Each in his Own Language

BYU’s Religious Studies Center recently announced that it had begun publishing books in Spanish, Portuguese, and German, an encouraging development, given how little is being produced outside of English. In his blog post about the news, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel writes:

Today, it is estimated that there are nearly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, of which some 2,600 have a writing system.

He goes on to say:

Equally impressive is the effort to provide translations of the Book of Mormon to the world. Today, the complete Book of Mormon has been translated into seventy-nine languages, and selections are available in another twenty-three languages. This represents 99 percent of the languages spoken by Latter-day Saints. Efforts continue to translate this book into more languages to fulfill the Lord’s command.

What he doesn’t say is that, in terms of the work still to be done to fill the directive in D&C 90:11, that “Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language.”

There are several ways to look at this, several different levels at which language is a significant factor in how the Church operates, or in the experience of LDS Church members. First, language is a crucial factor in missionary work–in how we reach out to others. Second, language is an important part of how the Church is run day-to-day. And third, language is an important part of the culture that surrounds the Church.

In each of these cases, the amount of resources and how well Mormonism is doing in meeting the needs of the World and of members differs greatly. Take these 7,000 languages, for example. As Holzapfel notes, just 2,600 of these languages have an associated written language. But, even more importantly, they vary widely in number of speakers. Just ten languages are spoken by more than 100 million native speakers, and at least 266 (per Wikipedia) and possibly as many as 347 languages (per Ethnologue) that have at least 1 million native speakers. While on the other end of the scale, more than 500 languages have less than 10 speakers and nearly 2,000 are spoken by less than 1,000 people. These latter languages will, of course, require the most resources.

But if we are to teach every man the fulness of the gospel “in his own tongue, and in his own language,” then somehow we must figure out how to reach those that speak even small languages. Unless I’m reading the scriptures wrong, it doesn’t say “in a language he can speak.”

For members of the Church, once they have heard the gospel and joined, the need for materials in their language only increases. Under the current model, where virtually everything in all languages is translated from English, the amount of translation resources needed is substantial. Translating the scriptures and missionary materials is more or less a one-time process, while General Conference and the Liahona require an ongoing effort. We’re fortunate that only 75+ languages (those that have full Book of Mormon translations) are needed to cover 99% of the Church population. Even so, lds.org has the pdfs of the Liahona in just 12 languages, and the majority of the 75+ languages with full Books of Mormon available also have only General Conference available (no Liahona, no manuals, no proclamation on the family, etc.) I don’t know how many translators and interpreters are needed to provide everything the Church provides in English (or even what is provided in Spanish), but I’ll bet its several translators and interpreters per language (just think what this would require for the 3,000 languages with more than 10,000 speakers).

In addition to materials, the distribution of language use among Church members can also be a significant concern. Here in the U.S., we have more than 600 Spanish-language units alone, often in  English-speaking stakes, and many other congregations have sizable populations that speak other languages. But this doesn’t exist just in the U.S.–many other countries also have these language problems, and many areas of the world (especially parts of Africa) will have these problems as the Church grows there. In all these cases, the local units have to expend the resources to translate material and interpret what is said in meetings for those that speak minority languages.

Beyond the Church itself, the culture among members of the Church can also require some additional resources due to multiple languages. Culture is built on commonalities, and translating allows different languages to have the same items in common. But unlike what the Church provides, there isn’t a clear source of funding for translating other items. Fortunately, in an ideal world, each language would develop its own culture around the Church, and only the most useful items would be translated from one language to another.

I’m not sure where this leaves us. If you can’t tell, it looks like quite a lot of work. And the resource demands will only get worse as the number of languages grow, probably with smaller and smaller audiences benefiting from these resources. Unfortunately, language use in the world follows a fat-head and long-tail distribution, with the largest languages accounting for most speakers and the smallest accounting for very few. Its relatively easy to serve the largest languages, and stunningly time-consuming to serve the smallest. I wonder if some kind of analog to the long tail model that Chris Anderson has written about will be necessary to really serve the smallest languages.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few decades as we work towards every child of God hearing “the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language.”

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64 comments for “Each in his Own Language

  1. “But if we are to teach every man the fulness of the gospel “in his own tongue, and in his own language,” then somehow we must figure out how to reach those that speak even small languages. Unless I’m reading the scriptures wrong, it doesn’t say “in a language he can speak.””
    Seeing that many of these languages will probably go extinct in the next few decades, and most of them in the next few centuries, I’m not sure reaching those people will be such a big problem after all…

  2. Tim, you are dodging the issue.

    Yes, many of the small languages of today will disappear before we can get to them. Unfortunately, others will take their place. While many of the largest languages are growing, the smaller languages are shrinking over time. The languages that today boast tens of thousands of speakers may be only hundreds or tens of speakers in a century — and they will be the languages that will be a challenge to serve.

    I’m afraid we’re likely to have smaller languages that we have to deal with for the forseeable future.

    And I worry about just dismissing any language, because you are essentially dismissing people by doing so. I recognize that its best to concentrate our efforts on the largest languages, where we have the easiest access to the speakers. But I don’t think we can simply dismiss the others as unimportant. If some way arises to reach them, we need to take it.

  3. People need to hear the gospel in their native language, not just in a language that they speak. From the research I’ve seen regarding this issue, that 99 percent Bro Holzapfel gives includes non-native languages and I get concerned that non-native languages are used to fill this language commandment. Women especially are more likely to be marginalized if the gospel is not presented in her native language.

  4. In time, an approach similar to that of SIL International (ex-Summer Institute of Linguistics) may be necessary.

    See here: http://www.sil.org/

    This requires a huge commitment of time and energy on the part of people who personally learn and write descriptive grammars of languages spoken by not very many people, and then oversee the translation of the scriptures into those languages.

    As tiny linguistic minorities are absobed by the cultures that surround them, the coming generations’ native languages may well become, in fact, that of the absorbing culture, and this will ease the burden a little. A case in point: the vast majority of American Indians now have English as their native language, rather than Lakota, Sioux, or even Navajo.

    However, I don’t see a lot of hope of getting the number of unique, viable languages below a few thousand any time soon.

    This is the kind of volume of work that may require a full application of the law of consecration.

  5. Oh, how will we ever translate the scriptures into all those languages?

    Oh, how will we ever get those brass plates from Laban?

    I’d hate to see the kvetching about this if aliens ever landed. What if they don’t have universal translators? You can bet your part-of-speech-tagged Wall Street Journal corpuses that somebody’s gonna toss and turn over the 2,000,000 single-digit civilizations left behind on asteroid mining sites who all speak different languages, never mind that all of them are rapidly being absorbed into cultures not more than ten light-years away! (Didya catch my sneaky reference to machine translation?)

    We’ve got this instant global communication thing working on this planet right now, which I suspect means that languages are dying much faster than they’re born. Birthing a new language takes generations of relative isolation, and that kind of long-lived isolation is happening less and less.

    Also, I’m gonna call you on the “own tongue” thing. It’s unnecessarily strict. With the noise model that I apply to most revelation, I’ll give this requirement a little more wiggle room. Are we really going to form a new translation team for ten people keeping a language alive, even though they’re perfectly fluent in another because of economic necessity?

  6. Alan (4): I think you are exactly right. SIL is a wonderful effort, something that has aided substantially not only in making the scriptures available, but in making knowledge of many languages available. (Even if it has “backfired” occasionally, such as in the case of Daniel Everett, who describes loosing his faith in the process in his recent book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes)

    Personally, I think we need to piggyback on their efforts, adding our scriptures to their Bible-based efforts.

    But even that doesn’t seem like quite enough somehow.

  7. The Right Trousers (5): You seem to be characterizing the post as “hand wringing” over the amount of work to be done. I’m more trying to give a realistic assessment of the task.

    The problem with believing that we will eventually have some kind of technological solution to these problems is that it will still take a lot of effort to get the technological solution. To my knowledge no one has even developed a theory for how a “universal translator” would work, and machine translation itself (as much as well all use it now, with Google Translate and similar online tools available) is notoriously inaccurate.

