This study explores the ways in which four Christian churches (Catholic, Presbyterian,
Baptist, and Church of Christ) in an Nso' community of the Northwest Province of
Cameroon make language choices when using the Bible. A translation of the New Testament
in Lamnso' (the language of the Nso') has been available for over 20 years, and each church
uses the vernacular Bible translation in ways that are appropriate to that church's tradition. In
addition, English and Pidgin English Bible translations, as well as Lamnso', are available
options, and this study examines the ways that each church's tradition influences the
language choices, oral and written, which characterize the use of the Bible
The research which informs this study was conducted among the churches in one Nso'
village from September 2002 to August 2003. The study used an ethnographic method of
historical research, participant observation, and interviews to gather data regarding each
church's tradition and members' own current understanding of practices surrounding biblical
texts. It theorizes scripture as social practices surrounding biblical texts (following a New
Literacy Studies approach) and particularly focuses on the specialized knowledge of leaders
who use biblical texts in church services and the ways in which they acquire theological and
linguistic competencies for their use of the Bible.
Conceptualizing scripture in terms of the literacy practices surrounding Bible translation
offers an interdisciplinary alternative to previous accounts of the role of Bible translation in
African Christianity. This study argues that the construal of the meaning of vernacular Bible
translation cannot be accomplished independently of the ways languages and literacies are
used in daily life. The investigation results in an interpretation that emphasizes a multilingual
approach for an adequate understanding of the way the Bible is used among the Nso'
churches studied, where no one language is sufficient in scriptural practice.
Following an introduction to the subject, Chapter One proposes a theory of scripture,
drawing a connection between Wilfred Cantwell Smith's religio-historical theory of scripture
and New Literacy Studies' sociolinguistic theory of multiple literacies. Chapter Two
introduces the research setting in Cameroon and the ethnographic methods used in the
investigation. Chapter Three examines the history of the development of Cameroonian
languages among the four churches studied. Chapters Four and Five respectively describe the
church services as sites of scripture use and the church leaders as specialists in the
knowledge of scripture use. Chapter Six interprets the findings in relation to other theories
regarding literacy and Bible translation in African settings. The conclusion points to the
contributions of the thesis to the discipline of the study of World Christianity.