jump to navigation

Bible Translation milestones 1992-2022 August 17, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Statistics.
add a comment

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.

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

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, refugees, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
add a comment

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) Diaspora Languages – intro October 15, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
add a comment

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.

If Bible Translation was an Olympic Event… August 1, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics.
add a comment

If Bible translation was an Olympic event then looking at languages per country, the ‘medal’ table for the first 20 countries might look something like the chart below. But it all depends on what you count…

CountryBibleNew
Testament
Selections
& Stories
Total
1 India7212567264
2Indonesia3310293228
3Nigeria306093183
4Democratic Republic
of the Congo
27243687
5Myanmar26131453
6China21172765
7Kenya2111941
8Ghana2021445
9Philippines198418121
10Papua New Guinea16265137418
11Cameroon165847121
12Uganda168731
13Mexico1313145189
14Ethiopia13221651
15Mozambique116118
16Guatemala115319
17Zambia114318
18Tanzania10352671
19Chad10241246
20Russian Federation10222961
data from progress.bible July 2021

The chart shows totals for translated scripture by the ‘hub country’ for each language. This avoids counting a language in more than one country but can sometimes give a distorted picture – as could assuming that all the athletes representing a country speak only the ‘national’ language of the country.

The truth is that many Olympic teams and many Olympic cities are a celebration of diversity. The website Olympic Cities states that London is “A world-in-one city”, “With no less than 230 languages spoken”. (most sources claim over 300 languages spoken in the city, and I suspect that to be an underestimate).

Charts showing the number of Olympic medals won by each nation rarely include columns about the numbers of athletes entering or the total population of the country. The chart on Bible translations above doesn’t show the total number of languages for each country.

Another ‘problem’ with my chart is that it doesn’t take into account how recently the translations have been completed, or how readily available they are.

So here’s a quick table of the world totals from the last few Olympic years, along with a couple of notes of explanation.

200020042008201220162021
(so far)
Bible371405438518636713
New Testament96010341168127514421583
Portions902883848100511451195
Total223323222454279832233491
data from wycliffe.net and progress.bible

Translation statistics above are those reported by Wycliffe Global Alliance, usually up until September 30 of each year, so there are still a few to add for 2021. ‘Results’ don’t come in quite as quickly as for the Olympics – figures here are from July 2021.

The leap in 2016 is due to identification of some previously unreported translations plus a change in reporting which included selections and stories rather than limiting portions to the translation of a full book.

Currently, work is in progress in over 700 of the languages in which nothing has been published, and many languages that have ‘something’ will have a lot more by the start of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

As for availability, most published scriptures are available in print and/or audio somewhere (if you know where to look) and in recent years an amazing (Olympian?) effort has been made to make scripture available digitally with scripture now available in at least 2100 languages via apps and websites with about 200 of these being made available for the first time just this year. (almost 90 new on YouVersion since my last blog post and 28 new languages added in June to the audio recordings from faithcomesbyhearing.com ).

The apps with scriptures in the most languages are YouVersion and Bible.is and the most complete public index of these and others is ScriptureEarth.org.


A quick request. I don’t mind how many people link to this blog post, but I’d love to see more churches celebrating the variety of languages and cultures in their community, helping people find scripture online and exploring other aspects of being a more multilingual church. If your church website and social media doesn’t already link to online Bibles, why not suggest it?

The Bible: between 1500-1600 April 10, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
add a comment

When I mentioned that YouVersion had scripture in 1555 languages, one facebook friend thought that I was talking about the language of the year 1555, not the number of languages. Perhaps I should have written my post to commemorate the first authorised translations in the English language “Great Bible” of 1539, also known as the “Chained Bible”.

“The Great Bible” 1539, also known as “The Chained Bible”

A lot of things changed in regard to the availability of scripture in the 1500’s. I’ll mention a few of them before reflecting on the amazing progress being made in our own century.

William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English in the 1520’s, with the New Testament first published in 1525. For this (and perhaps for some of the words used) he was forced to flee. In 1536 charged with heresy, he was tied to a stake, strangled and then his body burned. His final words are reported as, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

His prayer was answered. The principle of an English Bible was legalised in 1536 and the first authorised text was approved in 1537 (here’s the letter). While not given official credit, Tyndale’s translation was built upon in the Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Authorised Version or King James Bible (1611).