    But more importantly, we have still a lot of work to do just to reach the largest languages. Of the 10 largest (all with more than 100 million speakers), the Book of Mormon is still not available in one (Bengali) and available in another (Hindustani) only to those that know how to read the script of a mutually intelligible language (Urdu). Another two of the top ten (Mandarin and Arabic) do not have the Liahona available, and Arabic doesn’t have any LDS material available beyond the Book of Mormon and translation of General Conference.

    Among the next ten largest, those with more than 60 million speakers, another four (Punjabi, Wu, Javanese and Marathi) have no Book of Mormon and no General Conference available. AND, only two of those ten (French and Italian) have the Liahona available. Surprisingly, (at least from what I can see on LDS.org) the Liahona isn’t available in Korean either.

    You are right that languages are dying faster than they are being born. But not fast enough to “solve” the problem any time soon (as if letting a language die is a solution).

    In my post I’ve deliberately steered away from trying to argue about priorities, and where our efforts are best spent, in favor of trying to outline the scope of the problem. But when small languages become a priority, the Church does seem to have put effort into some fairly small languages. I suspect that once the larger languages are taken care of, yes, we will put the effort into smaller languages, even those with just 10 or 100 speakers.

    But I do think your post indicates a misconception. Often, those 10 speakers of a dying language don’t speak another language.

  8. I guess this means the Second Coming is not just around the corner, and like Wilford Woodruff in the late 19th century, we can “keep on planting cherry trees.”

  9. I agree with the need for more services expanded into more languages for the church. However, you seem to be taking an approach that makes monolingual assumptions. What is one’s own language? Multilinguals regularly use different languages in different aspects of their lives. This is not an excuse not to explore how to make more information more available in more languages, but to look at how we can use existing language communities utilized by multi-linguals to create religious communities.

    ‘Often, those 10 speakers of a dying language don’t speak another language.’
    I’m curious about the research on this. I’m not saying it can’t be true, but it seems counter-intuitive and works against my experience.

  10. Would it be asking too much for the smaller portion of the people of the world who speak less common languages to learn one of the 100 most commonly used languages and make it their own, if they want to be part of a shrinking world?

    Many people learn multiple languages and it is of enormous benefit both economically and culturally and spiritually. Just a suggestion, I don’t mean to take the wind out of anyone’s sails.

  11. Norbert, I believe you are correct that speakers of dying languages are nearly always multilingual. One common form of language death is for the number of speakers with a shallow command of the language to rise significantly, while the number of truly competent speakers declines, followed in the next generation or two by the multilingual speakers with a shaky grasp of their parents’ and grandparents’ language.

  12. John (8): I had the same thought, even though I didn’t put it in my post.

    But I suspect someone with more scriptural knowledge than I would claim that reaching everyone is something to be accomplished during the millennium. Which would give us at least 1,000 years to learn all those small languages and teach the remaining speakers.

    Of course, I’m no expert on what is supposed to happen now versus what is supposed to happen in the millennium.

  13. Norbert (10), try taking a look at Ethnologue. It will give you information on a language by language basis for every known language in the world.

    Included in the information is how many speakers the language in question as a primary language, and how many speak that language as a secondary language. Also included are literacy rates.

    For those interested in language issues like this, Ethnologue is an important resource.

  14. Mike (10):

    I believe it would be asking a bit much. Have you learned another language as an adult? (children have a markedly easier time, and aren’t usually learning by choice) I truely believe that a significant portion of the population simply can’t do it, for whatever reason. Its one of the reasons that immigrants to other language areas often don’t learn the language (while their children do). Its just not that easy to learn another language well. It usually requires a certain skill level, and it takes sustained effort over months, if not years.

    Also, a person’s culture is often directly tied to their language. Forcing them to learn another sometimes feels like a betrayal, especially if the new language is meant to supplant the old. And in situations where languages have been officially discouraged or suppressed, or when the speakers of that language have been suppressed, the culture fails, leading to less than desirable consequences. Look at the situation with Native Americans. Most have lost their language over the years, and the consequences, especially in the beginning were disastrous for each Native American in most cases.

    I’m not saying that having smaller language speakers learn the gospel in another language will directly lead to their suppression or to the loss of their culture. I am saying that forcing them to get the gospel through another language isn’t ideal — if nothing else because you lose the opportunity to easily connect the gospel to the good that is in their culture, and you may end up connecing the gospel with those that suppress and attack their culture.

    And, in the end, if you believe this is the way to go, how do you explain D&C 90:11? Perhaps it isn’t meant as strictly as I’ve made it out to be. But even so, I can’t imagine that this scripture was meant with so much wiggle room that we exclude 2/3rds of all languages with more than 1 million speakers!

    I my book, I think we need to at least do every language with at least 100,000 speakers — that’s more than 1,200 languages.

    I hope that we can solve the rest of the issue with a creative long-tail like solution. But I admit that I have no idea what that will be.

  15. Fascinating post, Kent. My wife and I just discussed it for a while, and had some fun speculating as to which languages were in the top ten, twenty, etc. Do you happen to have your source handy?

    Having done a fair amount of both translation and interpretation as an adult, it’s a brutally tough job to correctly transmit gospel nuances between cultures — even ones that already have a fair amount of mutual understanding through mass media cross-pollination. Creating gospel materials in the “minor” languages (particularly ones without a Latin or Germanic root) often involves either significant circumlinguation (where the “right word” just doesn’t exist yet), or the compromise adoption of an existing term that is “close enough” (by someone’s measure), or occasionally the out-and-out creation of new terms, often borrowed from Mormon English [insert plea for help with the international editions of the Mormon Terms Wiki here]. Making these new word usages semi-intelligible to new members and/or people who are newly investigating the gospel, for instance, is doubly tricky when the shared base of “Christan Experience” (let alone “Mormon Experience”) is not a common starting point.

    The task you describe is unfathomably enormous, if we’re really going to get through all 2,600 during mortality. (Even including the Millennium.)

    […and with an apology in advance for my only-semi-flippant parting question…]

    Seems like any way you shake it, HANDS DOWN, the number one language for sharing the gospel SO far is Adamic. In my totally unscientific and completely unverifiable estimation, well over 99% of the missionary work performed to date has happened on the other side of the veil. Surely that has to count for something, right?

    [I know, I know… That’s still not going to fly as an excuse to stop going on splits with the Elders…]

  16. Taylor: Is it a given that the memory of the Adamic language is restored to a person upon departing mortality and entering the Spirit World? My understanding is that the pre-mortal memories are not restored upon transition to the Spirit World (death). It would seem to be necessary to keep the test of agency in effect while the post-mortal spirit is given a chance to accept or reject the gospel, or learn whatever is necessary in order to make the decision.

    And of course, righteous saints who have lived and died since 34 AD have had almost 2000 years in which to learn various earthly languages while in the Spirit World’s MTC.

  17. Hmmm…. Interesting thought, Bookslinger. I’d never envisioned a Spirit World where I would need an interpreter to talk with my (foreign-born) ancestors, though I suppose that’s a possibility.

    When it comes down to it, I guess it’s probably debatable whether *any* of us actually knew Adamic (specifically) in our pre-mortal existence. Something (dare I say, indigestion?) tells me that while we are in our spirit-only state (which might include both pre- and post-mortal states, I suppose) we’ve got much better ways of communicating than forcing air through a larynx, or even making cool popping noises like the guy in “the Gods Must be Crazy.”

    We Mormons often refer (obliquely) to a more pure form of communication, sometimes referring to things that “speak to our spirit.” We occasionally speak in hushed tones about moments when people either speaking truth or listening to truth are given the temporary ability to “understand what is being spoken” without actually understanding the particulars of the physical language being spoken. Whether that mechanism is physical in some refined way, or purely spiritual (hmmm…) I’m guessing (and yes, we’re pretty close to unadulterated speculation-land at this point) that it’s a much more common mode of communication *there* than it is *here.*

    Soooo, pending revelation to the contrary, I think I’m gonna continue to believe in a scenario closer to my original premise (though swapping some kind of universal spiritual communication for “Adamic”) rather than going with the great mother-of-all Berlitz schools in the sky. I don’t see any fundamental challenges with retaining agency, bodily passions, etc. while altering the mode of communication, and spending a couple of Millennia training a bunch of spirit interpreters seems like a really long way around this problem. :-)

  18. “Today, the complete Book of Mormon has been translated into seventy-nine languages”

    There are ten million people in Hungary, and four thousand member, (maybe only one thousand). Is this a “small” language?

