The Most Translated Documents in History

06/18/13

There are some documents that hold worldwide appeal. They have been translated into multiple languages for many different people groups and demand for more remains high. Documents pertaining to human rights and religion, as well as literary works, have been translated and retranslated many times over. As we continue to discover languages, expect to see these texts appearing in yet another translation. They do not seem to lose their influence or allure.

The Bible

The number one, most translated book in known history is the Bible.  The Christian Bible has been translated into 2,400 of the world’s 6,800 languages recognized by SIL, International (Summer Institute of Linguistics).  It is the most read and most sold book in the world.  It has been estimated that about 98 percent of the world’s population has access to a Bible translated into a language of which they are fluent speakers.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was given the Guinness World Record for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It collected, translated, and disseminated this document into more than 300 different languages and dialects.  It was developed within the framework of the United Nation’s Decade for Human Rights Education, which ran from 1995 until 2004.  It has become a symbol of global partnership and global translation.

The Adventures of Pinocchio

The beloved character, whose nose grew with each lie, is the star of a very frequently translated book.  Originally written in Italian, the story of Geppetto’s puppet has been translated into more than 260 different languages.  Much of its international popularity is due to the many adaptations that exist on film and on the stage.  The Disney version is likely responsible for much of this story’s international appeal.

Other Notable Works

The texts above are widely accepted as the most-translated texts but there are many more notable books and documents.  Here are a few interesting works available in many languages.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  This Brazilian author’s novel can be read in 67 languages.
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.  The story of the Boy Who Lived can be read in 65 languages.  The popular series of books has been buoyed by an internationally successful series of movies.
  • The sayings of Chairman Mao Zedong.  Known as The Little Red Book in much of the West, the teachings of Chairman Mao have been translated into at least 35 versions in 20 languages.
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.  This classic story is available in more than 200 languages.
  • The Qur’an.  Islam’s primary text has been translated into around 112 languages.

    Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen.  This collection of stories compiled by Denmark native Anderson can be read in 153 languages.  Well-known cautionary tales like The Emperor’s Clothes, The Little Match Girl, and The Little Mermaid can be found in Andersen’s collections.

Translation on the kind of international scale that these works enjoy isn’t terribly common.  It is important to understand that the original text can be greatly altered if the translation isn’t completed with skill.  Imagine the import of an error in any of the works above and you’ll understand how the world really can be changed by mere words.