Updated: Mar 26
The inspiration for this post comes from a talk Elder David A. Bednar gave in the Saturday Morning session of the April 2020 General Conference. In his talk titled “Let This House Be Built unto My Name” he said:
The endowment ceremony currently is presented in 88 languages...
Mesa Arizona and Bern Switzerland Temples
That is an impressive number especially since it wasn't until the 1940s that the endowment was translated into a language other than English, namely Spanish, and first presented in that language in 1945 in the Mesa Arizona Temple (see my post on Presentation of the Endowment: Live or Video).
As the Church made plans to build temples in Europe they wanted to present the endowment in the various languages of that continent. The Bern Switzerland Temple (dedicated in 1955) introduced the video presentation of the endowment and endowments in multiple languages in a single temple (see the same post). In preparation the Church translated the endowment into French, German, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian and produced separate films with different actors for each (The Pivotal Swiss Temple). The audio portions of these films were used in other temples and the Church made recordings in additional languages as well (The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: A Major Remodel and Rededication—1970s and The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: Cultural Center and Temple Complex Expanded—1960s).
I have come across an earlier translation of at least parts of the endowment ceremony. Most early members in Hawaii were native Hawaiians for whom English was their second language. The Laie Hawaii Temple was dedicated in 1919 and its first president, President Waddoups, "translated at least portions of the temple ceremony into Hawaiian:" and appears to have used his translation "at times in the actual presentation of temple ceremonies" (The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: Establishing the Work—1920s). It sounds to me that this means that for some sessions the endowment was presented in both English and Hawaiian, possibly with a single individual repeating in Hawaiian what was said in English. It does not appear that the entire endowment was presented in Hawaiian or that all the temple workers presenting the endowment in a session were able to do so in Hawaiian as was the case with the Spanish translation in the Mesa Temple. It also is unclear if President Waddoups translation is the one, or formed the basis of the one, used by the church today.
It also appears that people for whom English was not their native language were sometimes accompanied through the temple by escorts who were able to translate the ceremony into their native tongue. The one example of this I have found so far is also for Hawaiian (The Lā'ie Hawai'i Temple: A Century of Aloha: Establishing the Work—1920s). though it makes a lot of sense that this would have been done for others as well. Now the Church uses audio recordings and headphones to accomplish the same language assistance.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
When I listened to Elder Bednar's talk again recently and heard him mention 88 languages I wondered what those languages were. I went looking for a list but couldn't find one. (Since I originally published this post I have found a list that I think Elder Bednar was referring to, see the "Did I find the List" paragraph below.) Lacking an official list I set out to compile my own list of likely languages. Please note that I am using scant available evidence, reasoning and logic, which means I might be wrong with many and am probably wrong with at least some.
Before the temples closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic they would post schedules of their endowment sessions and these included special sessions in languages other than whatever the primary language of that temple was. Therefore it would have been simply a matter of checking these schedules and noting the different languages that sessions were offered in to determine what language endowments were available in. I plan to do just that when temples return to phase-4 (fully open) operations. Lacking that, here is what I believe the available languages to be and a description of my logic process.
The Temples of Africa
My first assumption, is that the primary language spoken in a temple matches that of the dominant language in the country or territory in which that temple stands. Obvious right? Except that, especially in Africa, the "dominant" language of a given country or territory is debatable. Therefore in all cases I assume that the primary language of a given temple matches that of the language of its "Holiness to the Lord, The House of the Lord" inscription. However there are "Holiness to the Lord, The House of the Lord" inscriptions in only 18 languages including the languages of the bilingual inscriptions (see my post on Holiness to the Lord, The House of the Lord). So where can I look for likely languages for the endowment besides these?
The Church has translated the Book of Mormon into a large number of languages. At the time I published this post the complete Book of Mormon was available in 91 languages (Translations and Formats: Book of Mormon). Of course there is no guarantee that just because the Book or Mormon has been translated into a given language that the language is also used in the endowment. I also assume that it is much easier to translate the endowment into a given language than it is to translate the complete Book or Mormon into one. So there are potentially endowment translations that do not have Book of Mormon translations.
However, considering the importance of the Book of Mormon in conversion and testimony I believe that if a large number of speakers of a given language are members of the Church and live near a temple then that temple would likely offer the endowment in that language. Therefore having a translation of the Book or Mormon into a language along with a temple in a country or territory where that language is frequently spoken seems like a good indicator of available endowment translations.
The Temples of the South Pacific
Since 91 Book of Mormon translations is more than 88 endowment translations that answers the question right? Well... not exactly. Here is the list of languages with a complete Book of Mormon translation. (Note that selections of the Book of Mormon have been translated into 21 additional languages.)