The Mathew Bible 1537, British Library
“The Byble, which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament
truly and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew.”
View more at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/matthews-bible

You can read more about the various versions on the website of the British Library in a 2019 article by Alec Ryrie, “From Sacred Scriptures to the people’s Bible” .

The picture at the top of this post is of the “Great Bible” which as the caption says and the Wikipedia article explains, the name was due to it’s size and it was also referred to as the “Chained Bible”.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just legal for churches to own a copy, it was commanded,

In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bible

But, on display in the church was still different to being available in people’s homes. The Bible’s were often chained to prevent removal from the church.

Today, as I also mention a lot in my blog posts, the Bible is very widely available in a huge number of languages. There are full Bible in over 700 languages.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Many others have at least a New Testament

progress.bible/data March 2021

And still more have selections and individual books of the Bible published.

progress.bible/data March 2021


Published, still isn’t the same as freely available to everyone and freely available isn’t the same as people knowing where and how to access a copy, but through print and digital versions this is getting closer. Making scripture available on an app or website still doesn’t quite make it accessible to everyone, but it’s certainly a help.

I started the post with my friends confusion about YouVersion having the Bible (or at least part of it) in 1555 languages. This was on March 24, 2021. By the time I started writing this post that number had gone up to 1575 languages, and as I publish the number at the bottom of their page at bible.com has just shot up to 2375 versions in 1639 languages.
It might be more by the time you click the link!

YouVersion isn’t the only platform providing scripture as text, audio, and as part of films including the Jesus film and the new Lumo Gospel films. Also check out the recordings data base of Faith Comes By Hearing and via their bible.is app. ScriptureEarth.org is another fantastic resource, providing links to the major platforms and also hosting a large number of additional texts and recordings along with links to individual apps and scripture sites.


Do you know anyone who doesn’t know that an “unchained” Bible is available on their phone? Is your church making people aware of this?

Researching Bibles in Braille February 20, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics.
add a comment

I recently noticed that the Digital Bible Library now includes 53 Braille Entries in 41 languages. and I wondered how many Bibles are actually available in Braille …and how many people know about them.

The next day, I spotted a facebook post asking whether Wycliffe or SIL had anyone working on Braille Bibles. I didn’t know. But I know a lot more now…

I didn’t find much in the public SIL archives but I did find a literacy journal from 1974 that spoke of Braille transcription in four languages in Papua New Guinea. I also found a reference to work in Togo in the 1990’s. An article and infographic from 2015 on the Scottish Bible Society website talked about some of the challenges of Braille Bibles (40 volumes, not very portable, not really cheap), and why they are still important (people want to read them). It also mentioned that while the full Bible was available in over 500 languages only 40 had been transcribed into Braille. That was 2015.
It’s now 2021 and the full Bible is available in over 700 languages, with at least 46 having been transcribed into Braille. It is encouraging to read that back in 2015 some Braille Scripture was available in another 200 languages. I look forward to updating this post when I discover how many more have been added to that list.

According to an article I found on the Bible Society of Northern Ireland, the Luganda Braille Bible, launched in 2018 was the 45th full Braille Bible. In Nov 2020 this was followed by the Runyankole/Rukiga Braille Bible.

Just to be clear Braille is a writing system not a language so texts are transcribed not translated. Just as there are many different printed writing systems there are also a number of different Braille alphabets.

ScriptSource, a website dedicated to cataloguing the worlds writing systems currently lists 98 languages that use Braille https://www.scriptsource.org/cms/scripts/page.php?item_id=script_detail&key=Brai

The 2013 World Braille Usage report lists 133 https://www.perkins.org/international/world-braille-usage.

There are over 7,000 languages in the world. Fortunately some of them use the same alphabets.

So with a bit of research I know a lot more than I did this morning. I even know of a UK organisation that has spent the last 30 years helping to transcribe, publish and distribute Braille Bibles. Compass Braille’s website provides a full list of languages they have worked with, details of current projects, and stories of the impact this ministry is having.

I look forward to learning more.

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

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Statistics.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

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.
add a comment

“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.

%d bloggers like this: