A New Testament published for the first time in an English-based Caribbean Creole, a language once used by slaves, has been hailed as one of the world's most significant Bible translation activities for 1999. Geoffrey Stamp, chief editor for the United Bible Societies, based in Reading, England, was commenting to ENI on the UBS annual Scripture Language Report, which revealed that scripture became available in 21 more languages last year.

The total number of languages in which the Bible is available in part or in its entirety now stands at 2233. But this is still barely more than one third of the estimated 6500 living languages in the world.

The Creole Bible was for the island of St Lucia. Stamp told ENI: "Creole used to be looked down on, so there is a tremendous reaction from people who feel 'now our language has been accepted'."

Although this Creole is based on English, it has developed to the point of being a language in its own right.

Stamp said that in one African country alone - Nigeria - 478 living languages had been identified. Some languages around the world were spoken by so few people that they were constantly at risk of dying out. "Bible translation fixes a language by providing a literature, so the language cannot die any more," he said.

Stamp said he knew of a group of 30 people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) who had three languages of their own: separate languages for men and women, which he said were not mutually understandable, and a language for communication between the sexes.

The UBS and its national bible society members around the world recognise three stages in making the word of God available in a language: a portion (at least one book of scripture), the New Testament and the complete Bible.

In Papua New Guinea ...

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