Deaf Bible translation picking up steam

By January 5, 2010

USA (MNN) — With the popularity of the new movie Avatar, you may be amazed that Bible translators may need to use that type of technology to aid in Bible translation. In fact, this technology could help people groups all over the world in some of the most difficult places for evangelism with deaf speakers/listeners.

Julia, with Wycliffe Bible Translators, says she wants to make sure these people can understand God's Word clearly. She says while most people use sound to communicate, the deaf listen differently. "Signed languages across the world are unique. They're visual languages. And so they're three dimensional and very expressive in ways that oral and spoken languages can't even dream of."

Even though deaf people can read their local language–whether it is in English, French or Spanish, it truly is a second language to them. "If you think about the way we write things," says Julia, "each letter represents a sound that is combined with other sounds to create a word that's related to an abstract concept." She adds, "For deaf people, it's kind of like memorizing a random code number for every abstract concept. For that reason, they just don't have access to written forms of spoken languages like we do."

According to Julia, Wycliffe has documentation of about 200 signed languages around the world. However, Wycliffe has only surveyed a small portion of the world, so she believes there could be up to 500 signed languages globally.

She says unfortunately Bible translation is far from complete with these languages. "In the world, there is only one New Testament available in sign language and that's in American Sign Language. The team that's working in American Sign Language is about two-thirds through the Old Testament now. And so that'll be out soon."

That version of the New Testament is depicted by someone actually performing sign language on a DVD. That has been started in a few other countries, too. However, Julia says that can be dangerous in countries where Christians are persecuted. "They can't put their face on a DVD and then distribute it throughout the country because that is dangerous for them."

Wycliffe, therefore, is experimenting with the idea of using avatar animation to do the translation. "An avatar is an animated character whose movements and facial expressions down to the detail are based on an actual, live person and then takes all their movements and characteristics and transfers them to a computer-animated figure."

Julia says, "Deaf people can receive the Scripture in their own language, and yet there's a lot less danger for the Bible translation teams."

The deaf minority group is unique. Julia says it's the only language and cultural minority group that's born into families that are not of their culture and not of their language."

You're being encouraged to join Wycliffe's Bibleless Peoples prayer project. "Sign up and request to pray for a signed language and the people who use that signed language until they receive Scripture."


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