On language preservation

John Harris describes a surprising legacy of Bible translation.



John Harris describes a surprising legacy of Bible translation.


The translation of the Bible has been a very important thing. I mean missionaries are criticised for being anti-cultural, counter-cultural or whatever, but yet the most important set of symbols in a culture is the language. That’s the most important way in which culture survives. Where language dies, it’s very hard for culture to survive.

Now the missionaries who translated the Scriptures into Aboriginal languages gave great respect and honour to those languages. And in a sense, without knowing it, those missionaries were preserving culture. And many of the places in Australia today where Aboriginal culture is at its strongest are those places where Aboriginal languages were studied by missionaries and where they translated the Bible into Aboriginal languages.
And indeed, now there are Aboriginal people who are coming back and wanting the old Scriptures. There are universities asking, can they use Scriptures translated in the 1890s or the 1930s as textbooks on how to speak the language. And so this has become a very, very important thing.