Are We Endangering Languages?

“Every 14 days a language dies.” NatGeo, Enduring Voices Project

For some time I’ve wondered about the teaching of English as an evangelism tool.

When I read a statistic like the one from NatGeo, my wonder really gets going.

TeachingThere is a widespread desire and, sometimes, a need for people to learn English. Why not couple ESL/EFL instruction with evangelism goes the conventional logic? Pragmatically it makes sense. There’s a felt need waiting to be met. Many “evangelists” have seen good results using this method.

And yet I can’t help but wonder, are we endangering languages? Are we helping their demise by teaching ESL/EFL? Are we engendering idolatry by giving in to “the allure that the high prestige of speaking an imperial language can bring.”

Now that’s interesting! What is the Bible’s perspective on languages? There isn’t a lot written on the topic.

In keeping with the Creation account, all people spoke one language (Gen. 11:1). Diversity of language is attributed in Genesis 11:1-9 to God as punishment on the post-flood society. Their hubris brought about God’s judgment, the scattering of the nations because of the confusion of their language.

There is, however, no clear revocation of this judgment. There is no application of Christ’s redemption to bring about renewed unity of language. Nothing to show that we should work to return to Eden in the area of language.

What there is is a celebration of the diversity of language around the throne of God. The 24 elders proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The great multitude of Revelation 7:9 is “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”

While it is clear that they had spoken many languages, it isn’t clear if they still do. Popular theology has believers singing their praise in heaven in their own language. I like that picture, but are we working for or against that vision by using ESL/EFL as an evangelism tool.