    In Hungary, we have two translation. One from 1990 (+- 2 ?) the other is from 2005.
    The older one is hundred times better. Ask any native hungarian – members or investigators or people who know nothing about mormonism.
    Unfortunately, it is a hard task to explain in english, why is one hungarian translation wrong, while the other is good (better).

    “It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few decades”

  19. Taylor:

    My list is simply the list on Wikipedia of the world’s languages by number of speakers, which draws on lists from Ethnologue and from Microsoft’s Encarta, as well as elsewhere. Unfortunately the numbers differ substantially from the data that Ethnologue gives on its Summary of languages by size.

    As you might imagine, since virtually everything is based on estimates, given how different national census’ count, and how many countries have poor census data, the numbers aren’t all that certain. For example, Ethnologue says there are 8 languages with more than 100 million speakers, Wikipedia lists 10. Of course, the larger the language, the better the estimate. Still, I think the concepts in this post are generally valid, even if the numbers are slightly different.

    For those that don’t want to click over to wikipedia the top 20 are:

    Mandarin 873,000,000
    Hindustani 366,000,000
    Spanish 322,300,000
    English 309,350,000
    Arabic 206,000,000
    Portuguese 177,500,000
    Bengali 171,000,000
    Russian 145,000,000
    Japanese 122,400,000
    German 95,400,000

    Punjabi 88,000,000
    Wu 77,200,000
    Javanese 75,500,000
    Telugu 69,700,000
    Marathi 68,000,000
    Vietnamese 67,400,000
    Korean 67,000,000
    Tamil 66,000,000
    French 64,860,000
    Italian 61,500,000

  20. BTW, Taylor (15), if you have done translation, PLEASE, PLEASE come join the effort on Mormon Translation. If nothing else, I hope this post points out the size of the issue, and how many different facets it has.

    As for Mormon Terms, you are right that we don’t have much in the way of terms in other languages there. I have put in some Spanish and Portuguese terms on the pages for their English equivalents. But I haven’t created pages for those terms. I CAN set up versions of the wiki in other languages, but in order to do so, I NEED SUPPORT — people who are willing to help. I can’t do this alone!!

  21. ludwigm (19):

    The list is by number of speakers, NOT by number of church members. Hungarian is one of the larger languages (certainly in the top 100 by size).

    But if you look in terms of languages in the Church, its probably one of the smaller languages at the moment — but there isn’t a dependable list anywhere, so…

  22. I think I get your concept of spiritual communications of truths and concepts without words. Brigham Young touched on that subject in one of his sermons. I wonder if that would be immediately available to the average spirit recently departed from mortality, or would be something that you’d have to grow into, either as mortal or as a post-mortal spirit.

    I woudn’t think that you have to immediately learn your ancestors’ languages just to communicate. They’ve likely been learning English all along, well, for as long as they’ve been dead, and as long as English has been around.

    And it could work iteratively, going backwards in time.

    I think it would be logical, that in the Spirit world, the dead ancestors could learn the descendents’ languages by watching, while the descendents are still alive, or, if they don’t get to watch mortality, then little by little as each new generation enters the Spirit World and takes with them their language variatoins and teaches it to the preceeding generations. And the descendents, after entering the spirit world, might learn their ancestors’ languages from them, too.

    Then consider the righteous Nephites/Lamanites who died post 34 AD, who have then been available for missionary work in the spirit world for the past 1900+ years. I would suppose that around 1300 AD, right before the Plague hit Europe, a call might have gone out in the Spirit World “Hey, we’re scheduled to have tens of millions of new arrivals from Europe soon. Any volunteers to learn European languages?”

    BTW, did you see my long comment in moderation, or did I press the wrong button?

  23. The scripture says that every man will HEAR the fullness in his own language-not that it will be TAUGHT in it. When the gift of tongues is used, the speaker speaks one language and those listening hear it in their own tongue. Those teaching in the mortal world or spirit world do so through the spirit and its gifts.

  24. quin: Excellent observation! You gave me a good “aha!” moment there. That’s a good example of how common it is for us to superimpose our own limited understanding upon scriptures that don’t contain such limits.

  25. Bookslinger (23): You wrote: “They’ve likely been learning English all along, well, for as long as they’ve been dead, and as long as English has been around.”

    You are going to have to explain this. It comes across as quite arrogant — like you think everyone needs to learn English or something, or that English is the language of the hereafter. I don’t see why that would be true.

    I really have no idea how we will communicate hereafter — Adamic, mental telepathy, spirit-to-spirit, or some other way are all possibilities, I suppose. Isn’t it quite beside the point? Why would we care? (unless someone believes we will have to learn some language, and wants to get a headstart or something).

    As with all speculation about the spirit world and the hereafter, I can’t see that it helps us much. Its interesting, but not useful.

    [And, unfortunately, your comment did not make it to moderation. I’ve not seen it anywhere.]

  26. Quin (24):

    That is a solution – perhaps one that is especially useful in the Spirit World. Unfortunately, for the day-to-day operation of the Church and most missionary work, we don’t seem to be able to muster the faith to pull that off very often.

    And I think the Lord might be a bit annoyed if we relied on the gift of tongues as our strategy for solving this problem. It kind of sounds like we are saying: Lord, solve the problem because we aren’t going to put effort into it.

    I don’t mean to say that I don’t believe in the gift of tongues. During the first few months of my mission it must have been something like that, because my Portuguese was bad!

    Its more like “the Lord helps those who help themselves” or something.

  27. Kent, Consider a hypothetical person who died around 1600, and accepted the gospel in the spirit world around 1604. And suppose he had his temple work done in 1900.

    What would he be doing for the last 400 years? That’s up to 7 lifetimes. I think learning the major modern languages of Earth, English, Mandarin, Spanish, French (the principal language of Africa, BTW), would be a high priority. Or, at least to learn the modern languages of his descendents. Or a very high proprity for those who wanted to follow the prophetic call to learn about “nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.”

    The likelihood of post-mortal spirits learning the languages of their descendents is even greater if it’s true that they get to observe the goings-on of mortals. I don’t see anything arrogant about that supposition. If a 1600’s Welshman got to watch his English-speaking descendents for a few hundred years, I think he’d pick up the lingo.

    My great-great-grandfather lived and died in Poland. As far as I know, all his descendents now speak English. I wonder if he’s been watching me, thinking “come on, dude, get my temple work done.” His son, Max, along with Max’s son Nathan, came to America in the early 1900’s. If he’s been watching us since then, he’s had over 100 years to pick up English, n’est pas?

    Your implication that they would be isolated from speakers of modern languages, or somehow disinclined or discouraged/prevented from learning seems more restrictive in my view.

    Brigham Young once said (granted, it’s “not official doctrine”) that the devil and his angels can speak all languages of mankind, because they can tempt men of all languages. So if never-embodied spirits can learn mortal languages, then by inference, it should be possible for post-mortal (disembodied) spirits to learn new languages too.

  28. Just remembered, my partriarchal blessing says my ancestors _are_ looking upon me to get their temple work done. So, 1) they are aware of me, 2) they are aware of my actions.

    Therefore, I conclude that post-mortal spirits _are_ able to observe the goings on of mortals. And by that, I deduce that they are _likely_ able to learn modern languages.

  29. Bookslinger, I hope you have enjoyed this fantasy. Is it possible? Sure, how would I know that it isn’t? But I don’t think we have any way of knowing that those in the hereafter are _likely_ to be able to learn modern languages.

    But, regardless, let’s get back to the subject of the post, shouldn’t we?

  30. The book of Moses claims that Adam was given a pure language that was “undefiled” and in Zephaniah it says that during the Millenium the Lord will turn to the people a “pure language” that they may all serve Him with one consent.

    If we all spoke a “pure language” premortally, then we probably all speak it after we die too. I’d think that it would be far more efficient for all of us to speak the SAME language after mortality and that the process would be more of a “remembering” than a learning of something “new”. If we still speak our “mortal” tongue after we die, I’m sure the Lord makes sure that those who did not hear the gospel on earth are taught in that language there.

    The idea that Satan and his angels speak all languages doesn’t have to mean that they “learned” them, because the veil was not drawn for them, perhaps they just never “forgot” them.

