Author: Matt Martinich
Posted: September 28th, 2013
Official efforts authorized by the First Presidency to translate LDS scriptures and materials into another language are known as translation projects. In November 2005, the Church had approved 190 languages for translation work and actively translated materials into 104 languages. Area presidencies identify languages or specific materials or scriptures in need of translations and make requests to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to obtain approval. In recent years, initiatives to translate materials is contingent on how many members speak a language. The Church stages translation work according to the Worldwide Translation Plan.
In 1961, the Translation Division began functioning. In 1965, the Church organized a translation department for Spanish-speakers known as the Translation Services Department which gradually added additional languages to its authority. Efforts to translate materials into languages with few, if any, Latter-day Saints relied on any worthy members who had bilingual capabilities in their native language and English and hired professors and scholars to do translation work. In 1986, the First Presidency approved the "Every Nation" program which sought to translate basic church materials into at least one commonly spoken language for every nation in the world. In 2011, the Church interpreted at least one session in General Conference in the native language of 98% of worldwide church membership.
Translation efforts are overseen by the Translation Division. Individuals selected for translation work must meet basic worthiness qualifications. Some translation teams initially consist of as few as one or two individuals. Prior to publication, translations of LDS scriptures are carefully reviewed by area presidencies and later recommended for publication to the First Presidency. In recent years, the Church has begun to utilize internet-based technologies to facilitate translation work on documents, church videos, institute manuals, and gospel books through vineyard.lds.org. There have been a number of unofficial and semi-official translation projects headed by ordinary members to meet local needs such as ldstranslations.org.
There remains an overwhelming need for translating basic LDS materials and scriptures into additional languages. Less than five percent of the world's languages have translations of church materials available, including hundreds of languages spoken by more than half a million speakers. In late 2012, there were 71 languages with over three million speakers without LDS materials translated. Of these 71 languages, 46 were native to Asia (65%), 15 were native to Africa (21%), eight were native to Europe (11%), and the remaining two were native to other continents. India has the most languages with over three million speakers without LDS materials translated (21) and Indonesia has the second most (9). Provided with the most recent estimate for the number of speakers, the 72 languages with over three million speakers without LDS materials translated include Javanese (84.6 million), Lahnda [Western Panjabi and Seraiki] (78.3 million), Gujarati (46.5 million), Bhojpuri (38.5 million), Awadhi (38.3 million), Maithili (34.7 million), Sunda (34 million), Oriya (31.7 million), Marwari (31.1 million), Sindhi (21.4 million), Rajasthani (20 million), Azerbaijani (19.1 million), Chhattisgarhi (17.5 million), Oromo (17.3 million), Assamese (16.8 million), Kurdish (16 million), Rangpuri (15 million), Zhuang (14.9 million), Madura (13.6 million), Chittagonian (13 million), Haryanvi (13 million), Magahi (13 million), Deccan (12.8 million), Sylheti (10.3 million), Kanauji (9.5 million), Lombard (9.1 million), Uyghur (8.8 million), Bagheli (7.8 million), Konkani (7.6 million), Gikuyu (7.2 million), Napoletano-Calabrese (7 million), Baluchi (7 million), Varhadi-Nagpuri (7 million), Turkmen (6.6 million), Tatar (6.5 million), Venetian (6.2 million), Santali (6.2 million), Flemish [Vlaams] (6.1 million), Lambadi (6 million), Tigrigna (5.8 million), Kashmiri (5.6 million), Minangkabau (5.5 million), Sukuma (5.4 million), Mewati (5 million), Sicilian (4.8 million), Tajik (4.5 million), Dholuo (4.4 million), Kituba (4.2 million), Umbundu (4 million), Kamba (4 million), Kanuri (4 million), Domari (4 million), Musi (3.9 million), Dogri (3.8 million), Mina (3.8 million), Tsonga (3.7 million), Banjar (3.5 million), Aceh (3.5 million), Bugis (3.5 million), Bali (3.5 million), Shan (3.3 million), Gilaki (3.3 million), Mazanderani (3.3 million), Jamaican Creole English (3.2 million), Galician (3.2 million), Tamazight (3.2 million), Kabyle (3.1 million), Hassaniyya Arabic (3.1 million), Piemontese (3.1 million), Makhuwa (3.1 million), Godwari (3 million), Hunsrik (3 million), Kimbundu (3 million), and Tachelhit (3 million). Most of these 72 languages are indigenous to regions with no LDS presence and to ethnic groups with few Christians.
Since the 1990s, the Church has largely abandoned efforts to initiate translation projects targeting languages spoken by few or no known members as evidenced by virtually no increase in the number of languages with the translation of at least one church material over the past decade. Delaying the translation of church materials into additional languages until sizable numbers of converts are baptized that speak a particular language is counterintuitive. No translations of LDS materials and scriptures into a language challenge initial proselytism efforts, especially if few speak a second language with LDS materials and scriptures available. Consequently, the Church must wait years or even decades until a critical mass of membership speaks a particular language to receive approval to begin translation work. This results in missed opportunities for growth meanwhile most other proselytizing Christian groups develop translations of basic proselytism materials and scriptures prior to or at the same time they begin outreach among a particular ethnolinguistic group.
Prospects appear favorable for the Church to organize additional translation teams to begin translating the Book of Mormon and basic church materials into additional languages due to membership growth in many areas where there are no LDS materials available in the local language. Languages spoken in Africa and Asia appear most likely to receive their first translations of LDS materials. The translation of even a proselytism material as basic as the 13 Articles of Faith in every language spoken by more than one million people could greatly facilitate initial outreach efforts while utilizing comparatively few resources.
 "Translation Division Uses Spirit to Capture Meaning in Work," News from the Church, 9 November 2005. http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=1c4256381fcad010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=7cecc8fe9c88d010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
 Ernst, Justus. " 'Every Man...in His Own Language'," Ensign, July 1974. http://lds.org/ensign/1974/07/every-man-in-his-own-language?lang=eng&query=languages+church
 Williams, Sandra. "In His Own Language," Liahona, August 1988. http://lds.org/liahona/1988/08/in-his-own-language?lang=eng&query=languages+church
 Merrill, Melissa. "Translation Division Marks 50 Years of Providing Interpretation at General Conference," Church News and Events, 28 September 2011. https://www.lds.org/church/news/translation-division-marks-50-years-of-providing-interpretation-at-general-conference
 "Summary by Language Size," www.ethnologue.com, retrieved 13 November, 2012. http://www.ethnologue.com/ethno_docs/distribution.asp?by=size