Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bible translations

Contrary to popular belief, the Gutenberg Bible (or Mazarin Bible) is not the first book printed by Gutenberg's new movable type system. But it is his major work. It is a version of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. Its printing started on February 23rd, 1455, and it had 1282 pages.
More than five centuries after that first printing, how many languages have a version of the Bible?
Ethnologue has a catalogue of 6912 living languages. According to the 2006 Scripture Language Report (just released in late January), there are 2426 languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been completely translated. Among those, 260 have complete translation. You might think that 4 % of human languages is not much if we are talking about the book that has been the most read through history. But it is deffinetely a big number!
Why don't they just add translation then? It is not an easy task.

Do you know where Ranonga is? Take a look at the map. It is a tiny island in the Western province of the Solomon Islands.
In that little island, there are some 2800 Lungga speakers. One of them, Alpheaus Zobule, went to the United States to study linguistics and theology. With this backgroud, he wanted to translate the Bible into his mother tongue. The main problem was that Lungga was an oral language. He started translating the New Testament in 1981. And it was not until three years ago when the first 2500 copies of this translation were published.
He had to face many desicions. One was to translate the Hebrew word "amen" (אמן) to the Lungga word agua, which means "that's it" or "I agree". He felt it was important to end the prayer with an indigenous word.

According to the world's largest Bible translator Wycliffe International, oral languages make up the majority of the roughly 2000 Bible translation projects underway around the world.

In Zobule's words:
"In school, we'd be punished for speaking our own language. We had to speak English. It builds a thought in us that our languages were not good; it affected our identity. When people got this translation, they said: 'You mean our language is important? You mean we are important?' "
Read more of this story in the articles Found through translation, God’s Word is ‘the most important canoe’ for islanders, and United Bibles Society's Latest news #301.

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