The New World Translation in ASL – First Complete Bible for the Deaf Community
WALLKILL, N.Y. — A fifteen year-long labor of love recently culminated with the public release of the final book of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in American Sign Language (ASL), making it the world’s first complete sign language Bible translation.
“As far as we know, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the first organization or group of persons to release the complete Bible in ASL,” announced Geoffrey Jackson, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses at an event streamed to more than 18,000 people in six countries. “And probably that means it’s the first complete Bible in sign language in the world [and] in the history of mankind.” The historic release took place during a dedication program for a new ASL Remote Translation Office (RTO) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on February 15.
ASL translation is unique because the language is visual, not written. Nearly 100 volunteers support the work of translating the Bible and Bible-based publications at the new South Florida RTO, which is properly equipped with video recording technology to create compelling publications for the deaf community. And since ASL has become a very influential language in the global field, this translation is now affecting the world.
“Globally, ASL has become sort of a lingua franca, you might say,” said Bobby Dunbar, who has worked with the deaf community of Jehovah’s Witnesses for some four decades. “If deaf people learn a second sign language, very often they’re learning quite a bit of ASL. And so, a lot of the translation work that’s been done in ASL is benefitting deaf people all over the world.”
There have been more than 60 million chapter downloads of the ASL Bible since its progressive release to the field began in 2006, with more than 174 million chapter downloads in the 16 other sign language Bible translations. “The amazing thing about it is that it’s all free,” said Dunbar. “Any person, wherever they are on the globe, can download the Bible in ASL. You don’t have to sign up, you don’t have to pay.” The complete ASL Bible is available at jw.org, the most translated website in the world.
Back in in 2004 when the organization approved the translation of the ASL Bible, it was one of the most ambitious translation projects ever undertaken by an organization that specializes in translation. “The idea of a Bible translation in ASL was almost unthinkable,” said Nicholas Ahladis who works with Translation Services for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Warwick, NY. “Now we translate into approximately 100 sign languages.”
Instead of translating the Bible text word-for-word into literal signs with no meaning, years of research enabled the translators to capture the real emotion of Bible passages. The result is an accurate, clear, and meaningful sign language translation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses now offer Bible-based content in over 1,000 languages on jw.org. This includes content in 100 different sign languages.
Jason Hohl, U.S. Public Information Desk