    Ezra Taft Benson also alluded to the reinstatement of the “Adamic” language as a way to resolve universal language diversity.

    Many people “hear” the gospel while visiting, living in, studying in other countries and bring it home to their own countries. Many people can read-write-speak another language and can “translate” those into their own tongue to teach others. The “assumption” you are making, that in order to “hear” the gospel taught in one’s own language the BOM or any other Church materials MUST be translated into that tongue, is not the only way one can interpret that idea.

  31. Can we STOP this off topic speculation about the hereafter?

    This is really starting to annoy!! This post tries to point out that we have an issue here and now. Let the hereafter worry about the hereafter!

  32. Belated response to Kent #14

    Yes I did learn another language, Japanese on my mission, and I concede it was damned hard, about impossible and it wouldn’t be any easier now 30 years later.

    On the other hand it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I highly recommend it to anyone to at least try. I was also thinking economics and earning a living. I bet under many circumstances learning a more common language will improve the cash flow and that is a problem that interfers with so many other problems.

    As far as DC 90 goes, I am one of those rule benders and I don’t believe everything Joseph Smith said or put into the DC. I would point out that substantial changes have been made to some relevations and so I must not be alone. I think DC 90:11 a worthy goal but perhaps reached in more than one way.

    I have another question that is only partially answered by your #20 post. If there are 6 billion people on the earth, then how many billion are we talking about who speak a language that is less than 100,000 strong? My seat-of-the-pants guess is that your top twenty is at least 3 billion. ( I thought China was about 1.6 billion and that most 95% of them were at one point for many decades forced to speak the official language) so I wonder if your numbers might be conservative. And I sort of think by intuition that the next 80 most common languages would account for maybe about the same number of people?? In other words I am guessing we might be talking about a smaller number of people than say 1 billion or even 1/2 a billion?

  33. More thoughts for Kent, mostly.

    How fluent must the missionary be to teach the gospel? Most of us Japanese missionaries probably peaked about on the second grade level and most were entirely illiterate. It was somewhat of a stretch to say that we were teaching people in their native language; we were trying to a degree at a very modest level. I have listened to the guys coming home more recently and I don’t think they are any more fluent. I was in Okinawa for about 9 months and although they all speak Japanese, they also spoke this local dialect there and most of the older people used it most of the time. (Actually several dialects, I found out when I looked into it after my mission.) I started to pick up a few phrases just for fun, even though Japanese was more than enough trouble to learn.

    I had this green companion who was really struggling with Japanese when he knocked on the door of a small hut. This 95 year old man answered and he claimed he only spoke the Okinawa dialect. I spouted off a couple phrases and he laughed. He had to have been born in the 1880’s if he wasn’t lying about his age and he was a living relic of feudal times. For some reason he really connected with my companion, I thought because he was struggling so hard with basic Japanese, and invited him in. But he wouldn’t let me come in during the first few lessons, I had to stand out in the rain about 2 feet away, so the first few lessons were a running disaster.

    But we kept coming back and I figured out he was bored and liked to play jokes on people who came to his door. I helped him play some tricks on the mailman and the bill collectors and it sort of turned into us teaching him. He argued with us all the time, entirely in the dialect, we were clueless and he thought it was hilarious. My companion made the best banana nut bread for him. Eventually I found an older woman in the branch who knew the dialect and we had her come over and read the Japanese Book of Mormon to him every morning and translate it as she went along, verse by verse, and also portions of my Japanese copy of the uniform lesson plan. He liked to pray but in rather unconventional ways.

    It was amazing but when we got around to asking him, he agreed to be baptized, even though he had no way to get to church and it was a major production getting him there even once. I didn’t think he had any major commandment problems; no money to speak of, no girlfriend, a little tea sipping but we’d let that slide at his age. He kicked the arrogant ZL’s out of the first baptismal interview but answered the questions properly the second time when we brought some young cute sister members who had grandparents who spoke the dialect to help translate. He was my companion’s first baptism and I heard his only baptism.

    We kept visiting him and once he gave us each a present. It was a small hanging scroll of artistic calligraphy he had painted himself of three Japanese (Kanji) characters that stood for, in my case; authority, purity, and peace. I can’t remember what my companion’s said. I was not that impressed with it. And I chuckled to myself that he must have known Japanese a lot better than he was pretending, to be able to write those characters. We went over to visit him again one day and his grandchildren were there cleaning out the place, including a back room where it appeared he painted quite a few of these scrolls, and they told us that he had died.

    I sent the hanging scroll home and my parents really liked it and had it framed in glass. A few years after my mission a guy in our ward who was an Art professor came over for a visit. He was astonished when he saw the hanging scroll in my parents front room. He told them I was a genius for finding such an item. (When did I have time to tract if I was finding and sending home rare pieces of art?) He went home and returned with a camera and took pictures of it. After it was studied by some of his friends, the Art professor explained to my parents that the style and quality were rare and valuable. He offered my parents $15,000 for it, this was in the 1980’s. But it still hangs in their house and another one very similar to it is hanging in somebody else’s house, if not in a box. I wonder if the old guy was sort of a counterfeiter or if the scroll really is worth that much. It was his final prank that he pulled on us; I can still remember him chuckling for some odd reason when he gave them to us.

    I think, Kent, that this experience demonstrates how I have wallowed for a few months in the struggle to share the gospel with every people in their own language, even in those rare languages. I just don’t think it would be worth the trouble to translate the Book of Mormon into half a dozen extremely difficult Okinawan dialects, assuming they even have a written form. This is coming from the American missionary who probably knew more of the dialect than any other missionary of my time. That effort would be better spent in any number of other ways. Even though the Japanese were once hated as foreign occupiers and butchers of the people and culture of Okinawa, to the degree that it inspired them to invent karate, they are now far better off as part of Japan than as an independent country, even though it is a struggle to preserve their culture and their languages. If enough of those who actually know the Okinawa dialect join the LDS church and want to translate as sort of a hobby or a way to further their understanding, that would be an admirable goal. But it would be an extremely ineffective way to teach others.

  34. General conference is broadcast in 87 languages and archived online in them. That IS in the here and now. Again, the Church does not have to provide printed materials/translations in every single language that exists currently to fulfill the prophecies about every human “hearing” the gospel in their own language. For thousands of years the gospel was preached orally, and it is possible to teach someone the gospel without them having a printed source to reference.

    We realize that your area of interest is printed books and materials, and to you, this issue needs a solution “here and now”, but most threads are posted so that others can offer their opinions and interpretations on that issue. If the replies are directed at the issue of “everyone hearing the gospel in their own language” then they aren’t off topic. The Lord works on a timetable wherein He knows who is ready for the gospel and to what degree and if He feels the Church is not meeting His expectations, He’ll make sure the Brethren know about it and inspire them with ways to catch up.

  35. Kent, Okay, back to the topic. I think you might be unaware of the vast number of materials that have already been translated, other than the Book of Mormon.

    They are not on http://www.LDS.org, but on http://www.LDScatalog.com. Look under “Other Language materials”, then click on “List of Available Items by Language.”

    Last time I counted there were 164 languages in which the church has material. These lists are viewable/downloadable via FTP (which you can do in all the latest browsers anywah) in PDF format. Adobe Reader plugs into MS Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox just fine.

    Granted, you can’t order all the items online. But you download the PDF file listing what’s available, see what you need, then phone or mail in your order. All we need is a few dozen more “book slingers” around the country, bugging Joel Dehlin to be able to order items in those 164 languages online instead of having to phone them in.

    But they are still “hidden” in those PDF’s and unless you know what to look for, and where, you won’t find them.

    Prior to me bugging Joel about it, you couldn’t even download the PDF’s, you had to have them delivered snail-mail. So I suggested to him that I would likely order 1-each of all 164 every quarter to see what was new, and boy, how more convenient would it be for both the Distribution Center and me if they were downloadable, since they were already in electronic format anyway on somebody’s computer somewhere in the Distribution Center.

    As of now, for non-English languages, you can only place online orders for the non-English Book of Mormon, and various things in Spanish or French. Material other than the Book of Mormon (and stuff other than Spanish/French) requires a phone call or a snail-mail order.

