Translation is such an interested profession.
One of the things I find interesting, though, is that a lot of translators don’t take the time to understand some of the interesting history about translation.
Now, to be fair, understanding translation history might not help you find additional clients, increase your hourly rate, or find additional language-related jobs.
However, knowing more about the history of our profession can help us at least appreciate the influence and impact that translation (and translators) have had on the world at large.
And one of the most interesting facts about translation has to do with the the books throughout history that have been translated the most.
Here is the top ten list:
Most translators know that the Bible is the most translated book ever. However, what they don’t know is that the number of Bible translations varies depending on how you count the translations.
For example, if you consider the book (both Old and New Testaments) as a whole, the complete Bible has been translated into 670 languages.
However, just the New Testament has been translated into almost 2,200 languages at least just one book of the Bible has been translated into nearly 3,300 languages.
Pinocchio was written in 1883 (originally in Italian) by Carlo Collodi. Most of us, even if we haven’t read the book, have seen Disney’s adaptation and are well familiar with the story.
Depending on who you ask and which resource you use, Pinocchio is either the second or third most translated book in history. Some put the number at around 260 languages while other sources say it has been translated into over 300 languages. Either way, that’s a pretty good record of translations!
The Little Prince
French author (and aviator) Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote The Little Prince in French in 1943 and it has since gained worldwide popularity, being translated into at least 300 languages.
Most people know that I love brick and mortar book stores and wherever I travel (both within the U.S. and outside), I love to go to bookstores. One thing I’ve noticed in my travels is that it seems that I can always count on finding a local language copy of The Little Prince no matter where I am.
One interesting note: Supposedly, the 300th language translation of The Little Prince was in Hassanya, which is a North African variant of Arabic.
What Does the Bible Really Teach?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have two of the top ten most translated books ever, with What Does the Bible Really Teach? being the first of two.
The book, which is technically published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (the main legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), was originally written in 2005 and then republished in 2014.
Currently, the book, which was originally written in English, has been translated in 272 different languages.
Dao De Jing
The Dao De Jing (also known as the Tao Te Ching), was allegedly written by Chinese philosopher Laozi.
There is some debate as to when it was written, but the earliest copy of the book has been dated back to the 4th century BC.
It’s the top Chinese book on the list and has been translated into at least 250 languages.
John Bunyan, a Puritan preacher who wrote extensively, is best known for his book Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory written in 1678.
The book is one of the most well-known religious texts in English literature, and many people consider it to be the first English language novel.
In addition to never having been out of print, the book has been translated into at least 200 different languages.
My Book of Bible Stories
Remember how I said earlier that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have two books on this book? Well, My Book of Bible Stories is the second book in this list. It was originally written in 1978 (earlier than its companion book What Does the Bible Really Teach?), but still has its fair share of translations. 194 languages to be exact.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
In the same vein as Pinocchio, the book Alice in Wonderland is a very well-known book that seems to be in nearly every book store I’ve ever visited, no matter the language.
It was written originally in English in 1865 by Lewis Carroll (which, by the way, was a pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson).
One of the reasons that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is so popular is that it appeals to both adults (due to its play with logic) and children (due to its fantasy nature).
How many languages? 174.
Andersen’s Fairy Tales
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen was the man behind the book Andersen’s Fairy Tells, which he wrote in a 17-year span, between 1835–1852.
Almost everyone has read at least one of Andersen’s fairy tales, which also are unique in that they don’t just appeal to children. In fact, Andersen’s fairy tales tend to transcend cultures, age, and location.
It has been translated into at least 160 languages and will likely continue to be translated into more.
El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha
Ah, one of the classics that I know and love from my time in college.
The first Spanish-written book on this list, Don Quijote was written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a Spanish author that many consider the greatest Spanish language writer of all time.
Don Quijote is number ten on the list of most translated books of all time, with around 140 translations (however, that is both complete and partial translations).
While my book hasn’t been translated into any language, it’s still a must read for freelance translators.