Re: Translators

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Fri Dec 04 1998 - 17:29:16 EST

At 07:21 PM 12/3/98 -0500, Theodore H. Mann wrote:
>On Thu, 03 Dec 1998 14:33:56 -0800 Don Wilkins
><> writes [snipped]:
>>Along with many others, I too cringe to see the decline of language
>studies at all levels, but the root of the problem always is low student
>turnout. . .
>>For those whose interest is limited to English Bible translation, it is
>a seller's market (i.e. few jobs). . .
>The reason for the first fact is probably the second. Having spent 30
>years teaching music in the Humanities department at a large Michigan
>college, and chairing the department for several years, I have seen the
>same process unfold more often than I care to remember: few available
>jobs leads to fewer students signing up for classes which leads to the
>elimination of courses (and the teachers who teach them) which leads to
>the elimination of programs. I have not only seen this happen with
>foreign languages, but in music, literature, art, etc., etc. It's the
>old law of supply and demand. I suppose the same situation prevails with
>biblical and other classical languages, and I imagine that there are
>probably fewer jobs with lower salaries available in those disciplines
>than in music, art and literature. Am I correct?

You are of course correct, and I think you are also correct about the job
market's determining student turnout. Ultimately this may get back to family
values. I taught, among other places, at liberal arts Christian colleges
where it was an uphill battle to preserve languages courses and Greek in
particular (the colleges would not even have considered Hebrew/Aramaic), all
because of the perceived job market and consequent low enrollments. In one
remarkable instance a fellow professor in the humanities (history, I think)
told me that his son had, alas, elected to go with a business major because
of the job market. The remarkable part of this story is that my colleague
then said that he thought his son's decision was after all a good one.
I'm impressed and encouraged by those parents who are trying to teach their
children biblical languages, or at least are encouraging them to take
languages, but the parental instinct to do everything so that one's children
will live well and prosper seems to be overpowering. It has a major negative
effect on enrollment in biblical languages, and from that point on all the
other dominoes eventually fall. At the career-choosing age, the children are
unlikely to want suffer the hardships of a missionary's life, or to seek a
low-paying career in ministry (where ironically expertise in biblical
languages is often secondary). Even if they do, the parents often are
unlikely to support such a choice.
I know this is all rather off-topic and I don't want to continue in that
direction, but I am curious as to whether the list members who are parents
want their own children to major in Classics or biblical languages. You
probably don't, because of their job prospects, and yet you understand far
better than most people the value of the languages. Student demand is
essential for continuation of language programs. I used to think that major
universities with self-sustaining endowments would always offer Classics as
a major because of its contribution to western civilization, but those of us
who are or have been in the profession are seeing more evidence almost
weekly that this is no longer true, while language departments are
disappearing at a shocking rate from other institutions that live on
tuition. It would be a wonderful new world if, for example, missions
organizations could tell high school students to first get a solid education
in Greek and Hebrew, knowing that the students' parents would support this
advice and encourage them. I don't mean to criticize parents for putting
their children's welfare first, but I am suggesting that they have narrowed
their definitions of the "good life" too much, due perhaps to societal
values and peer pressure.

Don Wilkins

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