    The Book of Mormon is in 106 printed translations (including English). 109 total translations if you count English Braille, Spanish Braille, and American Sign Language. I stopped worrying about the “Selections of the Book of Mormon” versus the full “Book of Mormon” translations. It’s all good to me.

    So there is slightly more than the 102 that you quoted Holzapfel refering to. When I started this project in 2004, there were already 106 including the two Brailles and ASL.

    These lists, though not up-to-date, are on my blog’s side-bar links, at http://indybooks.blogspot.com/

    Here’s the order in which the translation is usually done:

    1. the pamphlet: “The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith”.

    2. the Investigators/new-members Sunday School manual: “Gospel Fundamentals”. This is a shortened, 36 chapter, version of “Gospel Principles” which is 47 chapters. At http://www.ldscatalog.com, and on the “Language matieral Listings”, “Gospel Fundamentals” is often referred to using the older name “Gospel Principles (Simplified).” So know that any non-English language item purchased as “Gospel Principles (Simplified)” matches up to the English “Gospel Fundamentals”. (English “Gospel Fundamentals” was not listed for sale last I looked, but I have some on hand that I “pair” with the foreign language edition in order to make it into bi-lingual material.)

    3. The Book of Mormon.


    Here in the Mid-west, and among my travels between the Midwest and points south along the Interstates, I have encountered the following languages for which the church has materials, but not a Book of Mormon, (also listed on my “Languages given out so far” page): Bambara, Bemba, Burmese, Ewe, Fon, Fulani, Hausa, Kannada, Malayalam, Mandinka, Marathi, Ndebele, Pashto, Punjabi, Somali (Af-Maxaa dialect), Tshiluba, and Wolof. Punjabi and Wolof (Senegal) have probably been the most common of those.


    You’re also wrong about the number of Liahona translations available. Not all Liahona’s are on http://www.LDS.org. Go to http://www.LDScatalog.com, look under “Magazines”, then check the “Liahona” box, then look at the pull-down list. Plenty of translations. Again, you’d need to petition Joel Dehlin to re-allocate resources to spend the man-hours each month that would be required to put more translations of the Liahona online at http://www.lds.org.

    Be advised that executive types like Joel, are going to say “Ok, show me the need, so I can make a cost/benefit or ROI calculation.” You’ll need actual speakers/readers of those languages with Internet connections who want it available on the Internet. Have them petition Brother Dehlin.


    I’ll put some corrections of fact about a couple of your commments in a separate comment.

  36. Kent, instead of the “moderation queue” look in the “spam queue”. I just had another comment get held, likely due to have more than one link.

  37. Kent, if you find my first post in the spam-queue, the big one dated/timed just prior to 11/27/2008 @ 12:57 am, delete that one, as I’m re-doing it in these last couple of comments.

  38. > But more importantly, we have still a lot of work to do just to reach the largest languages.
    > Of the 10 largest (all with more than 100 million speakers), the Book of Mormon is still not
    > available in one (Bengali) and available in another (Hindustani) only to those that know
    > how to read the script of a mutually intelligible language (Urdu).

    Correction: There is a Bengali Book of Mormon. Though it is “Selections of”. Big deal. People still read it.

    Clarification: Using the term “Hindustani” can be historically correct, but causes confusion about the current languages spoken. For the purpose of counting modern speakers, it is better to break Hindustani down into Hindi and Urdu.

    Hindi and Urdu are the dialects of what used to be called Hindustani. There has been a Hindi Book of Mormon for quite some time now. Urdu Book of Mormon Selections has been available for at least 5 years, and the full Book of Mormon in Urdu has been available to the public from Distribution Services for about 1 year.

    Therefore, using the separate Books of Mormon in Hindi and Urdu, those 366,000,000 people are covered. Urdu speakers are cool. Just met one today who was delighted to receive a free copy.

    > Another two of the top ten (Mandarin and Arabic) do not have the Liahona available,

    Correction: Mandarin (via Chinese traditional script) Liahona is available and I subscribe to it. Please petition the magazine department to get a Simplified Script version. Most members use Traditional Script (Taiwan and Hong Kong), but in the US, most Chinese speakers are from the mainland, and use Simplified Script characters.

    >and Arabic doesn’t have any LDS material available beyond the Book of Mormon
    and translation of General Conference.

    Correction: See the PDF under “Other Language materials” then “List of Available Items by Language” at http://www.ldscatalog.com. Arabic has things including Gospel Principles (the full 47 chapters) and JS Testimony pamphlet.

    > Among the next ten largest, those with more than 60 million speakers, another four
    > (Punjabi, Wu, Javanese and Marathi) have no Book of Mormon and no General
    > Conference available. AND, only two of those ten (French and Italian) have the
    > Liahona available.


    Punjabi , no Liahona.
    Wu, Sort of. Since written Traditional Script Chinese covers all Chinese languages. Wu speakers can read written Chinese.
    Javanese , no Liahona.
    Telugu YES to Liahona. I subscribe. And have actually sat in on a missionary lesson to a Telugu man.
    Marathi, no Liahona.
    Vietnamese , YES to Liahona. I subscribe, and give them out at restaurants.
    Korean, Yes to Liahona, I subscribe.
    Tamil, Yes to Liahona. I subscribe. Gave some out recently at a restaurant.
    French, Yes to Liahona. I subscribe. Give them out to Africans.
    Italian, Yes, to Liahona. But I don’t subscribe.

    The problem is that missionaries don’t have access to speakers of Wu (communist China) or
    Javanese (Muslim country). And we don’t have _enough_ missionaries to get to the speakers
    of Punjabi and Marathi in India. The two missions in India are currently English-speaking missions.

    However, there is a JS Testimony Pamphlet, and Gospel Fundamentals in Punjabi. (I got it in stock).
    And there is the JS Testimony Pamphlet in Marathi (Got it in stock too.)

    The good news is that virtually all Punjabi and Marathi speakers also speak Hindi. Punjabi speakers usually don’t _read_ Hindi, just speak it. However, Marathi speakers generally do both speak and read Hindi.

    > Surprisingly, (at least from what I can see on LDS.org) the Liahona isn’t available in Korean either.

    Correction: Korean Liahona is available. I subscibe to it. See http://www.ldscatalog.com under “Magazines”, check the “Liahona” check box, then open the pull-down list of languages. Get some Korean members to petition Brother Dehlin if you think they want to read it online.

    Hope that helps. And pardon me for showing off.

  39. Bookslinger

    Out of sheer awe struck curiosity, can I ask why you subscribe to materials in so many languages?

  40. I think that minority languages require protection. The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is unethical and linguistically undemocratic. I add that I am a native English speaker!

    Unethical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. English is used, at an international level, in this way, now.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well, although not yet in Europe! The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which would place all ethnic languages on an equal footing is long overdue.

    An interesting video can be seen at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    The argument for Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  41. Ack, I got an extra bold code in the previous comment.

    quin: See my blog. And no, I don’t read or speak all those languages. My native language is English, and I am conversant in Spanish. I’ve picked up a few words of greeting in various languages using some language CD’s. You can see the CD’s I used at Amazon, “101 Languages Of The World” and “Instant Immersion 102 Languages”.

    Hearing a pasty-white guy in Indianapolis say “Hello” “thank-you” “you’re welcome” “Pleased to meet you” or “have a nice day” in their tribal/home language can really brighten an immigrant’s day.

    Kent has a point. It’s a real boost for someone to hear someone not of their country speak in their native language. I was shopping at Wal-Mart one day, and the East Indian cashier was dragging and tired like it was the end of a long shift. I spoke one word, “thank-you” in Hindi, and it brightened her up.

  42. And one correction to Bookslinger’s (otherwise very good, as far as I know) information: the problem with Javanese, or rather the reason that we don’t have Church materials in it, is not that missionaries don’t have access because they’re Muslim, since there is indeed an Indonesia mission, and the missionaries do indeed teach native Javanese speakers. The issue is that the vast majority of Javanese speakers are bilingual in Indonesian, and so the church has chosen to simply publish materials in Indonesian, as it’s the more widely spoken language anyway (even if most of its speakers don’t use it as a first language).

