Imagine a language that you use every day having no written form. Imagine no newspapers or books. It must feel as if part of your identity is missing. As if your world isn’t important. There are many millions of people around the world who feel like this. Did you realise that Bible translation can often be the first step towards reversing this situation?
Nagamese is spoken by around 30,000 people around Dimapur, the largest city in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland. It’s not their first language – they speak many different varieties of Naga – but it’s a vital contact language, allowing them to do business with other groups. Yet not having a written form of Nagamese means that there has been no chance for it to develop, to become a ‘complete’ language like those which have a standardised alphabet and grammar and a rich variety of written texts.
What has Bible translation got to do with languages like Nagamese? The work that translators of languages with no written form have to do in order to produce a translation – like deciding on an alphabet – makes it possible for lots of other texts to be written. So it’s the foundation for the emergence of a whole literature!
Thanks to the Bible Society of India and its partner the Nagamese Baptist Church Association, there are now very good prospects for literature in Nagamese.
‘Nagamese is widely spoken, yet there is almost no literature in this language,’ says translator Insutoshi Jamir. ‘We’ve had to start completely from scratch when it comes to things like spelling. What we’re doing is more than a translation, even more than bringing people God’s Word. It’s a complete work of literature!’
It’s a big responsibility, says Rev Along Jamir, the Bible Society’s Translation Director. ‘Translation is all about identity. We need to approach this work in a spirit of openness, being sure to respect all cultural backgrounds that make up Nagamese. This Bible will be the first piece of literature in this language and it will speak directly to the development of all kinds of other Nagamese literature.’
About the Bible Society of India’s translation work
India’s 1 billion-plus people speak an estimated 3,372 languages, of which only 216 are spoken by 10,000 speakers or more. So far, the Bible Society has provided full Bibles in 65 of India’s languages and the New Testament in an additional 75 languages.