Bible translators and the preservation of the vernacular language: The case of Avatime (Ghana) in the XXIst century

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Junior Research Fellow Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Junior Research Fellow, International Center of Anthropology, National Research University Higher School of Economics; Junior Research Fellow, Russian State Universit
Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian State University for the Humanities
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameAsia and Africa Today
EditionIssue 5

Christian missions in Avatime lands (Ghana today, Volta region) began in the late 19th century. Since then, the Avatime were involved in various social and educational projects: European-type schools began to be built, a Teacher Training College opened, and literacy courses gradually became popular. However, missionaries conducted their activities in the language of the ethnic majority in the Volta region - the Ewe, while the vernacular language of the Avatime - Sideme - was losing its importance. A historical retrospective of modern Ghana's linguistic policy toward ethnic minorities only confirms this. In 2006, a linguist from Russia began work on the codification of the language and writing of the Sideme: the Avatime soon had their own alphabet, various thematic pamphlets, and a New Testament.

This article focuses on the work of the Christian Mission of Wycliffe Bible translators in the Avatime region in the early 2000s and is based on interviews, stories, and memories of a Russian family of Bible translators we met on our first expedition to Ghana (2011). Their work began with the blessing of Avatime Paramount Chief, who happened to study in Moscow in 1980s.

The mission's work to translate the New Testament into Sideme appeared to encourage the Avatime to preserve their language and acquire the skills to write and read on it. The work continues to this day, extending to the school curriculum: for the first time, the vernacular language of the small-scale community began to be taught at Avatime schools, but still almost on the voluntary basis.

KeywordsGhana, Avatime, Sideme, alphabet, “Wycliffe” mission, translation of the Bible
Publication date17.05.2022
Number of characters21483
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