Working Myself Out of a Job
This summer, one of the courses I’m taking is about making sure the work we do in language groups around the world is sustainable. It’s been pretty fascinating to me and I wanted to share a little bit about what that looks like and the kinds of things Wycliffe is doing.
We want people to keep the languages that are a part of their identity and to see those languages be developed in strategic ways. The last thing we want to is come in and create some program that we plan, we implement, we maintain, and then falls apart when we leave because we were the only ones ever really invested in it.
We want to partner with and empower local speakers of the language to develop their language in a way that will be able to pass down to generations. Already, we partner with hundreds of organizations in many nations that are committed to created sustainable language development.
So what are some of the tools that we have to accomplish that?
One really cool tool that we have is called the EGIDS scale. It’s able to help us classify languages on a scale from 1-10 based on how widespread its usage and literacy is. A language that is global in scale and has essentially unlimited access to literature is considered a 0 (English, Spanish, Mandarin, German, Arabic), while an extinct language is considered a 10 (Latin). Most of the 7000+ languages in the world are considered 6a, which means they have a thriving oral system but little to no literacy/literature.
At the very least, we want to establish a system of literature in their language in order to bring the written word of God into their language. But understanding how languages develop over time helps us to understand how to get the Bible into a sustainable position in their culture.
Years and years of experience has taught us that merely having a written language does not guarantee that a language will be read or passed down to the next generation. So, certain positions on the EGIDS scale have been identified as sustainable. For instance, 6a is sustainable. That’s why so many languages pause there. The next position to be able to sustain itself is 4, which means that a language has an established education system in their own language in order to educate and pass down the written language.
Here’s what all this means. Merely creating literature and giving them the Bible is unlikely to be a long-term solution. It would require outsiders or professional linguists to remain in that culture in order to keep re-teaching the language to subsequent generations.
Our solution has to be much bigger picture. And experience shows us that the only way to be able create sustainable language use and long term Scripture engagement is to also focus on literacy and community engagement.
This is why my goal is to work myself out of a job. We want to be a part of training and equipping to allow translation work to happen for generations, long after people like me are gone.
And this means that it takes a team to empower Bible translation. We have literacy specialists, teachers, ethno-arts engagement specialists, linguists, and so many more people all working together to make the work of Bible translation sustainable and useful to any culture and language that it enters.