Post 41 / The Next Language
May 3, 2021
The Lost Languages
Over a year ago I wrote a blog on “Every Language.” Little has changed on that but from my perspective today we are still largely a mission that is obsessed with all the languages we have recorded. You could put all the languages in two circles- languages that are recorded and languages that are unrecorded. Undoubtedly the unrecorded languages would represent a very tiny percentage of the world’s population. Numerically however, their numbers are significant. I have discussed those numbers elsewhere. What I would like to address is the apparent imbalance in our efforts to reach those unrecorded languages versus our efforts with the recorded languages.
I don’t think anyone in our mission would admit to not wanting to record every language, but the annual reports and budgetary evidence shows that most of our resources go to the already-recorded languages. We actually target getting more hours of material recorded in languages that already have material, while large numbers of languages don’t have the first minute. Here are the stats from our reports from 2015.
2015- 126 new languages- 106 repeat languages
2016- 76 new languages- 152 repeat languages
2017- 23 new languages- 50 repeat languages
2018- 28 new languages- 56 repeat languages
2019- 27 new languages- 79 repeat languages
2020- 17 new languages- 50 repeat languages
This of course does not tell the entire story. Many of those repeat languages were “under-recorded.” Often a first recording effort does not have the conditions conducive to developing a full program. If it had less than 30 minutes recorded it would probably be proper to be considered “under-recorded.”
Our latest database numbers reveal the following numbers.
Recorded languages- 6,502
Unrecorded verified languages- 7,119
Unverified unrecorded languages (not included above) suggested by the Ethnologue- 5,250
In Mexico the annual schedule is wrapped around distribution outreaches that harness people and resources to distribute almost 350 recorded languages to the agricultural workers around the nation. Finding time and money to travel to the now located 70 plus unrecorded languages is turning out to be difficult to fit in.
I will continue to remind us that I think Jesus’ example would teach us differently. With various parables and metaphors He made it clear that His visit to the earth was to the one lost sheep, not the ninety and nine, to the one lost coin, to the lost prodigal son. He came to reach and heal the sick saying that the well have no need of a physician. I’m sure that the irony of this was not lost on his hearers. The subtle message to the scribes and Pharisees was that in their proud traditionalism they were like the older son who could not enjoy the return of the prodigal. Probably, in the end they were just as lost as the prodigal. I’m sure that many of those that did not need a physician were eventually convicted of their hardness but you have to wonder if that would have ever happened if Jesus hadn’t been seeking the down and out- those on the outside.
It would do us well to consider that the overflow blessing to our recorded languages would be greater if we were primarily bringing in the unrecorded languages. That seems a stretch to our imagination but I recently heard a true story from Angola. A group of YWAM youth went there to learn, record, and teach “One Story” (a series of chronological Bible stories) to four unreached languages. Once they got into the project they found that there were actually twelve languages that needed the Gospel. If they hadn’t been looking for four they would certainly not have found eight more.
Until our ambition shifts primarily to the circle of the unrecorded languages we are not going to really know how many are really lost. I think of a couple of cases just in Mexico recently. We were questioning about unrecorded languages and David McMullin reminisced that he had found a group of Zapotec people that did not have any recordings they could understand. In a migrant camp we were playing samples of Tarahumara to a young laborer and his wife. When the first sound of the player played their language they responded visibly. The young wife threw her hands over her face and ran into their apartment. I would really like to be able to accurately explain this reaction but I have seen it before. But- back to the story- as impactful as this was it turned out that all of the Tarahumara variants we could play to them were equally intelligible (or unintelligible). This would indicate that none of them were really their mother tongue.
I pray and live for the day when we will be able to claim every language. We are making plans to go to that Zapotec language in our next training orientation. Slowly as we shift our focus we are seeing the unreached. Like a camera that had been focused on the foreground with the background fuzzy and nearly lost we are getting our focus where it ought to be. May God help us with eyes to see what He sees.
Larry DeVilbiss | Executive Director
Global Recordings Network USA
P. S. As a “thank you” for your continued support of the ministry of Global Recordings Network USA, and in celebration of over 80 years of God’s faithfulness, we have compiled a collection of 80 daily devotions written by GRN founder, Joy Ridderhof. You may read or download your copy of Rejoice Always – 80 Devotions with Joy Ridderhof here.