  43. My belated response to Mike (34):

    On the other hand it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I highly recommend it to anyone to at least try. I was also thinking economics and earning a living. I bet under many circumstances learning a more common language will improve the cash flow and that is a problem that interfers with so many other problems.

    I absolutely agree that learning a language is not only enriching, but also almost a necessity in many cases. My point is merely that it is so difficult that we can’t count on everyone, or even nearly everyone doing it.

    If there are 6 billion people on the earth, then how many billion are we talking about who speak a language that is less than 100,000 strong?

    Look at the Ethnologue summary by language size. It says that the top 8-10 account for 40% to 45% of the world’s population. I don’t know where the top 20 would end up, more than 3 billion, I suspect. Languages less than 100,000 speakers account for 1.162% of the world’s population (over 66 million people).

  44. Mike (35):

    I love this story!

    But I don’t know exactly how to answer your objection. In a sense it does seem like a lot of effort for little return to provide translations for small groups. I certainly wouldn’t prioritize those dialects over Hindustani or Punjabi.

    But I also recognize the value of hearing the gospel in your own language, where you actually understand the truth.

    I’m NOT arguing here for a particular step. I just thing that we should be thinking and talking about the scope of this problem. At a minimum, it seems like our efforts could benefit from more resources.

  45. Quin (36):

    I think you are reading a lot more into what I’m saying than is actually there. When exactly did I say “here and now” or anything like it?

    And when did I say that we had to have printed materials in every single language? A few of the languages the Book of Mormon has been translated into have the translation on audiotape because most people are illiterate. As we move into smaller and smaller languages, this will become increasingly important, since the smaller the language, the less likely a written form exists.

    However, I do think that even with these small languages, we need certain materials translated in some way, instead of having missionaries or others whip off a version on the fly. I don’t much care if it is in an audio file, on paper, or on video. How can teaching the gospel and helping members endure to the end be succssful without some kind of materials?

  46. Bookslinger (37-40):

    You’re a stud! I bow to your research and expertise. I did realize that more complete lists of what is available can be found on ldscatalog.com, but I really didn’t want to do all the research to see what is available and what isn’t — It would have taken me another few weeks to post the details.

    Regardless of the corrections you made, I hope you will agree that still a lot of work needs to be done. Per Ethnologue, about 85 languages are needed to cover 80% of the world’s population, and I’m fairly sure we don’t have all of these languages. To get to 95%, we would need to cover over 350 languages.

    The point isn’t the details, its that there is a lot of work to be done. Even if we don’t or can’t be of help in solving the problem, a knowledge of the work that the Church faces, and that our culture faces, seems to me useful , if not important.

  47. Brian (44):

    The argument for Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

    I’m afraid that is a bit beyond this post, although the idealist in me likes the idea of a universal second language (but I lean towards Interlingua – which has a Book of Mormon translation done by a Brazilian member, not by the Church – and is, I think, much easier than Esperanto for those of us that speak romance languages).

    But, I can’t see how either of these would fit the bill for someone “hearing the gospel in their own language;” at least not until there are actual native speakers of these artificial languages.

  48. Kent-

    #50 I think you are reading a lot more into what I’m saying than is actually there. When exactly did I say “here and now” or anything like it?

    #33 “This is really starting to annoy!! This post tries to point out that we have an issue here and now. Let the hereafter worry about the hereafter!”

    Just FYI

  49. Hi, I have a question:
    If you are going to teach the gospel to children, here in the US, in which lenguage are you going to teach, if they speak spanish at home and english at school?
    I’m the primary president in our spanish branch, we don’t have a lot of children. Our Branch presidency, asked us to thing and pray about joint our primary with a primary from a english ward, they asked the same to the YW and YM, to think about joint YW/YM from the branch to a YW/YM of a english ward.
    I really don’t know what to do, it’s a really difficult desition. I think hispanic children (primary) need to learn the gospel in spanish, they need to know the gospel in spanish. But, … I don’t know. I think our branch presidency is trying to think in what it would be good for the children in primary, and Young men and women, considering that we don’t have a lot of people ( Primary between 6 and 15 kids. YW just 1 girl. YM 3 boys)
    If you can help me with some comments that would be great!!

  50. Quin (53):

    OK, so now you are equating my saying “we have an issue here and now” (as opposed to the hereafter) to mean that I think every small language is an urgent issue now.

    Do you get some insane pleasure in taking things out of context?

    Please! Talk about something useful.

  51. Lore (54):

    I think you have run into one of the recurring practical problems that bilingual wards and stakes face. I’ve seen it here in New York City also.

    The quick answer, IMO, is that you try to teach in the language that the children find easiest to understand. You don’t want the language issue to get in the way of them understanding the gospel.

    In our situation here, the children are generally more comfortable in English than in Spanish, even though they speak Spanish at home, and usually their parents only speak Spanish. Because of their parents lack of English ability, these families usually attend the Spanish-speaking ward. But the children have rebelled at being taught in Spanish (they want to be American, and see Spanish as an impediment to their assimilation). In some cases their Spanish isn’t good enough, to be honest, for them to understand well more complicated gospel concepts.

    The problem is complicated because many Spanish-speaking parents want their children to keep their Spanish-language skills, and hope that Church will support that. Unfortunately, while I feel for their problem and agree that the children should maintain their ability to speak Spanish, Church isn’t the place for this. The goal of helping children learn and grow in the gospel is more important than language.

    As a result, our Stake has paired our English-speaking ward with the Spanish-speaking ward that covers the same area, and our primary and youth programs are taught at the same time. This allows the children to be taught in English (which wouldn’t happen in the Spanish-speaking ward because they don’t have enough adults who speak English), while still allowing Sacrament meeting and adult classes to be taught in Spanish.

    I am NOT saying this is the solution for your situation. In fact, it could be the wrong thing to do for your primary. But it might help you figure out what to do.

    My advice is to go to the kids. Teach in the language they are comfortable in.

  52. Kent,

    As to the allocating of resources, I feel that I should assume that the Brethren use inspiration for those decisions.

    But as far as what subjects they take to the Lord for his direction, I would suppose that requests from the various Area presidencies and Mission presidents factor in. And in how those requests come about, it is likely a chicken-and-egg kind of scenario about which comes first. Work can’t be done unless there are materials, and materials aren’t generated unless there is work being done in that language.

    Do you have contacts in the curriculum, translation, and church magazine departments? That is where the requests for allocation of rescources come from. IE, there has to be some kind of ‘demand’. And the “demand” has to come through proper channels.

    The Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon shows that the church can respond to outside demand, if that outside source is willing to foot the bill.

    For instance, a friend and I want to raise money to fund the typesetting and printing of a bilingual (diglot) Chinese/English Book of Mormon. The Chinese and English text is already in electronic form. But it needs a new bilingual format so the verses are “married up” in parallel, instead of having two separate printed books. I figure $5,000 for the cost of typesetting and proof-reading, and then $5 per book with an initial print run of 2,000 books, so that’s $15,000 total start up for the first 2,000 books.

    If we can get to the right person in the curriculum or missionary department, we might have a shot at getting the project done.

    Then I’d sent about 5 copies of the bilingual book to each stateside mission for distribution to Chinese restaurants by missionaries.


    I think the missionary department and curriculum department already has a framework for determining what languages to go to next. And I’m pretty sure that inspiration and member and missionary “demand” are contributing factors. The fact that there has been a full BoM Amharic translation for a while, even though very little missionary work goes on in Ethiopia, is one bit of evidence.

    Also, they might be open to outside influence if someone can line up church-qualified translators and sources of donated money to fund new translations.

    It’s one thing to say “Such-and-such ought to be done” and another to say “Here’s the money to do such-and-such, and here are the qualified/worthy translators who will do it, and here’s the money to print the first 1000/2000/5000 copies.”

    If you want more material on the web, raise donations for the hiring of more web techs.

    Personally, I see the church providing most of what I see as needed. The additional things I’d like to see are:

    1. Simplified Script Liahona.
    2. Bilingual BoM’s in firrrst: Chinese-simplified/English. Then: French/English, Vietnamese/English, Bengali/English, Hindi/English, Spanish/English, Korean/English,

  53. Bookslinger (57):

    As to the allocating of resources, I feel that I should assume that the Brethren use inspiration for those decisions.