1. Afrikaans 2. Albanian 3. American Sign Language
4. Amharic 5. Arabic 6. Armenian, Eastern
7. Armenian, Western 8. Aymara 9. Bislama
10. Bulgarian 11. Cambodian 12. Catalan
13. Cebuano 14. Chinese 15. Chinese (Simplified)
16. Chuukese 17. Croatian 18. Czech
19. Danish 20. Dutch 21. English
22. Estonian 23. Fante 24. Fijian
25. Finnish 26. French 27. Georgian
28. German 29. Greek 30. Guaraní
31. Haitian 32. Hawaiian 33. Hiligaynon
34. Hindi 35. Hmong 36. Hungarian
37. Igbo 38. Ilokano 39. Indonesian
40. Italian 41. Japanese 42. Kiribati
43. Korean 44. Kosraean 45. Lao
46. Latvian 47. Lingala 48. Lithuanian
49. Malagasy 50. Malay 51. Māori
52. Marshallese 53. Mongolian 54. Nepali
55. Norwegian 56. Pangasinan 57. Persian (Farsi)
58. Polish 59. Portuguese 60. Q'eqchi'
61. Quichua–Ecuador 62. Rarotongan 62. Romanian
64. Russian 65. Samoan 66. Serbian
67. Shona 68. Sinhala 69. Slovak
70. Slovenian 71. Spanish 72. Swahili
73. Swedish 74. Tagalog 75. Tahitian
76. Tamil 77. Telugu 78. Thai
79. Tok Pisin (Neomelanesian) 80. Tongan 81. Tswana
82. Turkish 83. Twi 84. Ukrainian
85. Urdu 86. Vietnamese 87. Welsh
88. Xhosa 89. Yapese 90. Yoruba
Western Armenian appears to no longer be in print. There are two main versions of spoken Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese, so Chinese should count twice (and appears on this list twice as Chinese and Chinese (Simplified). Unlike most other languages, written Chinese is not phonetic, its characters do not represent sounds but instead ideas. Therefore those who speak Mandarin and Cantonese can both read written Chinese, as can those who speak less common Chinese languages or dialects even though the versions of Chinese they speak out loud are mutually unintelligible.
Although American Sign Language is not technically a "spoken" language I do know that the endowment is presented in ASL (Hearing with the Heart). If I remove Western Armenian and include both Mandarin and Cantonese that gives 90 languages. The question now becomes has the Church translated the endowment into all of these languages?
Since the endowment is available in 88 languages then obviously not. So which are likely to have an endowment translation? Obviously the 18 languages of the "Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord" inscriptions, all of which have Book of Mormon translations, but which others?
The Temples of Europe
I divided the list of Book of Mormon translation languages into three categories.
The primary temple languages mentioned above (18),
Those languages besides the primary temple language spoken in a country or territory with a temple that also have a Book of Mormon translation (27).
Finally those languages spoken in a country or territory with a significant number of Church members (stakes and/or districts headquartered there) and a Book of Mormon translation but no operating temple yet (42).
As the Church continues to build more temples, which they are doing at an incredible pace, the languages in category #3 will move to the other two categories. I have highlighted below those languages that will possibly move to Category #1 or #2 when a temple announced or under construction at the time I published this post is dedicated.
#1 Primary #2 Other BOM Languages of #3 BOM Languages of Countries
Languages of Countries or Territories or Territories without a Temple but
Temples with a Temple with Stakes and/or Districts
1. Cantonese 1. Afrikaans 1. Albanian 22. Marshallese
2. Danish 2. American Sign Language 2. Amharic 23. Mongolian
3. Dutch 3. Aymara 3. Arabic 24. Nepali
4. English 4. Bulgarian 4. Bislama 25. Norwegian
5. Finnish 5. Catalan 5. Cambodian 26. Persian
6. French 6. Cebuano 6. Chuukese 27. Polish
7. German 7. Fante 7. Croatian 28. Rarotongan
8. Italian 8. Fijian 8. Czech 29. Romanian
9. Japanese 9. Guaraní 9. Estonian 30. Serbian
10. Korean 10. Haitian Creole 10. Greek 31. Shona
11. Mandarin 11. Hawaiian 11. Hindi 32. Sinhala
12. Portuguese 12. Hiligaynon 12. Hmong 33. Slovak
13. Samoan 13. Igbo 13. Hungarian 34. Slovene
14. Spanish 14. Ilokano 14. Indonesian 35. Tamil
15. Swedish 15. Lingala 15. Khmer 36. Telugu
16. Tahitian 16. Maori 16. Kiribati 37. Thai
17. Tongan 17. Pangasinan 17. Kosraean 38. Tok Pisin
18. Ukrainian 18. Q'eqchi' 18. Latvian 39. Tswana
19. Quichua–Ecuador 19. Lithuanian 40. Urdu
20. Russian 20. Malagasy 41. Vietnamese
21. Swahili 21. Malay 42. Yapese
There are four languages on the list of Book of Mormon translations that do not fit into any of the above three categories. Meaning that though they have a Book of Mormon translation, they are most often spoken in countries or territories without a temple, stake or district. Specifically Eastern Armenian, Georgian, Laotian and Turkish. Which means I am short one endowment translation (18+27+42=87). A final hint comes in the list of languages that the Church is in the process of translating the complete Book of Mormon and other scriptures into. In a 2017 letter the First Presidency gives just such a list:
In Process of Translating The Book of Mormon:
Burmese Efik Georgian
Navajo Pohnpeian Sesotho
In Process of Translating the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants (Already Translated the Book of Mormon):
American Sign Language Afrikaans Amharic
Arabic Bislama Greek
Hiligaynon Hindi Hmong
Lao Lingala Malay
Persian Polish Serbian
Sinhala Slovak Slovenian
Tahitian Tamil Telugu
Tok Pisin (Neomelanesian) Tswana Turkish
Twi Urdu Yoruba
What stands out to me on this list isn't the new languages that the Church is translating the complete Book of Mormon into but the languages that already have a Book of Mormon translation that they are translating the other Triple Combination Scriptures into. Specifically that they are translating them into Laotian and Turkish. As I pointed out above there is no temple, stake or district in Laos or Turkey. These two are the only languages mentioned in the letter that don't fit into any of the above three categories. I presume this means that there is a large number of church members who speak those languages outside Laos and Turkey. Therefore I think that one of these are the last language that the endowment is presented in.
The Temples of Asia
Did I find the List?
While recently making an online appointment for temple ordinances I noticed a check box that allows the person making the appointment to indicate that they need "language assistance." Checking the box brings up a list of languages that assistance is available in. Could this be the list of languages that the endowment is presented in? There are 93 languages on that list, five more than the 88 Elder Bednar mentions. However, Chinese (Simplified) and Chinese (Traditional) are two of those languages and as mentioned above these are written only languages, not spoken ones (the main spoken versions of Chinese, Cantonese and Mandarin are also on the list). I don't think the endowment can actually be presented in a language that can only be written. Perhaps in these cases "language assistance" is given through the use of written cards or subtitles. That still leaves three more languages than in Elder Bednar's talk. Perhaps in the years since his talk the Church has added some new languages since the Church is actively translating the endowment into new ones. In his talk Elder Bednar also said:
In the next 15 years, the number of languages in which temple ordinances will be available likely will double.
As I expected the "language assistance" list does not match the list I built above, but it is close. I included 13 languages out of my 89 guesses that do not appear on the "language assistance" list, therefore I was 86% correct (both Lao and Turkish are included). Of those I did not include only Armenian has a Book or Mormon translation. As mentioned above the Church appears to have added new languages since Elder Bednar's talk. I suspect that the new ones are three of the languages that the Church was in the process of creating Book of Mormon translations for according to the 2017 letter (Efik, Navajo and Pohnpeian).
The complete "language assistance" list is as follows (those without BOM translations are highlighted):
Afrikaans Albanian American Sign Language
Arabic Armenian Aymara
Bislama Bulgarian Cakchiquel
Cambodian Cantonese Cebuano
Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Chuukese
Croatian Czech Danish
Dutch Efik (BOM in process) English
Estonian Fante Fijian
Finnish French German
Greek Guarani Hatian Creole
Hindi Hmong Hungarian
Icelandic Igbo Ilokano
Indonesian Italian Japanese
Q'eqchi' Kinyarwanda Kiribati
Korean Kosraean Kuna
Laotian Latvian Lingala
Lithuanian Malagasy Mam
Mandarin Maori Marshallese
Maya Mongolian Navajo (BOM in process)
Nepali Norwegian Palauan
Persian Pohnpeian (BOM in process) Polish
Portuguese Quechua (Bolivia) Quechua (Peru)
Quiche Quichua (Ecuador) Rarotongan
Romanian Russian Samoan
Shona Slovenian Spanish
Swahili Swedish Tagalog
Tahitian Tamil Telugu
Thai Tongan Tswana
Turkish Twi Tzotzil
Ukrainian Urdu Vietnamese
Xhosa Yoruba Zulu
D&C 90: 11 says:
11 For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I believe we are witnessing the fulfillment of this prophecy through the expanding number of temples, the diversity of countries and territories in which they are built and in the variety of languages that the Book of Mormon, the endowment and other ordinances are being translated into.