Scripture Access Statistics FAQs: Going Deeper

2019 Bible Translation Statistics FAQ: Going Deeper

Click here for Bible Trans­la­tion Sta­tis­tics 2019.

As with most sets of big data, num­bers are eas­ily mis­un­der­stood and mis­rep­re­sented. We strive to ex­plain the com­plex na­ture of the data while also cel­e­brat­ing the huge achieve­ments of peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world, and we praise God as he achieves his mission.

The de­tailed fig­ures quoted by the Wycliffe Global Al­liance are based on data col­lected by progress.​Bible. This re­port ad­dresses many of the Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions about facts and fig­ures re­lat­ing to the progress and re­main­ing global need for Bible translation.

  1. How do you count languages, Bibles and people?
  2. How is translation need determined and counted?
  3. Why aren’t all languages without a full Bible listed as needing translation?
  4. Do languages with existing Scripture also have translation needs?

Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion pre­sented here re­flects all that had been re­ported by 1 Oc­to­ber 2019. Com­par­isons with pre­vi­ous an­nual re­ports are chal­leng­ing and some­times not pos­si­ble, due to on­go­ing changes and im­prove­ments in data de­f­i­n­i­tions and col­lect­ing meth­ods. Our pub­lic sta­tis­tics sum­mary has been trans­lated into sev­eral lan­guages. You are wel­come to make ad­di­tional trans­la­tions and adapt the in­for­ma­tion for yourown au­di­ences, but we re­quest that you re­fer peo­ple back to www.​wycliffe.​net/​statistics as the source. Please also for­ward any new trans­la­tions or adap­ta­tions to [email protected]​wycliffe.​net so that your work can be shared with others.

1. How do you count languages, Bibles and people?

Wycliffe Global Al­liance uses the data from progress.​Bible and Ethnologue.

Lan­guages:  Counts of lan­guages fol­low the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised ISO 639-3 stan­dard. How­ever, this only ac­counted for about 140 of the world’s sign lan­guages, so this year fol­low­ing the guid­ance of a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions, we have also in­cluded sign lan­guages that do not yet have an ISO code as­signed. (For fur­ther read­ing, see: https://​www.​ethnologue.​com/​about/​problem-language-identification)

Bibles:  Some lan­guages have mul­ti­ple trans­la­tions or trans­la­tions in mul­ti­ple di­alects but for our to­tals we count the max­i­mum known amount of pub­lished Scrip­ture in a lan­guage (Bible, New Tes­ta­ment, or por­tions and stories).

Peo­ple:  The pop­u­la­tion fig­ures used are the most re­cently avail­able fig­ures for first lan­guage users’ in­di­vid­ual lan­guages, and so the to­tals are well be­low the cur­rent global es­ti­mates of 7.7 billion.

2. How is translation need determined and counted?

Trans­la­tion need is not as sim­ple as de­ter­min­ing which lan­guages do or do not have Scrip­ture. Most of the lan­guages with only “some Scrip­ture” are in need of more, and even full Bibles un­dergo re­vi­sions from time to time. In talk­ing about re­main­ing trans­la­tion need, most Al­liance or­gan­i­sa­tions talk about lan­guages where work has not even be­gun. Start­ing in 2018, how­ever, we have also in­cluded lan­guages in which some prepara­tory work had be­gun, but work stopped with noth­ing pub­lished. Based on what is cur­rently known, as­sess­mentof lan­guage vi­tal­ity pro­vides an in­di­ca­tor of whether trans­la­tion would be needed or in­deed used. This al­lows for an es­ti­mate of how many lan­guages re­main in need of work to be­gin. In­ter­ac­tion with com­mu­ni­ties and other agen­cies helps us re­clas­sify lan­guages from po­ten­tial need to ex­pressed need, with real tar­gets for ini­tial work, or in some cir­cum­stances to de­ter­mine that there is no im­me­di­ate felt need.

3. Why aren’t all languages without a full Bible listed as needing translation?

There are a num­ber of rea­sons why the need for Bible trans­la­tion in a spe­cific lan­guage may seem less straight­for­ward. These include:

  • The language is no longer used in any community or its use is very weak (such as infrequently or not used in everyday life, or used only by a few people).
  • In communities within which the language is used, the majority of those between the ages of 20 and 45 are adequately proficient in another language available to the community, are already motivated to use it, and Scripture is or will be available in that language.

4. Do languages with existing Scripture also have translation needs? 

For many years Al­liance Or­gan­i­sa­tions have sought to high­light needs in terms of lan­guages where Bible trans­la­tion needs to be­gin, but there are many lan­guages where work needs to con­tinue or re­sume. It is easy to see that where only some Scrip­ture ex­ists more may be needed. There are also rea­sons why an al­ready pub­lished piece of Scrip­ture may need re­vi­sion and/or a new translation:

  • Languages are dynamic in nature and change over time. Today’s language communities do not use all of the same words and phrases used in previous generations. It is therefore common that, over time, a completed New Testament or Bible is no longer readily understandable to modern users and readers, and as such that Scripture qualifies as a re-translation need.
  • There is also the occasional situation in which the original translation was not of good enough quality (for example, in areas of accuracy, clarity or having a perceived bias to one particular denomination or interpretation).
  • In some instances, differences between local dialects of an ISO-recognised language may mean there is a case for an additional translation on linguistic or sociocultural grounds.

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