Tuesday, October 13, 2015

More About Translating The Book of Mormon

Long ago on this blog, in 2012, there was a post about the first translation of The Book of Mormon into Spanish. To find it, enter mormon in the Search box on the right. It's an adventure worth reading about. The translator, Melitón G. Trejo, was born in Spain and arrived in the American West by way of the Spanish army in the Philippines. In Utah he met Brigham Young himself, who appointed him to the translation team. Far from being a Professional Translator, Melitón ended up as a fruit farmer in Arizona.

There was a passing mention in that post of an earlier translation, the first of them all, into French, from which Melitòn drew encouragement. But only recently did I read the complicated history of that French translation. Like the Melitón story, the information is drawn from the pages of a historic American newspaper, The Deseret News, which has published a series of articles about early Book of Mormon translations from places as far apart as Denmark and the South Pacific. It was an era of surprising American missionary endeavour, and not only by the Mormons. When I was studying 19th-century Lebanon, I learnt about the contribution of the American Presbyterians to the 'Arab Awakening' in that country.
"The first French edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1852, had on its title page: "Traduit de l'Anglais par John Taylor et Curtis E. Bolton." A more accurate statement would have credited Taylor as supervisor of the translation, which was carried out by Bolton, Louis A. Bertrand, a Mr. Wilhelm and Lazare Auge.

"In June 1850, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the French Mission in Paris with then-Elder John Taylor, of the Quorum of the Twelve, (who later was the third president of the church) as president and Bolton and John Pack as counselors. Bolton, the only one who spoke French, was appointed by President Taylor to begin translating the Book of Mormon. Within the next few months, Bolton and President Taylor met Bertrand, an editor of the Icarian newsletter "Le Populaire." Bertrand and Wilhelm joined the church on Dec. 1, 1850. Bertrand began helping with church publication efforts. Wilhelm was assigned to help translate the Book of Mormon, but quit work in late February and left the church soon after.

"On March 22, 1851, Auge, a nonmember friend of Bertrand's in need of a job, replaced Wilhelm in the translation work, though he knew no English. Bertrand was fired from "Le Populaire" on Nov. 18, 1851, and this allowed him to take over for Auge and speed up the translating of the Book of Mormon, and it helped distance him from the volatile political scene.

"The translation was almost complete when, in the midst of political upheaval, President Taylor was ordered to leave France. He reorganized the mission presidency, making Bolton president and Bertrand counselor and departed.

"Printer Marc Ducloux began setting type on Jan. 13, 1852, and the first run of 1,000 copies was completed by Jan. 22."
Of the initial translators, McClellan (see Reference) wrote,
"In light of the political, cultural, and even social impediments in France at the time, it is no small wonder that this team of five men, each with different ideals and interests, was able to produce a translation that has endured for so many years."

I revert to the epic of the Mormon translations because there is bound to be a session on religious translating at the International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT3) next May. Perhaps more than one session, because religious translating has always accounted for a large segment of altruistic translating activity. And we need to hear from and about the religions and sects that are less known than the Christian churches and Bible translation. If my health continues to improve, I hope to join you there.

Richard D. McClellan. Traduit de L'Anglais: The First French Book of Mormon. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp. 29-34. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2002. Available online at maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=11&num=1&id=290.

Rachel Brutsch. Book of Mormon translation: French. Deseret News, 2012.

NPIT3, Zurich, 5-7 May 2016. International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies.

John Taylor, the third President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who supervised the first translation of The Book of Mormon into French. Source: Deseret News.