The translation of the Holy Scriptures into Slavonic in the 11th century had an incredible impact on society. In this era of information technology the first translation into a language is unlikely to have the same effect. Yet much can still be achieved, and that is why the Institute for Bible Translation (IBT) started translating the Bible into the language of an ethnic minority (69,000 people), who live in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Their language is called Dungan. The first book of the Bible to be translated into Dungan was the Gospel of Mark (2002). This year the Institute has published a second book in Dungan, the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
Historically, the Dungans came from China, where there are still about 8 million Dungan (Hui). The Dungans speak a Chinese dialect, which is related to the language of North-Eastern China and belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Even though all links with China were broken when the Dungans migrated to the Russian Empire in the 19th century, the Chinese foundation of the Dungan language has not changed much. However, the Dungan language has acquired many loanwords from Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Kyrgyz and other languages. There are two main dialects spoken by the Central Asian Dungans — Gansu (named after the Chinese Gansu province) and Shaanxi (named after Shaanxi province). The Dungans in China still use Chinese script, but the Central Asian Dungans started writing in their own language only in the 1920s. A complete transfer to Cyrillic script was made in 1952-53. That script is now used by the Dungans in Central Asia.
During the translation process the Institute has developed a good relationship with the Dungan Department at the Kyrgyz National Academy of Sciences. Famous experts on the Dungan language and culture have taken part in the translation work. When the text was tested on speakers of the language, it was obvious that the translation is well understood and written in modern literary language. It is now clear that it is possible to translate the Holy Scriptures into Dungan for the people to read and understand — and the Institute for Bible Translation will continue translating new books of the Bible. The next publication will be the Pentateuch, which the Institute plans to publish in 2008.
Our hope for the Dungan people is that the translation of the Holy Scriptures will promote not only a spiritual revival, but also a revival of their language, culture and education — as it has for many other ethnic groups around the world.