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When Language is a Prison

Language is a prison if it limits your opportunities for success. Some people who speak only one language feel those restrictions—the limitations of communicating beyond your own language group. The limitations of your educational prospects, too, even if you are literate. If you can read, you can only read information available in your mother tongue. It can be a prison.


Language can also be a prison when your mother tongue goes unrecognized as a legitimate language due to political, sociological, or other pressures. In some countries, the entire population is required to adopt a dominant language and culture. This leads to a weakening of the vernacular and creates a special difficulty for elderly, disabled, and other underserved monolinguals, for whom the prospect of learning the official language holds little personal value. Not speaking the dominant language also further alienates them from the world beyond their language community.


Pidgin languages can be overlooked or rejected as official languages. They develop when two or more language communities interact, combining aspects of each language in an effort to communicate. Some pidgins, like Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, are enlisted for regional communication between communities whose mother tongues are not understandable to each other. Because pidgins are languages of intersectionality rather than the mother tongue for any population, they are often not given prestige.


Creoles develop from pidgins, and stabilize into the mother tongue for a population. Haitian Creole, Jamaican Creole, Gullah, and Papiamentu are a few examples. Each includes aspects of the contributing languages in their grammar, syntax, and lexicon.


“Do you realize that we are a part of history?” James told other Jamaican speakers.  “I’m looking forward to the time when I tell my great grandchildren about the days when Jamaican was not an official language, and we formed a WhatsApp group where we practiced to read Scripture in Jamaican.”


Hawaii Pidgin is another example of a creole. The name might be confusing, since it began as a pidgin, when people from many nations converged on the Islands to work on sugarcane plantations. All of their mother tongues collided, and this intersection created a means of communication. The vibrant community of Hawaii Pidgin speakers is 600,000 strong. In recent decades, a resurgence has strengthened its usage, and this year, Audio Scriptures in Hawaii Pidgin were recorded.


Communities who speak a minority language may be ostracized or devalued based solely on the tongue they speak. People in power and/or oppressors decide the minority language is “simple” or “unrefined” with no actual data or knowledge.


The language prison is deep and dark for many language communities who have no resources in their language: No books. No films. No recordings. The prison walls remain narrow and unscalable.


“Some members of the V* language community who do not speak French were surprised to hear the Word of God in their own mother tongue. The translation of the New Testament into their language has awakened the hearts of those who were thinking that the Word of God was only available for other peoples.” – Balla


“I always took the Christian faith lightly because I did not understand very much, especially when preaching was in a language not my own. Today though, thanks to the listening group in our mother tongue, I get it—I understand the Bible better now, and I pray that God changes me as I follow Jesus until the end of my days.” – Nema


The psalmist penned, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). This promise is proven true over and over again.


Our partner rejoiced to share, “We heard about an Ayta Abellen woman in the mountains who asked for a solar MP3 player. When she got one, she just cried and cried, happy to finally have access to God’s Word in her language.”


“The North Ambrym people have grown accustomed to hearing the Bible read to them in a second or third language—often at the expense of clarity—but now they can hear the message of the Gospel, without obstruction, in their own language!” – report from Vanuatu


Thousands of Christian organizations around the world recognize that getting God’s Word into the heart language is key to breaking down prison doors for minority language speakers and others. Bible translation has always been a part of world evangelism. Now, more than ever, giving Scripture to minority communities, especially monolinguals or groups underserved with educational opportunities, involves Audio Scriptures. Faith Comes By Hearing records and freely provides the audible Word of God in more than 2,000 languages so far. We are on track to reach all the remaining language communities with God’s audible Word by the year 2033. Learn more. Join the movement. Open the prison doors for those still waiting.



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