What our languages are telling us
What is the language reach of your congregation?
By John Chandler
Language creates culture. What we say, and how we say it, not only reflects who we are but also shapes what we will become. With that in mind, we can forecast where the world is heading by watching what languages are ascending and descending.
BBC research estimates that up to 7,000 different languages are spoken around the world. Ninety percent of these languages are used by fewer than 100,000 people.
Over a million people converse in 150-200 languages, and 46 languages have just a single speaker. (How exactly is it a language if only one person speaks it?)
Some 2,500 languages are at risk of extinction, with one quarter of the world’s languages spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Interestingly, 2,200 of the world’s languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has a mere 260. The boats to the U.S. will be coming across the Pacific, not the Atlantic.
The world’s most widely spoken language, both native and learned as a second language, is Mandarin Chinese. English is second. UNESCO fills out the rest of the top 10 as follows: Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French. Honestly, who saw Bengali that high?
For native English speakers, the five most difficult languages to learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The old international joke holds true: “There are three kinds of people: multi-lingual, bi-lingual and American.”
This is becoming more problematic for the church, because 75 percent of the world’s population doesn’t speak a word of English. Believing we can reach today’s world with the gospel in English only is like opening a shoe store that only plans to stock Size 9.
The United Nations uses six official languages to conduct business. The European Union has 23 official and working languages. What is the language reach of your congregation?
It may well be that one of the major reasons to connect with a denomination in the future is that that denominations may become the most strategic way to fulfill the vision of Revelation 7:9: A multitude in heaven “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.