Translation, Translation Culture

Translations that Changed the World: 9 Most Translated Texts

most translated texts

When considering the translation of your documents, did you ever wonder what their long-term impact might be? Have you thought about what others decades, centuries, even millennia from now might say about your original production and its translations? Have you wondered about where your works might fall in the great scheme of famously translated materials? If you have, you may be surprised by what you find below.

The most translated work in the history of the world is The Christian Bible. It is the oldest religious text in known existence. At least one of its sixty-six books have been translated into over 3000 languages, the New Testament into over 1300 languages, and the entire work into more than 550 languages. The Old Testament was written almost entirely in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The Old Testament was translated into Greek by 72 Jewish scholars in the third century BC. Saint Jerome translated the entire work into Latin by himself in the fourth century. Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, and John Hus are just three of the men who gave their lives to have the Bible translated into the languages of the common people in future years.

In almost direct contrast to the Bible, the Qur’an was written in Arabic and has been translated into over 100 languages. While men gave their lives to translate the Bible into the languages of the people, Islamic scholars argue that the only true “holy” version of the Qur’an is one that is written in Arabic. The compromise has been the acceptance of “interpretations” in other languages so people around the world can study the teachings of Islam, however, these interpretations are not considered equal to or on level with Arabic reproductions.

The Buddhist translations of Indian Sutras have not been translated into nearly as many languages as other religious books, however, the translation into Chinese brought them into the language of a billion people. Interestingly, these translations were one of the first to demonstrate the potential effects of translation “tampering” or “editing”. Today, we might simply call it localization, but when Chinese monks adjusted to Indian Sutras to fit the Chinese culture it was not at the request or with the approval of the authors.

The most translated non-religious book was published in 1948 and also played a major role in changing the face of the earth. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into 462 languages.

The first verifiable translation is the Treaty of Kadesh signed between the Hittites and the Egyptians in the 1400s BC. The treaty between these two regional superpowers is called the “first bilingual legal document in the world”. Translation experts point out that one of the amazing parts of this agreement is the way in which it was translated. Even over 3,400 years ago translators knew better than to attempt a word for word transliteration. Instead, the document was transcreated and made sense to both parties in their language and culture.

The most translated philosophical work is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The brilliant French work has been translated into more than 250 languages. From love, loss, good, evil, narrow-mindedness, and enlightenment, many deep mysteries unfold in this divine work shrouded in the trappings of a children’s tale.

The most translated political commentary, though quite veiled in its approach, is Lewis Carroll’s fanciful Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The allegorical masterpiece has been translated into 175 different languages and continues to fascinate new generations of readers year after year.

Fairy tales have a great place in our lives. Not only do they share our love of fancy and wonder, but they tend to share important cultural values and lessons. Anderson’s Fairy Tales by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen has been translated into 153 different languages. Andersen’s works are considered foundational classics in the genre. In addition to the written texts, his works have been turned into international blockbuster movies and a theme park based on his works was opened in Shanghai in 2006.

To offer some perspective, one of the most profitable writings from the last several decades is Harry Potter. This literary wonder has been translated into 68 languages. Sixty-eight languages are nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider the thousands upon thousands of pages encompassed in the work. Yet, compared to the works of Andersen or Saint Exupéry the translations have barely started. That is not to say Harry Potter was not an important work; in fact, it inspired an entire generation of readers around the globe to put down their electronics and pick up a book in an age when books were losing ground to digital media at a rapid pace. When you consider the world Harry Potter was released into, the results of its global acceptance are quite astounding.

Could your work be the next Little Prince, Harry Potter, or Andersen’s Fairy Tales? None of the authors of these works set out to break records, and they did not start with 100 translation language pairs. The famed Chinese proverb says that even the longest journey starts with but a single step. In translation, that step is choosing a translation service provider who will partner with you in a way that will make your work great.

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