishing you a merry multilingual Christmas December 5, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.
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The Christmas story has now been translated into well over 3000 languages. So, is it possible to say “Merry Christmas” in all of those?

Possibly not, but I did find links to how to say something more or less appropriate in over 400 languages thanks to WhyChristmas and Omniglot



You could use these sites to create your own multilingual slide or banner to cover many of the languages spoken in your community. (You could use this in church or at carol singing out in the community, and ask people to add other languages, perhaps leading to discussion about what it means to them.)

I’m encouraging my friends and colleagues around the world to submit the appropriate phrase in a few more languages but am aware that it might not always be so simple.

Greetings are not just about translating the words and find words for “Merry” and “Christmas” (Christmas itself being a composite of “Christ and Mass”). For a start if you were to Google “Merry Christmas vs Happy Christmas” you’d find all sorts of people weighing into the discussion as to whether there is a cultural divide between Brits and Americans over this. (apparently the Queen wishes her subjects “Happy Christmas”).

Merry | Definition of Merry by Merriam-Webster
merry, blithe, jocund, jovial, jolly mean showing high spirits or lightheartedness. merry suggests cheerful, joyous, uninhibited enjoyment of frolic or festivity. a merry group of revelers blithe suggests carefree, innocent, or even heedless gaiety.

https://www.merriam-webster.com › dictionary › merry

Brits don’t tend to use the word “Merry” on it’s own these days unless to mean “slightly drunk”.

What you are really looking for when you translate the phrase is to look for a culturally appropriate phrase to greet people and wish them well at Christmas time. This may or may not vary depending on whether they believe in Christ or celebrate Christmas.

As Christmas is not a word used in the Bible some languages have borrowed it independently of their word for Christ. So in the lists of translations there are some phrases which are simply the English “Merry Christmas” written in another script, one which translated as “Christian New Year”. Others appear to be loan words from the language and culture that introduced the holiday.

For the greetings in the graphic I used Google translate to translate them back into English. I created the graphic above using powerpoint and the cartoons of our family were made using bitmoji. And for those wondering what some of the languages are, here’s the list.

You can access the Google slide version of this at http://bit.ly/multilingualchristmas and make your own copies or download as a powerpoint. Meanwhile take a look at some of the other posts in the #multilingualchurch section of our site (or any other bits) and have a vrolijk kerstfeest!

Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas
Dutchvrolijk kerstfeestSwahiliKrismasi Njema
TagalogMaligayang PaskoAmharicመልካም ገና
PortugueseFeliz NatalCantonese聖誕快樂
RussianСчастливого рождестваGermanFrohe Weihnachten
Scots GaelicNollaig ChridheilKorean메리 크리스마스
WelshNadolig LlawenPolishWesołych Świąt
FrenchJoyeux NoëlGreekΚαλά Χριστούγεννα
MalaySelamat Hari NatalNepaliक्रस्मसको शुभकामना
Kurdish (kurmanji)Kirîstmas piroz be

How many languages in the USA? (and how many have Bibles available online) November 28, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.
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The media often quotes a figure of 300 languages for London and 600 for New York. Both have evidence to back the claims that there at least this many, but there may be more.

As the USA gears up for a new census in 2020 I took a look at some of the previous data and future plans

The percentage of the nation’s population age 5 and older speaking a language other than English at home was 21.6 percent in 2016.


How many languages are spoken? Nobody knows. The previous census looked at information on 384  but…

“Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes”


The list of codes is at census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/about/language-use/primary_language_list.pdf (some codes refer to groupings or to dialects so I’ll cautiously suggest that there may be at least 1200 languages in the list).

It occured to me that I could compare this to lists of available scripture.

…and so I did (all figures were provisional)

  • My initial calculation suggested over 300 have no recorded scripture in the language (some of these are closely related to other languages that do). In addition about 460 have some scripture but not a full Bible. 
  • About 600 of the 1334 languages that are assumed to be spoken by someone in the USA have scripture available via YouVersion or Bible.is, another 155 have a Bible or NT somewhere in print and the same number again have portions or selections.

