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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

a more radical welcome November 11, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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There is an old English idiom about sending someone to Coventry, which basically means to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. In contrast Coventry Cathedral has a great welcome notice. It’s about welcoming all kinds of people including those who might not always feel they are accepted in church. This has been shared on multiple facebook pages and church noticeboards, and inspired our friend and former pastor, Steve Latham to suggest that the “scandalous extremism of the gospel ” should challenge the church to be even more radical.

The original list includes “those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, questioning, well-heeled or down at heel.” It does include those who are “just got out of prison” along with the “just browsing” and “just woken up” and sneaks in “those who are in recovery or still addicted” along with “tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.”

Steve, asks would your church put up a welcome signs like this:

“We welcome murderers and thieves, racists and rapists. We welcome human traffickers, white supremacists, and pornographers; even bankers and hedge fund managers. We welcome the child abuser as well as the abused, the drug pusher besides the addict; the unreconstructed male chauvinist, along with the TERF.”

Steve goes on to ask, “What church would actually want that kind of people attending? The safeguarding issues alone would be horrendous.”
Read Steve’s full post here.

As part of my MA research I visited many church websites and spotted that nearly all had a prominent link to their safeguarding policy (definitely something to be commended as long as it’s taken seriously), but that very few had links to an online Bible such as Bible.com or Bible.is (which between them have scripture and other resources in over 1600 languages).

Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised at a plug for helping those marginalised, through no fault of their own, by language. That’s been my job and my passion for the last 23 years. But there are others who are marginalised in society by a past (or present) that has put them on the wrong side of the law, people who know that they have fallen. Stephen Dailly (we know a few Stephen), has written a book from his experience of working with released prisoners. It’s a book that isn’t blind to challenges for the congregation as well as the released prisoners. You can read a sample of the book on Amazon which may be enough to prompt you to buy a copy and pray that at least one church in your community (maybe your own) will be radical enough and well prepared enough to really welcome anyone.

2019 Bible Translation Statistics …and some other numbers October 18, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation, Statistics.
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It’s that time of year when the annual update to statistics on Bible translation are released at http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics

The fact that the complete Bible is now available in almost 700 languages is a cause for celebration, but the 698th is just as significant as the 700th to those that can now read it, or listen to it on phones and media players.

I’ve worked on these statistics since 2010 when the numbers were a little lower….

I’ve blogged a lot over years

many people still need a pie
a pie chart from 2009

…and in various forms have been reporting on the progress of, and remaining need for Bible translation since I joined Wycliffe in 1996.

Back then there were 2,086 languages in which some of the Bible was available – 308 with a full Bible, 764 with a New Testament, and 1,014 with at least one book of the Bible.

I’ve been less involved in the production of the statistics this year which has given me time to look at some other numbers and the details behind them, such as the growth in the number of languages with scripture available on your phone, and the number that could be available over the coming years. More on that soon…

Meanwhile why not explore how many languages are spoken by people attending your church and living in your community and make sure that people know how to easily find scripture in their own language.

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.

How many Bibles have been sent to the moon? July 19, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation.
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This may not be a question many people are Googling even in the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but the top answer I found was ‘100’ which is only partly right.

100 Bibles made it to surface of the moon in 1971 but over 1000 copies were actually sent.

After the death of astronaught Ed White along with Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger B. Chaffeeto, the Apollo prayer league was been founded in 1968 to pray for the safety of the astronauts, “And – most importantly – to land a Bible on the moon“.

You can read more of the story at www.apolloprayerleague.com along with 7 Myths and Misconceptions in which it was revealed that 512 Bibles ortbited the moon in Apollo 13 and another 512 were onboard Apollo 14, of which 100 went to the surface.


Except when copies make it to auction, this “one small step for Bible distribution” goes largely unnoticed in the annals of history, but to be fair the Bibles were very small and only printed in English. It was perhaps surpassed in the 2014 when Bible portions were delivered safely to a comet. The Rosetta Probe included a small disc with 13,000 pages of information in 1,500 human languages – many of them being scripture portions.

When the first scriptures arrived on the moon the full Bible was available in less than 270 language. By 2014 that had risen to 531 and some scripture was available in nearly 3,000 languages. Today there are 3,380 languages with published portions of which nearly 700 have a full Bible.

Digital distribution of scripture is easier these days but people still risk there lives getting Bibles to places and to people hear on earth, and prayer is still a vital part of the mission.

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