Pies and the World’s Languages

OK, it’s a pie chart and not actual pies – but it got you looking (click on the diagram to see it full size).

I think this image underlines a simple point that I’ve been banging on about for over a decade on Kouyanet. In the linguistically complicated world that we live in, there is no reason or excuse for continually producing yet more English language translations of the Bible when the rest of the world is so badly served.

3 thoughts on “Pies and the World’s Languages

  1. I think it is nice to advocate more resources to offer the Bible other languages. As a long time “cousin” in the WBT/SIL family I agree and support that advocacy. However the effort to reduce the resources committed to translating the text into English begins to seem like a lost cause. It seems ridiculous to come out with Bibles that barely re-state what the previous version said rather well. But advocacy against such efforts gets drowned out by the noise of the market. It may soon also be overcome by a process of pidginization that divides up how people experience and use English since English continues in its effort to become a global (second or third) language.

    But there was something I didn’t like about the pie, also. It seems to embrace a long historically structured framework of language identity that resulted from North Atlantic geopolitics over 600 years. That framework is inconsistent (would it even be possible to be consistent?) in its naming language identities and dialectical variations (what qualifies as a language? What qualifies as a dialect?). This is made more evident by the absence of Turkic languages from Central Asia and other languages in the same area that would most properly be drawn across an imagined border between Turkic and Persian (Tajik?). But even that approach would not fit the pie chart because the chart assumes Turkic and Persian are primary (they have bold boundaries that are not crossed on the chart, even if the hard border does not really exist in real life (witness Gallego and its absence from the pie chart). It’s as if the hard lines indicate languages that are pre-existent entities–primary sources that some how modified, or maybe were mixed with another to produce an identifiable variation.

    This draws attention then, to the process of linguistic becoming. Where are the machines by which languages become? What are those machines producing now? By focusing on language identity, this pie hides key processes for understanding language use. Creole languages or diglossia are a means that millions of people around the world rely on to create and transmit meaning. Since the number of creole communities can be counted in numbers higher than several of the naturalized language identities reported on the chart pie chart, one has to ask if the chart is not an advocacy for an (unspoken and perhaps uncritically thought) idea of language stability in which there are hard boundaries between languages.

    The assumption of such stability could be a source of our idea that there are enough Bible Translations in any language. But the possibility that texts can call people to account, and do so across temporal, geographic and linguistic difference is a challenge that requires ongoing interaction of a stable text with unstable languages and with people whose relation to those languages and texts are also changing.

    1. These are all fair comments. As is my wont, I tried to make one simple point rather than look at all of the issues, but perhaps I should have dug a bit deeper.

  2. Hi Eddie
    This chart seems a bit unusual. It seems to list the US as having 225 M speakers but our population is 325M? Also Hindi is listed at 260M speakers but the PM wants to make it the primary language…and there are 1.2 B people in India… surely some other languages would have a large number of speakers… Interestingly, India isn’t listed in the English ‘slice’ or at least I couldn’t find it.
    Maybe some additional background information and a larger type font would help….
    I think even in the US or UK the varieties of English spoken create a linguistically rich…and personally confusing language situation… Cheers

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