My bachelor's degree taught me at least one thing

It seems that every year around General Conference time I hear some variation on the following theme: "The Church is so ethnocentric/American/Western because they make everyone give their talks in English." Although I'm all for diversity and I love languages, I understand that it really is much more practical to have one standard language.

First of all, it's not unusual or even prejudicial for a large international organization to pick an official language. The Church did start in the United States and is still headquartered here. The Church also has a massive translation department and does an incredible amount of work providing texts in more than one hundred languages. Also, most of the General Authorities have at least some command of English. English is an internationally recognized language and in many countries it is required as a second language. I could add a rant about the lack of second-language education in the United States, but let me just say that many educated people from other countries speak more than one language.

Second, from a practical standpoint it is much easier for the church simply to provide different audio tracks with one standard video track. Subtitles require a lot of advance work, plus they would require a separate video feed for the 92 languages that are used in General Conference. The way the process works right now involves both translators (working with written texts) and interpreters (working with audio texts). General Authorities prepare their talks ahead of time and then give them to a translator to prepare in written form. Then during the conference an interpreter reads the text, making changes as necessary. When a General Authority speaks a language other than English, they usually record their own talks. I have heard Richard G. Scott give his own talk in Spanish on that language feed.

It can be hard to listen to Conference through an interpreter and to not hear the General Authorities' words in their own voices. I do wish there was some sort of perfect system by which we could all speak and understand each other without an intermediary. But I really think the system the Church is using now works quite well. In the article I linked to above, they mentioned adding an American Indian language spoken only by a branch of 40 members in Idaho. I wonder how many more languages they'll add during the next decade?


ambrosia ananas said…
I've always been impressed by the number of languages the Church translates into, both for conference and for its printed materials. It's no small undertaking.
I'm astounded by the effort even made by the Church. Even fifteen years ago a translation into any language but Spanish took weeks. It is a phenomenon you'd be very hard pressed to find in any other organization.
So much is "lost in translation" ... it's cliche but true. My wife is from Belgium, and whenever we visit over there, all my jokes fall flat on their face, largely because the "idioms" and "common metaphors" are different.

Of course, it could be my jokes are bad ...

(probably a combination!)

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