According to Wycliffe, this is the state of Bible Translation today:
The worldwide status of Bible translation (2012):
6,800+ ...the number of languages spoken in the world today
Under 2,000...the number of languages without any of the Bible, but with a possible need of a Bible translation to begin
about 209 million...the number of people who speak the less than 2,000 languages where translation projects have not yet begun
Over 1,500...the number of translation programs where Wycliffe and its partners are currently at work
1,275 ...the number of language groups that have access to the New Testament in their heart language
518...the number of language groups that have access to the entire Bible in the language they understand best
over 7 billion...the population of the world
Although Bible translation is progressing at a more rapid rate today than ever before, an overwhelming amount of work has yet to be done.
From Wycliffe's own "2000 languages without a Bible" statistic, one can derive the fact that there is a finite number of languages into which the Bible could be translated. Between SIL and Wycliffe, the support infrastructure needed to learn, translate, and produce Bibles in every language exists, assuming the necessary resources were available. Given sufficient resources, there is no particular reason to see these as anything other than an exercise in parallelization, meaning 2000 dedicated individuals, willing to learn a language then translate the Bible into it, and then distribute it. This could, in theory, be done in a generation.
To this, I also add information from New Tribes Mission - a missionary organization that works primarily amongst indigenous tribes in New Guinea, a place where lots and lots of tribal languages exist. I know, in speaking with missionaries who deal with Wycliffe and SIL, that the typical progression of a mission is as follows. Note, much of this is shown in the video 'EE-TAOW' which describes the process:
- 1 - 3 years assimilating into a tribe, in order to understand the language, mores, and stories important to the tribe. Little evangelization is done at this point
- 3 - 5 years in, initial converts are made, as the Bible is presented orally - presenting the narrative of Scripture from end to end, culminating in the wonderful news of the Gospel.
- 5 - 20 years, grooming leaders within the group who can further continue the work of the Gospel, as well as work with the missionary in providing a good, written translation of Scripture, assuming that literacy within the target groups warrants one.
The problem, of course, is that just having a bible in your language does not always mean you have a good Bible in your language - words change, concepts don't always match, etc... And, it doesn't always mean you can read it. There are all sorts of reasons why the answer of "20 years and 2000 missionaries" isn't really accurate, but hopefully, this at least brings an order of magnitude to the task.