Editor's note: This is one in a series on Book of Mormon translations and translators.
An article titled “Translation and Transculturation in the Pacific,” by Lowell Bishop and Bruce Van Orden, part of a collection in the book “Pioneers in the Pacific,” details the struggles of getting the Book of Mormon translated for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. The Philippines provide a prime example of years-long work.
The largest problem to overcome for many islands, especially the Philippines, was the permeating assumption that the members could get by on English.
“The Filipino Saints themselves kept the misconception alive since many believed that for them to serve in the church they must be able to speak and read in English,” the article says.
It took a great deal of time and team effort to get the complete Book of Mormon and other church materials translated into Philippine languages. Bishop and Van Orden cited the 1981 announcement of the Manila Philippines Temple as a turning point.
“Realizing they would be expected to enter into sacred, binding covenants in a language they did not fully understand, the people began pleading for translation into at least three of the 14 major languages in spoken in their country.”
“English is the most widely spoken and written language in the Philippines, but Tagalog has gained status as the national language,” the LDS Church News reported in 1988, explaining the reasoning for the church’s push for a Tagalog translation.
The Deseret News 2007 Church Almanac lists 1987 and 1988 as publishing dates for the partial text, with the complete Book of Mormon being published in 1998.
Selections of the Book of Mormon were published in Cebuano, another Filipino language, in 1992 and the full edition also was published in 1998.
Because of remote locations, combined with the complexity and amount of languages spoken in the islands, some translations, like Tagalog, took more time than European languages. But Bishop and Van Orden identified the misconstrued assumption about using English materials as the largest challenge.
The article quoted Elder John H. Groberg, popular Pacific Island missionary known for his work in Tonga, from a 1992 Ensign article, “City of Angels.”
“Our prime role is not to teach people English or how to become American,” Groberg said. “Gospel standards and the message of the Atonement and the Restoration don’t vary from language to language.”