I hope to do some further exploration of this data and to update these figures as I correct any errors I’ve made and as more and more translations are made available.

Cromarty: Death of a Dialect November 21, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Language revitalisation, multilingualism.
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Around the world languages and dialects are disappearing at an alarming rate all over the world, including in the UK. At the end of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, here’s one story of how it can happen.

Various news reports covered the death of Bobby Hogg, the last fluent speaker of the Cromarty dialect, in 2012.

Cromarty is/was a dialect of Scots, which some (falsely) consider to be ‘just’ a dialect of English. (More on that in another post)

Map showing Cromarty and surrounding sea areas addapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shipping_Forecast
Cromarty, well known (to some) as one of 31 Sea areas around the UK
mentioned four times a day in the BBC Shipping forecast

Daniel Kaufman, a linguist who has mapped out over 600 languages and dialects spoken in just one district of New York, states, “The fisherfolk were not victims of genocide or colonialism but of social marginalisation”.

It is not so much that anyone forced them to abandon the grammar and vocabulary of their dialect but rather that it became more useful to them to speak standard Scots and English. Successive generations used the traditional dialect less and less until their are just a few elderly speakers left, and with them dies a whole way of speaking.

In other times and places the death of a language is less of a natural decline and more a case of ‘linguicide’.

Kaufman links biodiversity to linguistic diversity and large scale agriculture to biological leveling, stating that as further industrialisation takes place people move or are moved out of traditional communities into larger towns and cities. Numerous factors affect what is known first as language shift (adopting and putting more emphasis on using another langue) and language loss (the language is used in less ‘domains’ and less people pass the language on to the next generation.)

Join the lecture at 15 minutes in for factors on how languages and dialects die

Some communities value their languages as part of their identity and resist pressures to lose their heritage, others are less concerned or find the pressure to abandon their language to great.

Elizabeth Philips was placed in a residential school as a child and forbidden to speak her home language. ” While other children played, she would stand alone at the outside gate, staring out at the Fraser River and thinking in her language. ”

She is now the last known fluent speaker of Halkomelem.

“I try my best not to lose it, because I can’t have conversation,” she says. “But I text in Halkomelem.” She pauses, then laughs, “The phone is always trying to correct me!”

(APTN Canada 2016, Language Keeper: The last fluent speaker of Stó:lō’s Indigenous dialect in race against time)

It seems inevitable that some languages and cultures will die out. Outsiders should no more try and force people to continue using their traditional language that they should force them not to. But we can recognise that when a language is lost forever it is not just lost to a community but lost to the whole planet.

We can also recognise that it doesn’t have to happen. People do not have to lose one language in order to become proficient in another. Most of the people on the planet are bilingual or multilingual, able to move freely between multiple languages, and able to communicate widely without losing their heritage.

The United Nations declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, a small but significant step to raising awareness.


While that was happening Bible Societies, and churches have been busy preparing for 2020 which has been declared as the Year of the Bible by the World Evangelical Alliance and a number of other organisations.

There will be lots of ideas an initiatives, such as this one…

I’ll be continuing to advocate for churches linking to online Bibles and sharing other ideas about becoming a more multilingual church. I invite others to blog, post or tweet using #multilingualchurch

How many Languages are Spoken in Britain? September 26, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.
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Nobody really knows, but its definitely more than the 300 sometimes quoted for London or for UK Schools. The question of main language was introduced for the first time in 2011 census and reported languages in over 100 classifications.

The Census in Scotland identified 178 classifications spoken by more than ten respondents  in addition to 1,921 speakers of “Other languages”.

It should be noted that the census was not attempting to capture the full range of languages spoken by people but rather identifying additional languages needed in order to supply services.

