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  • Writer's pictureNathan Augustine

Temple Languages

Updated: Mar 1


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 19 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 31. Haitian 61. Quichua–Ecuador

2. Albanian 32. Hawaiian 62. Rarotongan

3. American Sign Language 33. Hiligaynon 63. Romanian

4. Amharic 34. Hindi 64. Russian

5. Arabic 35. Hmong 65. Samoan

6. Armenian, Eastern 36. Hungarian 66. Serbian

7. Armenian, Western 37. Igbo 67. Shona

8. Aymara 38. Ilokano 68. Sinhala

9. Bislama 39. Indonesian 69. Slovak

10. Bulgarian 40. Italian 70. Slovenian

11. Cambodian 41. Japanese 71. Spanish

12. Catalan 42. Kiribati 72. Swahili

13. Cebuano 43. Korean 73. Swedish

14. Chinese 44. Kosraean 74. Tagalog

15. Chinese (Simplified) 45. Lao 75. Tahitian

16. Chuukese 46. Latvian 76. Tamil

17. Croatian 47. Lingala 77. Telugu

18. Czech 48. Lithuanian 78. Thai

19. Danish 49. Malagasy 79. Tok Pisin (Neomelanesian)

20. Dutch 50. Malay 80. Tongan

21. English 51. Māori 81. Tswana

22. Estonian 52. Marshallese 82. Turkish

23. Fante 53. Mongolian 83. Twi

24. Fijian 54. Nepali 84. Ukrainian

25. Finnish 55. Norwegian 85. Urdu

26. French 56. Pangasinan 86. Vietnamese

27. Georgian 57. Persian (Farsi) 87. Welsh

28. German 58. Polish 88. Xhosa

29. Greek 59. Portuguese 89. Yapese

30. Guaraní 60. Q'eqchi' 90. Yoruba

91. Zulu


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 19 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.

  1. The primary temple languages mentioned above (19),

  2. 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).

  3. 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 (41).


Which means I am short one endowment translation (19+27+41=87).


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. Tok Pisin

17. Tongan 17. Pangasinan 17. Kosraean 38. Tswana

18. Ukrainian 18. Q'eqchi' 18. Latvian 39. Urdu

19. Thai 19. Quichua–Ecuador 19. Lithuanian 40. Vietnamese

20. Russian 20. Malagasy 41. Yapese

21. Swahili 21. Malay

22. Tagalog

23. Twi

24. Welsh

25. Xhosa

26. Yoruba

27. Zulu


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. I presume that one of these is the 88th language.


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 Navajo Sesotho

Efik Pohnpeian Tshiluba

Georgian


In Process of Translating the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants (Already Translated the Book of Mormon):

American Sign Language Lao Tahitian

Afrikaans Lingala Tamil

Amharic Malay Telugu

Arabic Persian Tok Pisin (Neomelanesian)

Bislama Polish Tswana

Greek Serbian Turkish

Hiligaynon Sinhala Twi

Hindi Slovak Urdu

Hmong Slovenian 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 missed 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 Hmong Polish

Albanian Hungarian Portuguese

American Sign Language Icelandic Quechua (Bolivia)

Arabic Igbo Quechua (Peru)

Armenian Ilokano Quiche

Aymara Indonesian Quichua (Ecuador)

Bislama Italian Rarotongan

Bulgarian Japanese Romanian

Cakchiquel Q'eqchi' Russian

Cambodian Kinyarwanda Samoan

Cantonese Kiribati Shona

Cebuano Korean Slovenian

Chinese (Simplified) Kosraean Spanish

Chinese (Traditional) Kuna Swahili

Chuukese Laotian Swedish

Croatian Latvian Tagalog

Czech Lingala Tahitian

Danish Lithuanian Tamil

Dutch Malagasy Telugu

Efik (BOM in process) Mam Thai

English Mandarin Tongan

Estonian Maori Tswana

Fante Marshallese Turkish

Fijian Maya Twi

Finnish Mongolian Tzotzil

French Navajo (BOM in process) Ukrainian

German Nepali Urdu

Greek Norwegian Vietnamese

Guarani Palauan Xhosa

Hatian Creole Persian Yoruba

Hindi Pohnpeian (BOM in process) Zulu


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.


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