Appendix C: Selected Questions and Answers on Translating into Other Languages

Appendix C: Selected Questions and Answers on Translating into Other Languages

Answers Provided by the Priesthood Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Q: What English-language edition do translators currently use?

A: Translators rely upon an English text referred to as the “Translators Copy,” which is based on the most current English database. The study aids in the “Translators Copy,” such as headings, footnotes, and the Guide to the Scriptures, have not always been exactly the same as the English study aids. When the 2013 English edition of the scriptures was published, many, if not most, of the updates to the headings were harmonized so that the English and non-English scriptures matched each other.


Q: How does the English source text incorporate recent scholarly insights?

A: Translation teams, reviewers, and project supervisors consult tools prepared by the Church to assist them as they translate and review the scriptures. These tools reflect many of the insights which have been shared by scholars both within and outside of Church employment.


Q: Which translators are Latter-day Saints, and which are not?

A: The current practice is that all who work on the scriptures are temple-worthy members of the Church. In some cases in the distant past, some translators or reviewers have not been members of the Church, but this is not the case today, though such may be consulted on various matters.   


Q: Are translators today doing so in non-compensated, Church calling capacities, or are they contracted and compensated employees? Is it a mix of both?

A: Translation team members may be volunteers, contractors, or full-time Church employees, depending on various circumstances. Those who perform the doctrinal certification of the translation, called “ecclesiastical reviewers,” are all called and set apart and are not paid for their services.


Q: Why are some translators unnamed? Is that a conscious effort by the Church?

A: Scripture translation and associated reviews are performed by many members. As such, the work does not belong to any single contributor.  


Q: Why the order of translation in European languages? The larger question is this: how is the decision made as to what language is next?

A: In the Church today, Area Presidencies have the responsibility to address the language needs of their respective areas. They submit requests to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for approval, who consider global Church needs, resources, and prioritization when giving approvals.


Q: Several translators referred to in the chapter use the word “literal”—the translation must be “literal.” What does that mean in this context? How does the Church translation team view “literal” translations? What is the standard for judging “literalness”?

A: Translation work is guided by a policy established by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. This policy is sometimes referred to as the “literalness policy” because of its emphasis on striving to maintain certain figures of speech and textual features of the original English in the most literal way possible. It is not always possible to do so, particularly if maintaining that literalness makes the translation unusually awkward or detracts in other ways from the acceptability of the translation. At times, a modified literalness is used while still maintaining the correct meaning.


Q: Do translators typically work with English and other language versions of the Book of Mormon simultaneously, if they have familiarity with other languages? (So did Estonian or Latvian translators work from English and Russian?) Does that still happen today?

A: Translation teams and reviewers will often consult other translations, particularly if the languages are from the same language family. They may use these other languages as resources, but the norm is to translate from the English master. 


Q: How does the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles oversee the process of scripture translation?

A: The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approve languages for scripture translation. Ecclesiastical reviewers, who are called and set apart for this work, review the translations. These review committees produce a report certifying that translations meet the requirements set by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.


Q: Who makes the ultimate decision on what words to use when words need to be invented or as to what tone/tense/terms are too familiar or colloquial?

A: Translation teams and ecclesiastical reviewers make decisions about translations, following the policies and procedures established by the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and the Scriptures Committee.


Q: How are decisions made to choose words like “older brother” in Chinese, or the word for “priesthood” in Thai? Why those decisions?

A: When the meaning of the English text is either unclear or ambiguous and a language requires otherwise, research is conducted and presented to presiding councils for counsel and direction for that particular language. Previous comments made by Church leaders relating to the passage are also considered. Possible options are given to the presiding councils of the Church who in turn offer direction on these issues. Their decisions become guides to assist the translation effort globally; however, these decisions are not to be regarded as definitive doctrinal statements or commentary on the scriptures. This is the case with the “older brother” passages in the scriptures where the scriptures themselves are either unclear or ambiguous.   


Q: The same terminology is used to translate Bible phrases found in the Book of Mormon. Before Book of Mormon translation begins, does the Church designate a standard Bible edition for each language?

A: Yes, wherever possible the Church evaluates existing Bible translations to find one which seems to best represent a translation which is both faithful to the original languages and is rendered in a dignified language style. This Bible serves as a resource for terminology selection in LDS scriptures but does not necessarily determine exact usage of the same terminology if that terminology does not accurately convey the doctrines of the Restoration.


Q: Does the Church now begin with a computer-generated translation that is then reviewed and edited by translators, or does every translation start from scratch?

A: No. The Church does not begin with a computer-generated translation.


Q: What is the typical time for a Book of Mormon translation now? Does the Church have a “goal” timeline?

A: Translations of the Book of Mormon range from 2 to 7 years with an average of about 4.6 years. Additional time is required for initial research and final production. Methods and processes are being considered and implemented to shorten that time frame.