The “300” languages for London dated back to at least 1999 (the earliest public article I could find) when the Independent reported on London: multilingual capital of the world

“Most reports into the number of languages spoken in London are based on research carried out in 1993 by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. This research estimated that 275 languages were regularly spoken within the capital. However The Independent has learnt that new research, due to be published later this year, will reveal a total that is closer to 300.” – Andrew Buncombe , Monday 29 March 1999

So has the real number of languages increased since then? Yes, but know one knows by how much, at least not yet. Following an article I saw in 2015 about over 300 languages being used in schools I obtained a list of what they actually were and also discovered that because it’s hard to keep track of all the languages in the world the survey has a list of 320 languages and categories against which to check them. So there are still quite a number that get bundled together or listed as ‘other’.

Added to this the question doesn’t ask about all the languages spoken at home, so when people speak several they may sometimes just mention the most prestigious one.

Stay tuned. I still don’t have the answer but I have more reasons why I know the existing one is an underestimate and clues as to where to find some of the languages that may be missing from the lists.

Ten reasons for a more multilingual church August 30, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.
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Jesus calls us to care for the 1% as well as the 99%

Language can divisive, but it can also open doors, and open ears, and open hearts. Multilingualism isn’t just about the fact that there are many languages spoken in our communities. It isn’t just a matter of justice, representation, inclusion, identity, clear communication and joyful celebration. It’s all of those and more.

I recently attended a church in a town where (according to the last census) 97.9% of people speak English as their first language. The church had a multilingual welcome sign and had been running some international cafe’s to help a small number of people feel a little more more connected. However diverse your local community and your church congregation is here are 10 reasons why you might want to take a few steps to help your church be a little more multilingual.

  1. Because that’s what heaven will sound like –  Scripture says so, and says so in 3000+ languages.
  2. Because that’s what earth sounds like – 7000+ languages – 2000+ available on your phone.
  3. Because that’s what your community sounds like – how many languages are spoken in your local community?
  4. Because that’s not what the church usually sounds like – Sadly it was said over 50 years ago that 11-12 on a Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, the same may be true now and to too large an extent in the UK and many other countries.
  5. Because language is more than a barrier – when you can’t understand what is being said then language is obviously a barrier, but what if you can understand? Does every language you speak touch you quite as deep as the language (or languages) you use at home. Language isn’t just a barrier, it’s a bridge, or even a key into different parts of people lives.
  6. Because God must speak into every part of our lives – some people who speak multiple languages speak different ones at home, in work, in church, in school, and in other situations. Do some compartmentalise? This may suggest you shouldn’t  only hear about (or be able to talk about) God in the language(s) you speak at home. 
  7. Because unity isn’t about uniformity – if only we all spoke the same language, if only we all thought the same way, if only we all voted the same way, and nobody ever disagreed… just imagine what we could achieve? (are any of you picturing a tower that extends up to the heavens). We are as Christian called to live together in unity, but what unites us is Christ, one Lord, not one language.
  8. Because our language(s) are part of our identity – we need to not overstate it but we need to recognise it our languages are part of identity, It’s one of the reasons why having a national language has been seen as important to nation building, and why eradicating other languages has been part of the strategy of some regimes. But it’s possible to have national and local identity. I’m British, and English, and a midlander.  (did I mention I’m also Canadian). More than all of these I’m Christian.
  9. Because it signals that those of us who have oppressed others are sorry – The majority/dominant cultures have done a lot to stifle and silence other languages, and to oppress other cultures. In the UK the English have done much to eradicate the languages of our own ‘United Kingdom’, and when ‘we’ had an Empire we saw it as our job to use language as part of our dominance and control.
  10. Because it’s beautiful – The lungs add the volume, the throat and mouth control the sounds but worship comes from the heart (or in some translations from the liver). My ears aren’t tuned and trained to appreciate everything as God does, but there is no voice and no language in which the praise of God from a sincere heart is not beautiful.

Stay tuned for more and add your voice using the hashtag #multilingualchurch

Welcome in 250 languages August 5, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.
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Would you like a free customisable welcome slide/poster for your church or event? The graphic below shows a small selection of words and phrases used to welcome people.

