“How many languages has the Book of Mormon been translated into?” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 37–48
Allen E. Litster, administrator for established languages, Church Distribution and Translation Services Since the publication of the first five thousand copies in Palmyra, New York, in the spring of 1830, the Book of Mormon has been published in twenty-seven languages. Although it is now out of print in the Deseret Alphabet, Welsh, Hawaiian, Turkish, Czech, and Armenian, it is still available in English, Danish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Maori, Dutch, Samoan, Tahitian, Japanese, Portuguese, Tongan, Norwegian, Finnish, Rarotongan, Chinese, Korean, Afrikaans, Thai, and Indonesian, as well as in Braille.
While the Book of Mormon is far from being the world’s most widely distributed book, its distribution is impressive. Since 1830, some 18 million copies have been printed throughout the world by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Additional copies have been printed by the Reorganized Church. In 1976 alone, approximately 1 million copies of the sacred record were made available in twenty-two languages.
By comparison, the Bible (or selections therefrom) has been printed in more than 1,550 languages. More than 6 million copies of the complete Bible were distributed worldwide in 1975, in addition to some 300 million copies of portions of the Bible.
Classifications and estimates vary, but there are approximately 3,500 languages spoken in today’s world. Approximately 114 of those languages are each spoken by more than 1 million people. The 22 languages in which the Book of Mormon is now in print make it available to some 40 percent of the world’s population.
Translating the Book of Mormon is an enormous task requiring literally years of patient, prayerful effort. Not only does it require a clear, doctrinal understanding and the gift of both English and the target language, but some unique linguistic problems must also be faced. For example, while verbs in English and many other languages are used either in singular or plural form, several languages provide for singular, dual, and plural forms. When a translator comes to a statement such as: “And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me” (1 Ne. 7:16), he must determine whether Nephi refers only to two of his brothers or to more than two. In some languages there is no equivalent for “brother” and it must be expressed as “younger brother” or “older brother.” The translator, for example, must somehow decide whether to refer to the brother of Jared as younger or older than Jared. Most of us have interpreted the word “betimes” as used in D&C 121:43 to mean “from time to time,” but a careful dictionary check reveals that in Joseph Smith’s day the word meant “at the moment.” These are only three simple examples of why it takes time to translate the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and why the translators and reviewers must be carefully guided by the Spirit.
Not all editions of the Book of Mormon have been initially translated by official Church translators. In several instances Church members felt strongly motivated to help make the Book of Mormon available in their native languages and have spent years of their own time in its translation and then have unselfishly offered their manuscripts to the Church for whatever help they might be.
In a few languages, translations have been made by people who were not Latter-day Saints, but whom the Lord inspired and guided to accomplish the work. For instance, the Afrikaans translation of the Book of Mormon was done by such a man, who was eminently qualified and highly recommended by local leaders. He commented that when he had difficulty with a given passage, he searched the Book of Mormon carefully in other languages for help. If that failed to produce something he could feel right about, his only recourse was to kneel and ask the Lord what the passage should say in his language. He said he was never disappointed.
People often ask us what “new languages” we are translating the Book of Mormon into, or what language the Church will begin working on next. Such announcements are the prerogative of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and will be made at the appropriate time and place. But this much is clear: the Book of Mormon “contains … the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (D&C 20:9); “the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel which are in … the Book of Mormon” (D&C 42:12); and in the latter days “every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (D&C 90:11). In the Lord’s own time and in his own way he will provide for the fulfillment of those promises to people of all tongues and all languages.
Millions of people in scores of countries have read the Book of Mormon in dozens of languages and have received a powerful witness that it is true. Every person who earnestly reads and inquires can likewise receive that witness.