Standards build trust in sign language Bible translations

By November 14, 2023

International (MNN) — Did you know American Sign Language differs entirely from English? As explained here, ASL is not simply English in a gestured form, as some mistakenly believe.

ASL and English “have different grammar structures [and] use different syntax,” Deaf leader Mark Sorenson explains through an interpreter. As part of the senior leadership team at DOOR International, Sorenson guides sign language Bible translation and Deaf church planting efforts.

“ASL uses a different word order to create meaning. One of the most common examples is the word order of object-subject-verb, whereas English uses subject-verb-object.”

This principle applies to sign languages globally – they’re distinctly different than the spoken languages around them. That’s why Deaf communities need to see Scripture in their heart sign language rather than read it on a page. More about that here.

“There are 350 different sign languages globally [and only] one has a full Bible translation,” Sorenson says.

(Photo courtesy of DOOR International)

DOOR works with the Forum of Bible Agencies International (FOBAI) to guarantee all translations meet the same high-quality standards.

“FOBAI [is a coalition of] over 22 Bible translation organizations that try and establish a standard for Bible translations to use across the globe. FOBAI has different subgroups, and one of them is called the Deaf Development Group, or DDG,” Sorenson says.

After discussing the latest FOBAI standards and developments, Deaf leaders on the DDG “take those standards, bring them into the Deaf community, and work on sign language Bible translations at a standardized level.”

Standardizing the sign language Bible translation process helps prevent miscommunication or misunderstandings about God resulting from poorly done translations.

For example, “If you [signed the Bible text] word for word, it’s not natural or acceptable. You can lose meaning in that poor translation,” Sorenson says, describing part of the CANA process used by Bible translation organizations like Wycliffe USA.

“[It’s] important to ensure that the Deaf community can trust the translation.”

Approximately 68 million Deaf people worldwide have no access to the Gospel. DOOR is on a mission to change that, but they need your help.

“It’s an incredible feat to translate the entire Bible, and there are so few certified translators; we’re trying to find more, and we need help,” Sorenson says.

Find your place in the story here!




In the header image, a Mozambican Deaf man signs “translate.” (Photo courtesy of DOOR International)