The list was compiled by Simon Ager at omniglot.com/language/phrases/welcome.htm and according to his copyright page “If you would like to use the material for personal, educational or non-commercial purposes you’re welcome to do so. Don’t forget to mention where it came from.”

I took a selection and put them into a powerpoint slide (now shared but without the Bitmoji cartoon version of me) , making it easy for others to adapt, changing colours and styles or adding and subtracting languages according to the languages used in your community or church.

Be aware that some computers and software might not display the fonts correctly and it is usually best to save the slide as a graphic before displaying it in your church and to ask people to tell you both if anything is wrong and to ask if any of their languages are missing and could be added!

Direct ‘word for word’ translations can sometimes be a challenge because language doesn’t work quite like that and what you type into Google translate (amazing as it is) won’t always give you what you want.

Some languages will use a different greeting depending on how many people are being greeted, what gender(s) they are, what age or status they are, and who you are. Even in English there are a range of greetings used according to the context. (Never say ‘hi’ to the queen!)

Omniglot uses a helpful notation to indicate some of the uses
sg = singular (said to one person), pl = plural (said to more than one person), inf = informal, frm = formal, m = male (said by males), f = female (said by females), >m = said to males, >f said to females.

The context I am looking for in my multilingual welcome sign is that of welcoming people into a British church so I’m guessing plural formal is often the best option. If you speak any of the languages above let me know if we’ve got the right phrase.

Does your Church Website link to an Online Bible? June 25, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation, multilingualism.
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If you think the Bible is important it would make sense that your church website lets people know how to find one online.

The Bible is available online in a lot of languages. At the start of 2020 YouVersion was supplying 2023 versions in 1371 languages. on Bible.com (updated for Jan 1 2020, and the numbers will have risen since then). A similar number but slightly different mix on Bible.is), but a lot of people don’t know that until someone shows them.

Many people around the world speak multiple languages may benefit from accessing the Bible in more than one. This is often not just a matter of understanding but also of identity.

Depending on what type of web hosting you have you may be able to embed online bibles and other resources directly into your site but any church or personal website or blog site can link to online Bibles.

Bible.com is the Web version of the YouVersion Bible app

You can also link directly to any of the 2000+ versions, or to one of the 50+ interface languages for the site eg Welsh, Spanish, Arabic, French. For more details see How to add YouVersion to your website . You Version also provides a Kids Bibles app in a smaller but growing number of languages.

Bible.is from Faith Comes By Hearing

Bible.is specialises in providing great recordings of scripture and the Jesus Film but they usually provide the text too! You can filter by country, language and version to find the ones you are looking for, and perhaps some you didn’t know were available! A new feature is the inclusion of filmed versions of each of the four gospels being rolled out over an increasing number of languages.

There are a lot of other options to choose from and a good number of great websites and tools. Which is one reason why I created 1000bibles.wordpress.com a simple website to point people to a few.

For example, Biblia has a wide range of plugins including Verse of the Day, Reference tagger, a Bible Search Box, and an Embedded bible with a choice of versions in English and a few other major languages. You can customize the size of the box, what version you start with and several other features.

Over 500 versions and 400 languages are offered by http://webtools.bible. You can customise their widget to just include the languages and versions of your choice (but it might be an idea to link to the full collection. A simple workthrough provides to code you need for your site but once again you need a host that allows you to add scripts (my free site doesn’t)

<script id="bw-widget-src" src="//bibles.org/widget/client"></script>
	"background": "F19317",
	"selected": "eng-ESVUK16",
	"versions": "eng-ESVUK16,eng-NLT,hwc-HWCNT"

So there you are. A few simple ways in which you, your friends, and your church website could link to a free online Bible. There are languages in which scripture isn’t online yet and languages in which translation is ongoing or needed. Supporting Wycliffe and other translation organisations (and those of us in them) can help fill the gaps. Telling people about what is already available via a simple web link or social media share can make a difference too.

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