Post 45 / Director's Vision, The Next Language
June 1, 2021
How Many Languages Are There?
For some reason I thought that googling “How many colors are there?” would be instructive. It was.
Here is what Google says:
It works out to about 10 million colors in the world that the human eye can see. Equation for colors: 1000 x 100 x 100 = 10,000,000. Exploration Time: Why There Can Never Be a “Settled” Answer. Here’s where the question of how many colors exist in the world morphs into something of a trick question. [from “www.color-meanings.com › how-many-colors-are-there”]
Because the human eye at best only has three color receptors we are limited to how many colors we can distinguish. Biologists say that the Manta Shrimp has 16 color receptors. So how many colors could they see?
Children are taught that there are seven colors in the rainbow but deciding where one color shade stops and another starts is very subjective and not easy to define. The same is true for languages.
In fact the dynamics with languages is uncanny. Anyone who has learned a second language as an adult figures out pretty quickly that every individual speaks a unique speech variety. You can get used to talking with one person and get pretty confident only to find that you have to start over with the next person. Most of this is because of biological factors in the mouth and larynx. But it is also because of family and community and other contributions to language development.
So what do we do with all those languages? First we don’t despair. One reason our language tracking department is not popular on the world scene is because they keep coming up with more data that indicates that we are further behind on the Great Commission than we thought.
All data must be verified on the ground. This is going to require physical visits to those languages. Taking word lists quickly determines tangible, measurable indications of uniqueness. Speech variety uniqueness however may not be determinative to whether it is a hindrance to understanding and accepting the Gospel. Sometimes slight variations do not hinder intelligibility but certainly trigger prejudices if those peoples have been killing each other for centuries.
When I first came back to GRN, I expected we might have 3000 unrecorded languages. Now it appears that we have more unrecorded languages than we have recorded languages. I would rather have that information now than later. The more precisely we can pinpoint those speech varieties the more realistically we can pray and plan and recruit the resources necessary to actually GO. That two letter word is still the heart of the Great Commission and makes our logo very apropos.
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.