    I assume the same. Nothing in the post or any comment I made was meant to imply otherwise. I don’t want to allocate any resources that I haven’t been given responsibility for.

    I am interested in expanding how many members know about and think about the issues we’ve discussed here.

    FWIW, I have no contacts in the Church departments you mention, nor am I trying to influence what they see that they need.

    As for the Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon, I have the impression that it is possible that most copies were purchased by LDS Church members, so I’m not yet sure that I can agree that there was any outside demand satisfied by the Doubleday edition.

    A friend and I want to raise money to fund the typesetting and printing of a bilingual (diglot) Chinese/English Book of Mormon.

    Interesting. Who do you see using this edition? What’s the logic behind the need for this edition?

    Personally, I like bilingual editions. BUT, as a book publisher, I have to recognize that bilingual editions generally don’t sell, and aren’t used very much. About the only place where they are used frequently anymore is in translations of poetry.

    Of course, scripture is one of those places were bilingual editions do make sense in some situations. I just think that those situations need to be carefully defined, so that you are approaching the right audience. In the case of scriptures, the impression I have is that bilingual editions are usually used by academics and those carefully studying the scriptures. IMO, its NOT for the average member.

    BTW, have you cleared copyright on the translation? And on the changes to the Book of Mormon made recently that are still under copyright? Perhaps I’m out of it, but I’ve yet to see the Church license any language outside of English. Of course, there is a first time for everything.

    Looking at the list, the only non-English editions that haven’t been updated and are in the public domain are: Welsh, Hawiian, Maori, Samoan, and Tahitian. Every other language will require permission from the Church to avoid copyright violations.

    Of course, if you persuade the Church to do this, it won’t cost nearly as much (your cost estimates may be a little on the high side), and you won’t have to worry about copyright.

    But, more than anything, I think you need to explain why you think the bilingual editions would be used at all. The only ones that I think might be used would be Spanish/English; Portuguese/English; German/English and possibly French/English — languages which have a large enough and wealthy enough Mormon population that members in those languages might find the combination useful in their personal scripture study.

    I don’t see the need for the others.

  54. > As for the Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon, I have the impression that it is
    > possible that most copies were purchased by LDS Church members, so I’m not yet
    > sure that I can agree that there was any outside demand satisfied by the Doubleday
    > edition.

    It was Doubleday that approached the chuch for permission to publish it. Doubleday was the “demand” that I was referring to. Doubleday initiated that transaction with the church, and the church responded.

    > Who do you see using this [bilingual ]edition? What’s the logic behind the need for this edition?

    Uh, haven’t you read my blog? That’s the whole “sizzle that makes the sale”, that is the raison d’etre of my book placements, bilingual material. By the way “sizzle that makes the sale” is just a saying. I don’t sell them. I give them away.

    > Personally, I like bilingual editions. BUT, as a book publisher, I have to recognize that
    > bilingual editions generally don’t sell, and aren’t used very much. About the only
    > place where they are used frequently anymore is in translations of poetry.

    It’s not about selling, and it’s not about people who are already members. It’s about proselyting and flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon. The bilingual aspect may be a “gimmick” but in fact it’s a legitimate tool to create legitimate interest in reading it.

    Having a bilingual edition would make it easier for people to catch the vision of bilingual material. Holding two books in your hand goes part way to accomplishing explaining bilingual reading. Opening both books and running one finger along one book, and the finger of the other hand along the same passage of the other book goes a little farther.

    But if you could open ONE book, and see both the foreign language and English side by side, lined up verse by verse, THEN it’s much much easer to catch the vision that you can learn English via the Book of Mormon, and also make it easier to teach your native language to your children.

    There is no wrong reason to read the Book of Mormon.

    The concept of reading the Book of Mormon (or other church material) as bilingual material, has allowed the placement of church material with literally over 1,000 people that I have met. And at over a 90% success rate. (IE, about 90% of the people agree to receive the free material.)

    This two-languages-in-one-book also would help members catch the vision I’m trying to share. It doesn’t come natural, as your questions illustrate.

    But can you catch a glimpse of my excitement? Dude, one goofy middle-aged guy in the midwest has distributed bilingual church material to over 1000 people in 4-1/2 years, just by doing 3 things and asking 3 qestions:

    1. Eating out at ethnic restaurants.
    2. Shopping, buying gas, etc.
    3. Doing laundry at laundromats.

    1. Excuse me, where is your family originally from?
    2. What languages do you speak?
    3. Would you like a free book from my church in your language?

    > In the case of scriptures, the impression I have is that bilingual editions are usually
    > used by academics and those carefully studying the scriptures. IMO, its NOT for
    > the average member.

    It’s not for members or academics. It’s for flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.

    > BTW, have you cleared copyright on the translation?

    That’s not the path I’m trying to go down. I want to fund it by giving the money to the church and have church employees do it all under the translation and publishing infrastructure that the church departments already have in place. In other words, I _do_ want to influence the church’s allocation of resources by saying I/we will pay for it, IE, provide the money resource.

    The two contacts at corporate church headquarters I’ve made have also been unable to comprehend what I want, and are dismissive and closed-minded to the fact that I will provide outside funding for an internal church project. They haven’t caught the gist of how bilingual material goes like hot-cakes among recent immigrants, and can be a major delivery vector in the flow of printed copies of the Book of Mormon, which flow can be a part of flooding the earth.

    With the modern presses that the chuch uses, economical print runs of 2,000 units, or even less are possible, therefore the main investment is going to be church employee-time to typeset and format a bilingual edition. No new translation would need to be done. The verse text and footnote text are already in electronic format. They just need re-arranged so that the left column is Chinese/whatever, and the right column is English, and the verses are spaced so that they all line up. Some languages take up more space per verse than English, and some less.

    If footnotes are included, they would have to be also re-formted.

    What this is going to do, is create (but also tap into) HUGE interest among those wanting to learn or improve English.

    And for those who already know English, such as the millions of African immigrants in the US, it will provide native-language material for the parents to read to their children, and keep their native languages alive. Languages such as Shona, Zulu, Swahili, Amharic, Igbo, Twi, Yoruba, and more.

    I’ve run into the same closed-mindedness and lack of vision among church employees and missionary department people you have. They think “Well, they speak English or French as their second language, so just give them English or French material.” Well, duh, that’s not the point Just as you realize the miracle or special spiritual influence of gospel material in one’s own native language, I’ve seen that, plus an additional step or factor: the bilingual nature.

    It’s a double-whammy. It not only increases the interest, it also widens the target audience.

    Your (Kent’s) audience is people who are willing to read a gospel/religious topic. My audience is all those, plus those looking for bilingual material “even though” it’s religious material.

    Asian immigrants (but not so much Chinse) have access to much native-language material via the net, and their cultural infrastructure in the US (magazines, newspapers, satellite channels, DVD/tape distribution networks). However, virtually nothing is being published in African tribal languages, and if any is, it’s not making it’s way into the US.

    Dude, you ought to see how excited West African Muslims can get over bilingual Christian material.

    Dude, you ought to see how a bunch of 18-year Chinese waitresses, fresh off the boat from China, treat copies of the Chinese Book of Mormon when they see how it matches up with the English copy.

    Time, and time again, before I leave a restaurant, I see the staff with both copies open reading them together.

    One time, a waitress turned down the English after accepting the Chinese because she couldn’t read English. But later she saw the hostess reading both together, side by side, as I was about to leave. The waitress literally ran after me to get an English copy after she ‘caught the vision’ of what the pair of books could do for her.

    Over 1000 seeds of the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ have been planted in over 1000 immigrant homes, in main part due to the bilingual nature of the material.

    I shouldn’t be in such amazement, because this is part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Book of Mormong going to all “nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.”

    You don’t see a need? Bro, I’ve personally (individually, face-to-face, mano-a-mano) seen people enthusiastically and gratefully accept the Book of Mormon in 56 languages, just in Indianapolis, and other gospel material in 17 languages. http://indybooks.blogspot.com/2005/10/book-of-mormon-languages-given-out-so.html

    Am I crazy? Maybe. But I’ve stumbled onto something much bigger than me or what I can handle. And the concept of giving out bilingual material did seem to get some degree of apostolic approval last year at the December 15, 2007 commencement at BYU-Hawaii.

