London, Oct 12 : As part of an attempt to widen the readership of the Bible, academics are working on making the books of the Old and New Testaments available in patois -a spoken language developed by West Indian slaves in the seventeenth century.
Originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic centuries ago, the Bible has since been translated into hundreds of languages. However, now Bible Society is working with the University of the West Indies on the translation in a bid to make the bible more accessible to the five million people worldwide who speak patois, mostly in Jamaica but also many in Britain.
Historically it has been regarded as a language spoken only by the lower classes, following its evolution out of slavery.
Increasingly though it is being used by Jamaicans from the middle and upper classes who previously would traditionally not have spoken it.
A team of theologians and linguists are working on a first draft, which will be analysed by another group of theologians before being ratified by the Bible Society, of which the Queen is a patron.
They have not started on the Old Testament yet, but half of the New Testament has already been completed in draft form and the Gospel of Luke will be published in Britain in December.
The project is expected to take up to 12 years to finish. The Society claims that it will be the first time that patois has been put down on paper.
Courtney Stewart, general secretary of the Bible Society of the West Indies, said that patois speakers would benefit greatly from the venture.
"The idea was initially rejected as patois wasn't considered to be a language. It was viewed as an improper mode of conveying the sacredness and solemnity of the scriptures," the Telegraph quoted him, as saying.
"This speaks to our sense of self-worth though and there are many children in Britain who speak patois and who will be able to relate more easily to what they read in such a Bible," he added.
He said that churches in cities such as London and Birmingham with a large Jamaican constituency will find it particularly helpful.
However, the project has upset traditionalists, who have described it as "utterly ridiculous".
Traditionalists are concerned that translating the Bible into patois is another example of 'dumbing down'.
Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: "It's one thing to turn the Bible into modern vernacular, but to turn it into patois is utterly ridiculous. When you dumb down you take away any meaning it might have."
She said that she supported attempts to widen the readership of the Bible, but believes that this goes too far.