Malila, Nyiha languages are the focus of sociolinguistic study…

“The benefits of Scripture translation into local languages may extend far beyond simply an increase in comprehension,” writes Mark Woodward (Operations Manager of SIL Tanzania’s Katavi Cluster Project and MA Bible & Mission, Redcliffe College, UK) in the abstract of his study on the impact of work being done in the Malila and Nyiha language communities of Tanzania, through partnership with SIL International. “Sociolinguistic principles play a significant role in how Scriptures are perceived,” Woodward adds. “When contemplating how a community might best access the Bible, decision makers would do well to bear this in mind.”

In many ways the Malila and Nyiha are typical of Tanzania’s many multilingual communities, where both Swahili and local language are used in everyday life. Multiple versions of the Swahili Bible are generally available, so SIL teams in Tanzania often conduct research before and during their projects to understand what benefit (if any) will be gained from the long and arduous task of translating Scripture portions into the local languages.

Woodward’s study looked first at the broader impact of translated Scriptures throughout the history of the church. “We can learn much from that sociolinguistic literature,” he explains, “concerning how multilingual communities use and perceive each language that they speak.” He then carried out research among the Malila and Nyiha communities, where SIL has been involved in vernacular translation work. “I asked people what they feel has been the impact,” Woodward said, “of having access to Scriptures in their local languages.”

The study also examined the sociolinguistic environment, and attitudes of multilingual speakers to the various languages they use. Woodward details findings on a range of issues including homogeneity of the communities, ownership of and engagement with the translation, and the impact of vernacular Scripture on language development and preservation. “This research led me to make a number of recommendations,” said Woodward, “which we believe may help decision makers in other multilingual communities as they consider translating Scriptures into their own local language.”

To access the complete 96-page study, via SIL Tanzania’s Language & Culture Archives, click the link below:

“The Impact of Vernacular Scriptures: Assessing the benefit of local language Scriptures among the bilingual Malila and Nyiha communities of Tanzania” – Woodward, Mark

This story was written for SIL Tanzania by:

Kenny Grindall (Communications Coordinator)

SIL International is a global partner among academic and professional organisations which offer language development services. SIL works alongside speakers of more than 1,700 languages in over 100 countries. Active in Tanzania since 1989, the organization makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.