What Is the World's Most Translated Document?

February 28, 2024
What Is the World's Most Translated Document?

A couple of years ago, curiosity inspired me to created a series of articles looking at some of the world’s most translated items. From the world’s most translated book, to the world’s most translated song, to the world’s most translated website, I scoured the globe to find out which items were connecting people by breaking down language barriers.

One of the categories that I looked into back then was the world’s most translated document. At the time, it was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in Paris on 10 December 1948.

Fast-forward to the present day and I wanted to take another look at which document has been translated more than any other. Is it still the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or has another document stolen the crown?

Read on to find out. 

And the World Record Goes to…

What better voice of authority for confirming the most translated document than Guinness World Records? Originally printed in 1955, The Guinness Book of Records was conceived as a means of settling pub arguments by providing details of a wide range of facts. Produced by Guinness Brewery Managing Director Sir Hugh Beaver, with support from Fleet Street researchers Norris and Ross McWhirter, the original edition sold 187,000 copies within a year.

Now known as Guinness World Records, the company has become a respected authority around the globe. It has sold over 143 million books and has more than 15 million fans on Facebook and four million YouTube subscribers.

All of this attests to the reliability of the information that Guinness World Records provides. So, what about the world’s most translated document?

Well, that record goes to… The Universal Declaration of Human Rights! Yes, that’s right, the document retains its title as the most translated in the world. In November 1999, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was recognized by Guinness World Records as the most translated document worldwide, available in 298 languages. This record was later updated in 2009 to reflect the increased count of 370 languages, reaffirming the UDHR's global reach and significance.

Let me just put that in context. The world’s most translated book (the Bible) has been translated into 2,883 languages. The world’s most translated website, meanwhile (the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses), had been translated into 1,025 languages as of December 2020. 

Global Outreach

As such an important document in the history of humankind, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated so many times in order to reach out to readers all around the world. The document’s premise is that all people, regardless of their race, religion, country of origin or any other factor, are entitled to those rights enshrined within the document. This applies to language too, hence the vast number of translations that have been undertaken, as the declaration is shared around the globe.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written as a direct result of the Second World War. Described as a ‘milestone document in the history of human rights’ by the United Nations, it was the first time that a global expression of the rights to which all humans should inherently be entitled had been issued.

Representatives of different cultures and backgrounds from around the world came together to draft the document and it remains as relevant today as it did when it was first adopted.

Not only is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights an important document in its own right, it has also inspired and paved the way for a range of regional and local human rights treaties around the world. In fact, more than 70 such treaties specifically refer to it. What a superb example of the power of translation in action. 

Final Thoughts

Was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the document that you thought would be the most translated in the world? Which other documents have used translation to reach global audiences in this way? Feel free to share your thoughts via the comments.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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