  55. All right, I’ll bite:

    We have some wiggle room (if we want it) in the concept of a person’s “own language”–for a monolingual, that’s easy. For multilinguals, it may not be as simple as we think–sure, in some situations a person speaks one language at home and one language in public, and the home language feels more like their “own language,” but in other situations either or both languages may feel like their own, for example if one parent speaks a certain language and the other parent speaks another. There are also individuals for whom a learned or adopted language feels more like their own, or at least as much like their own in some sense than their native tongue–think of writers who write in their non-native language–Conrad, anyone? Or Nabokov? (Not to guarantee that those two fell into this category, just that it’s possible.) Then of course we have the really complicated situations in which a person’s “own” language is based on factors other than their competence in that language: in aboriginal Australia, for instance, ownership of a language descends though the father’s family line and is closely associated with ownership of language; hence, there are cases of a person speaking primarily one language, but not considering it their mother tongue, while they may barely speak the language they consider their mother tongue.

    Fun stuff to think about, right? It may not be immediately relevant–how much missionary work do we have going on to aboriginal Australia? do we have any BoM translations in, say, Kayardild or Warlpiri? No, because the speakers all speak other languages–but it’s something to keep in mind during a discussion: maybe we are not obligated, by that scripture, to translate into every language.

    I think the real point, though, at least in terms of “work still to be done,” is the point made at the end about materials needed beyond the Book of Mormon, and especially about the linguistic environment of our wards themselves–sure, we’ve got that translated into a very impressive amount of languages, but let’s say a speaker of Telugu (but not English) reads the Book of Mormon in his own language and believes it–what then? Church meetings are in English. Unfortunately, this is also a chicken-and-egg situation–we can’t have a branch in Telugu until we have enough Telugu speakers to run and attend it, but we can’t get enough Telugu speakers to run and attend it until we have more materials and a branch in Telugu…and you see where this is going.

    Again, nothing new, just confirmation: there’s lots of work to do. Let’s get cracking!

  56. “I’ve run into the same closed-mindedness and lack of vision among church employees and missionary department people you have. ”

    Oops. Sorry. That didn’t come out right. It should have read.

    “I’ve encountered some of the same closed-mindedness and lack of vision among church employees and missionary department people that you have encountered.”

    In other words, I’ve sensed your frustrations, and I have similar.

  57. Bookslinger:

    Thanks for clarifying your concept. While I’ve known about your blog for quite a while, and skimmed through entries from time to time, I somehow escaped understanding that you were giving out the Book of Mormon in BOTH the person’s native language and in English.

    I also now understand the appeal to immigrants — they see this as a pleasant tool that helps them learn some English while reading something that is spiritually uplifting.

    I do think that the concept works, but I think it works most for immigrants in Western countries. In the U.S. the language breakdown is as follows (with number of speakers and percentage of the population, from the 2000 Census):

    English 215,423,555 82.10%
    Spanish 28,100,725 10.71%
    French 1,606,790 0.61%
    Mandarin 1,499,635 0.57%
    German 1,382. 610 0.52%
    Tagalog 1,224,245 0.46%
    Vietnamese 1,009,625 0.38%
    Italian 1,008,370 0.38%
    Korean 894,065 0.34%
    Russian 706,240 0.26%
    Polish 667,415 0.25%
    Arabic 614,580 0.23%
    Portuguese 563,830 0.21%
    Japanese 478,000 0.18%
    French Creole 453,365 0.17%
    Greek 365,440 0.13%
    Hindi 317,055 0.12%
    Persian 312,080 0.11%
    Urdu 262,895 0.10%
    Cantonese 259,745 0.9%
    [From http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/months/november/USlanguages.html ]

    So, I think it makes most sense to start with Spanish/English, French/English, Chinese/English, and so on.

    By extension, I suppose that there might be a use for bilingual editions in, say, Germany (Germany/Turkish, for example).

    I agree that the Church would be the best place to do this project, and that it would be relatively inexpensive for the Church to do it. Layout is about the only pre-pub expense that I see (and I’ve been in book publishing for more than 20 years), so the cost should be $10 a page or less, assuming access to the files used for doing the monolingual editions. In print runs of 2,000 copies or less, I’d bet the unit cost would be quite low – certainly under $5 a copy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was less than $3 a copy.

    I wish you luck in passing on your vision to the Church bureaucracy. It seems like the cost is so small that they would be willing to take a risk in some of the larger immigrant languages (Spanish, in particular).

  58. Petra (60):

    If I understand your point correctly, I agree at least that how we interpret “own language” isn’t nearly as important as recognizing how much work needs to be done regardless of the definition used.

    AND, congratulations, Petra, as the first person to refer to the last part of the post — the CRUCIAL observation that MOST of the work happens after speakers of other languages join the Church.

    There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, but I think its one that can be overcome fairly easily. We have no problem creating branches with just 25 or 30 members (or less — I don’t know what the current standard is, if any).

    So, I agree, let’s get cracking!

  59. Kent,

    The English edition of the BoM has 531 pages. Assuming a 1:1 language density of foreign-language print to English print, that would be 1062 pages for a diglot edition, times your $10/page typesetting/formatting cost for $10,620 setup cost. So I was off by a factor of 2. That includes footnotes, so maybe subtract 20% if footnotes are omitted.

    If special software could be written, to “marry up” the corresponding verses, it might go even quicker, and worth the investment so the expense of the software could be recouped on the 2nd language to have a bilingual edition.

    The church’s Distribution Services recently raised the prices of softcover BoM’s to $2.50 and the price of hardcover BoM’s to $3.00. So for a diglot edition, I’d estimate $5 for softcover, and $5.50 to $6 for hard-cover.

    Yes, I also see the first target market as immigrants in the US. But think how the church could literally _flood_ foreign countries with free copies of a bilingual (or ‘diglot’ as some say) Book of Mormon.

    Once we could get missionaries past the idea that someone has to be an investigator before they can have a free copy, I think they would go like hot-cakes in foreign countries too.

    In fact, I think demand would run so high that the church might have to charge for copies, unless of course, the person is investigating.

    Just so it’s on the record in this thread, let me mention some other factors that I’ve observed. There are likely exceptions, and more things I’m not noticing, but these are just from my experience:

    – Spanish speakers are usually not interested due to the glut of Spanish-language material already available. You have Spanish language satellite and cable TV packages, and every major city already has at least 2 Spanish language local weekly newspapers, a Spanish language local TV channel, and every corner Mexican grocery store has Spanish books, magazines, and videos. So Spanish speakers are not hot and hungry for native-language material like Shona-Igbo-Zulu-Amharic-Wolof-etc. speakers are.

    – Second generation immigrants, the kids of those who move here, usually don’t go for the idea, and aren’t interested. Only if they were old enough to have learned to read and write their native language in their homeland, are they interested. Though there are a few exceptions, such as the children who are sent by their parents to language schools. This happens a lot with Koreans, who have Korean language schools in association with their churches.

    – Europeans by and large are not interested, with only a few exceptions. They are either atheist, and want nothing to do with something religious, or they are devoutly Catholic and don’t want anything to do with a non-Catholic church.

    -Look at how high French is on your list. I don’t know any immigrants from France, so I’m supposing those are African immigrants who are claiming French as their native language. Most African immigrants won’t volunteer what tribal language they speak, because most Americans are totally unaware of the African languages. So my tactic is to ask their country of origin first. Then when I rattle off the top 2 or 3 languages from that country, and ask wihch they speak, it really freaks them out that a white guy is even aware of what languages there are in their home country. “What country is your family originally from?” “Ghana” “Cool, do you speak Fante or Twi?” “Twi. How do you know about Twi? Have you been to Ghana?” “No. But I know about them because my church has free books in Fante and Twi, and I like to give them out. Would you like to see one? I have a copy in my car. I can bring it in if you want. Is that okay?”

    – Another factor is when an immigrant has been here long enough and has assimilated that they are Americanized. At that point, they usually are not interested. So the best “customers” are those who are recent, within a few years of arriving, or those who have just never assimilated. There are many elderly Asians in the US, who have been here for many years, who still can’t read English, and just want stuff to read in their native language. Diglot editions might be a way to “sneak in” English on them.

    Anyway, THANK YOU for letting me have my rant on your thread.

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