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Materials Provided by the Bahá'í World Centre on Gender in the Writings,

Translation, Universal Languages

 

 

 

Contents

 

 

Contents……………………………………………………………………………………….1

 

Attachment #1 - From the Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat,

25 July 2002 email to Nancy Branham Songer……………………………………………….2

 

Attachment  #2  - Use of Masculine Pronouns and Images…………………………………..3

 

Attachment  #3 - The Use of the Masculine Gender in the Bahá’í Writings Extracts

from Letters Written By and on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice…………………..6

 

Attachment #4 - Literary Style – Translation………………………………………………...12

 

Attachment #5 - The Difficult Art of Translation – Selected Extracts From Letters

Written By and On Behalf of the Universal House of Justice Concerning the

Translations of Shoghi Effendi……………………………………………………………….17

 

Attachment #6 - Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í Writings into

Indigenous and Other Languages…………………………………………………………….21

 

***

 

Attachment #1 - Department of the Secretariat, 15 August 2002, email to

Nancy Branham Songer, re: universal auxiliary language and universal language………….26

 

Attachment #2 - Extract from a Research Department memorandum dated 7 July 1994……27

 

Attachment #3 – The Principle of an International Auxiliary Language……………………30

 

Attachment #4 – International Auxiliary Language…………………………………………38

 

Attachment #5 – Bahá'í World Centre Library A Partial Bibliography of Published

Works on an Auxiliary Language 3 September 1991……………………………………….39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

Bahá’í World Centre • P.O. Box 155 • 31 001 Haifa, Israel

Tel: 972 (4) 835 8358 • Fax: 972 (4) 835 8280 • Email: secretariat@bwc.org

25 July 2002

 

 

 

 

Transmitted by email: nsonger@sc.rr.com

 

Mrs. Nancy Branham Songer

U.S.A.

 

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

 

The Universal House of Justice referred your emailed letter dated 22 June 2002 to its

Research Department for comments, and it commends to your study the enclosed memorandum

prepared in response to your queries concerning the use of masculine pronouns and images in

the Sacred Writings of the Faith. We hope this information will prove useful to your endeavors,

and you are free to use any of the contents in your presentation at the Association for Bahá’í

Studies conference.

 

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

 

Department of the Secretariat

 

 

 

Enclosure with four attachments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M E M O R A N D U M

 

To:                   The Universal House of Justice                          Date: 25 July 2002

 

From:                Research Department

 

 

Use of Masculine Pronouns and Images

 

The Research Department has studied the questions on the above-mentioned subject

raised by Mrs. Nancy Branham Songer in her emailed letter dated 22 June 2002 to the

Universal House of Justice. Mrs. Songer observes that in the authorized English translations

of the Bahá’í Scriptures and in the English writings of the Guardian, God is invariably termed

“Father”, masculine pronouns are used in reference to the Divinity, and the term “man” is used to represent humanity as well as individuals. From her study of the Bahá’í teachings Mrs. Songer is aware that “this usage is a product of convention and the images are generic and intended to be inclusive”. She is also cognizant of the fact that “these practices nevertheless raise certain questions because of the importance of language in the formation of worldview”. In this regard she states that “according to [her] understanding, two important spiritual features of this age will be the deanthropomorphization of God in the minds of human beings and the equality of the sexes”. However, it is her view that the present “language of the Bahá’í scriptures … can be seen to repeat and reinforce the sense that the Divine is somehow male”, and the “consistent use of ‘man’ and masculine pronouns in the Writings to represent humanity and individuals contributes to an image that the human archetype is male”. In light of these observations, Mrs. Songer poses a number of detailed questions concerning the work of translation—the implications of present practice for future translations, whether “Bahá’í English with regard to gender was crystallized at the point of the Guardian’s translations”, whether the universal auxiliary language will need “to retain masculine imagery in order to be true to the message or will it be able to establish new forms”, and whether “there are spiritual implications to sex-specific imagery … being fixed in holy Scriptures for all time or at least until the end of this dispensation”. We provide the following comment.

 

By way of introduction, we wish to note that the Research Department has not, to

date, been able to locate detailed guidance concerning the specific technical issues raised by

Mrs. Songer about the practical implications of present translation practices for the future work of translation, especially as they relate to gender issues. To assist Mrs. Songer in thinking about the questions she poses, we attach the following four compilations:

 

q       “The Use of the Masculine Gender in the Bahá’í Writings”, a compilation of extracts from letters written by and on behalf of the Universal House of Justice. The extracts in the compilation set out a number of general principles in relation to this subject and the Bahá’í perspective on it. We note, for example, the House of Justice indicates that:

§       “In many languages the use of the masculine gender, unless intended specifically todenote masculinity, is generic” (extract 1, see also extracts 2 and 6).

