The following story appeared on my blog several years ago, but the statistics shown have been updated to reflect the latest numbers reported.
Wycliffe Bible Translators was founded in 1942 by William Cameron Townsend. Prior to that time he had served as a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians in Guatemala. As he worked with the Indians, Townsend realized that not only could the natives not read the Spanish Bibles he brought with him, but they didn’t even have a written form of their own language!
He decided to live among the Cakchiquels so he could learn their complex language. He first created an alphabet for it. After analyzing the grammar, he translated the New Testament into their language. It was a remarkable achievement, as he completed this in just ten years! The completion of the New Testament for the Cakchiquel Indians was the beginning of a worldwide movement.
He became concerned about other minority language groups who also did not have Bibles in their own language and opened Camp Wycliffe in Arkansas in 1934. Here he planned to train people in basic linguistics and translation methods. It was 1942 when Townsend founded Wycliffe Bible Translators to help reach every people group with Scripture in their language. The name honored John Wycliffe, who completed the first European translation of the entire English Bible in 1382.
In the beginning only a few students enrolled in the program at Camp Wycliffe. Their first endeavor was in Mexico, which continued successfully for many years. From this small beginning it grew into a worldwide ministry. Currently it includes the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Wycliffe Bible Translators, Wycliffe Associates, and the technical department of SIL known as JAARS.
In 2014 it was determined that more than 1,300 languages had access to the New Testament and portions of Scripture in their own language.
But in 2019, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators, that number has risen to 683 that now have the complete Bible in translation, plus another 1,534 that now have the New Testament. This makes a total of 2,217 languages with the Scripture in their own language!
Wycliffe has committed to a goal that by the year 2025, there will be Bible translation in progress in every language still needing it.
Below are statements made on the Wycliffe Bible Translators website concerning the progress and further need for translation efforts:
* 7,361 languages are known to be in use today.
* 1 1/2 billion people need a full Bible translation in their first language.
* More than 2,658 languages across 131 countries have active translation and linguistic development work happening right now.
* Additional Bible translation programs are needed in 2,163 languages (1,879 spoken and 284 sign languages).
THERE IS STILL MUCH WORK TO BE DONE!
The Ethnologue--Languages of the World is an encyclopedic reference publication that catalogues the world's known living languages. The exact number of unwritten languages is hard to determine, because languages are dynamic, variable and always changing. It is difficult to determine if an existing writing system is actually widely used. There may be an alphabet, but there may not be many people who are literate and using it.
In their 17th Edition, Ethnologue stated they had data to indicate that 696 languages were unwritten, with an approximate 2,800 languages for which they had no data.
The numbers and statistics are difficult to understand. Some languages become extinct and some dialects merge as cultures blend. Other languages are sign languages but become oral and then become new written languages. In addition new research methods are employed and definitions of terms change.
You can see that the reported numbers are constantly changing and that the reported numbers should only be used to show trends.
For additional information on Wycliffe Bible Translators, information is available on the website: www.wycliffe.net/statistics
And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 NLT
[Jesus said] …you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 NIV
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard. And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10:14 NLT