Saturday, November 13, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Bible Translations Help Keep Languages of Small Nations in Russia Alive

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 13 – This week, the Moscow Institute of Translations of the Bible published a book of “Stories from God’s Word” in Chechen, adding to similar works it has put out in other North Caucasus languages, including Osetin, Balkar, Lezgin, and Tabasaran, and in 67 other languages of the former Soviet republics.
Because many of these languages are spoken by communities in which there are few Christians, many are inclined to dismiss such announcements as at best a kind of intellectual curiosity, but in fact, such publications today just like 125 years ago in tsarist Russia play a key role in the development of these national languages and the survival of those who speak them.
That is because the Moscow Institute, in much the same way that the Kazan-based Ilminsky program did at the end of the 19th century, develops the lexical content of these languages, sometimes defines the script in which they are written, and serves as a source of pride for these nations, even among those who are not Christian and have no interest in converting.
On Thursday, the Moscow Institute of Translation of the Bible announced the publication of “Delan Iozanash tiera diytsarsh,” Chechen for “Stories form God’s Word,” an event thaqt was covered by the official site of the Moscow Patriarchate as well as by major religious affairs portals (
The new book contains 31 Old Testament and 23 New Testament stories and includes a audio compact disk with the stories of Joseph and of Daniel. It is the second Institute translation into Chechen. In 2007, the Moscow institute released the translation of the entire New Testament in that North Caucasus language.
The Institute was founded in Stockholm in 1973 and then moved its headquarters to Moscow when that became possible in 1991. Over the course of its existence, the institute has published translations of the Bible or parts of the Bible in 72 languages, and its experts are currently working on 65 more.
It published the first Bible in Tajik and the first New Testaments in Avar, Adygey, Azerbaijani, Balkar, Kabardin, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Wepsy, Komi, Udmurt, Altay, Gagauz, Kalmyk, Karakalpak, Kumyk, Kurdish, Osetin, Tabasaran, Tatar, Tuvin, Khakass, Chechen and Sakha.
The institute works closely with the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow Patriarchate, and independent scholars. Its translations in the case of some of the smaller language communities have set the standards for all future writing. Moreover, the institute helps train translators and provides guidance on the development of librarianship in these languages.
Supported by private donations and constantly looking for funds from among the communities its translations are directed at, the Institute maintains an active website at and publishes an extremely useful journal, “Novosti Bibleyskogo perevoda,” which provides details on its translation activities.

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