About UBS Translation Work
The United Bible Societies is currently involved with close to 600 translation projects covering nearly 500 languages. In this endeavor, we cooperate with all Christian churches and many different Christian organizations. Languages into which we translate the Scriptures vary from those spoken by only a few thousand speakers to major national languages and international languages. Bible Societies support translation projects technically, administratively and financially.
Technical support for translation comes through the provision of:
- Scholarly tools for the study and translation of biblical texts;
- Translation consultants who train translators and do quality control of the translations;
- Computer services facilitating the study of biblical texts and the production of the translation.
Administrative and financial support is primarily provided through national Bible Societies. The United Bible Societies does not have a global policy about size of population required for a translation. However, at its 1996 World Assembly, the UBS Fellowship did set itself a goal that by 2010 an easily understood Bible should be available for every language with more than 500,000 speakers, a New Testament for every language with more than 250,000 speakers, and a Bible Portion for every language with more than 100,000 speakers.
In actual practice, it is the local Bible Society that determines where to put its resources in serving the churches of the home country or region. A rule of thumb has often been to see a possible distribution of at least 500 New Testaments and at least 2,000 Bibles before resources are committed to a New Testament or Bible translation project. There are still exceptions, where smaller people groups may carry out translations in their languages, depending on the program of the national Bible Society. And of course, there are sister agencies which may translate Scriptures for a very small language group.
Statistical Summary of languages with the Scriptures
A summary, by geographical area and type of publication, of the number of different languages and dialects in which publication of at least one book of the Bible had been registered as of December 31, 2005.
*This column is a sub-section of the Bibles column – for example, there is a translation of the Deuterocanon for 47 of the 61 languages of Europe in which the Bible has been translated.
Statistical Table of UBS Fellowship Translation Projects
(by category — 2005 data)
The number of projects and of languages is roughly comparable with past years, though the number of Orthodox-related projects is on the rise. Interconfessional projects and projects primarily for Catholic readers increasingly raise the number of Deuterocanonical translations. Likewise, Study Bible projects are on the increase throughout the world.
Incredible Growth in Scripture Translation
Over five centuries ago, Johann Gutenberg issued the first book printed from moveable type – a beautifully executed folio-size Latin Bible. Since that time, complete books of the Bible have been produced by various agencies, and there are now over 2,370 languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been published. Although this figure represents less than half of the languages and dialects presently in use in the world, it nonetheless includes the primary vehicles of communication of well over 90% of the world’s population.
This graph shows the incredible increase in the number of languages in which Scriptures have been published over the last two hundred years.
In this graph, Testaments refers to languages in which just the New or Old Testament is available. Portions refer to languages in which at least one book of the Bible has been published. At the start of the nineteenth century, Scriptures were available in just 68 languages. Today, Scriptures are available in no less than 2,403 languages, with the complete Bible having been translated into at least 426 languages, and the New Testament into some 1,115. In addition, parts of the Bible (Portions) have been made available in a further 862 languages.