§       “The translation of the Writings of the Central Figures of the Faith must of necessityagree in full detail with the original in conveying the exact meaning of the Words as

 

 

 

 

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they have been revealed” (extracts 2, 8 and 9). In addition, the Universal House of

Justice indicates that it “does not feel it appropriate to change Shoghi Effendi’s usage of

certain nouns in his translations” (extract 8). Indeed, “The style of translation into

English was set by Shoghi Effendi” (extract 10).

 

 

 

resolved either by changing the usage of nouns, or by permitting the consciousness of

sexual equality to modify the meaning of nouns as they are now used. No doubt both

courses will be followed in the evolution of the language. It is generally considered

preferable to permit the change of consciousness to change the meaning that people

attribute to words, rather than to press the use of forms of words, which may seem

contrived” (extract 8).

 

§         “The challenge … is to accept the use of pronouns in their generic sense, which will

lead one to view the matter in terms of a spiritual response, rather than one of

semantics” (extracts 8 and 10).

 

q       “Literary Style—Translation”, a compilation of materials that was prepared some time ago. The compilation includes a statement from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about translation, extracts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and a description of the writings of Shoghi Effendi excerpted from RúHíyyih Rabbani’s “The Priceless Pearl” (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969), pages 196–204.

 

q       “The Difficult Art of Translation—Selected Extracts from Letters Written By and on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice Concerning the Translations of Shoghi Effendi”. Extracts in the compilation address such issues as:

 

§       The status of Shoghi Effendi’s translations (extracts 1 and 6). The importance of his translations as a starting point for translations into other European languages (extract 1).

 

§       The Guardian’s approach to translation (extracts 2, 4, and 7).

 

§       The interpretative aspect to Shoghi Effendi’s translations (extracts 1, 5, and 6).

 

§       Translators are encouraged to “strive to render the words of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá into English in a way that reproduces as accurately as possible the meaning of the originals, that is as beautiful as possible, and that harmonizes closely with the style used by Shoghi Effendi” (extract 4).

 

q       “Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages”. This compilation, consisting mostly of the correspondence of the Universal  House of Justice, was prepared some time ago. Despite the fact that there is a degree of

 

 

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repetition in the content, it is included because of Mrs. Songer’s interest in the importance

and use of language.

As to Mrs. Songer’s question concerning whether “the universal auxiliary language needs to retain masculine imagery in order to be true to the message or will it be able to establish new forms”, the Research Department has not, to date, been able to locate any references to this subject in the authoritative literature of the Faith. However, we call attention to the following statement of the Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 8 December 1964, which is included in extract 1 of the attached document “The Difficult Art of Translation”:

 

We also feel that it is still premature to decide upon the question of the International Auxiliary Language. It is quite clear from the Texts that any living

or invented language may be chosen, but the time and manner of its choosing and propagation are not yet decided.

 

Attachments 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Use of the Masculine Gender in the Bahá’í Writings

Extracts from Letters Written By and on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

 

 

In many languages the use of the masculine gender, unless intended specifically to denote

masculinity, is generic. For instance, in English we speak of the race of man, or mankind, in

both instances meaning every member of the human race—men, women and children. There

would be no reason to interpret “O Son of Being”, or “O Son of Man” as addressed only to

males. It is the same with pronouns.

(5 April 1981, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [1]

 

The principle of the equality of men and women which is firmly established by the

Author of the Faith and forms one of the basic tenets of our belief will be fully realized as the

human race matures in its understanding of the significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation.

Equality will be achieved as a direct result of the adjustments the friends are required to make

in their attitude towards this fundamental issue so essential to the establishment of the unity of

mankind, and despite the exigencies of the languages in which the revealed Words have been

received and in which they have been translated. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “...in His estimate there is

no question of sex.” “In the estimation of God there is no gender.”1

 

The translation of the Writings of the Central Figures of the Faith must of necessity agree

in full detail with the original in conveying the exact meaning of the Words as they have been

revealed. The Guardian did not even approve the changing of pronouns in Bahá’í prayers when

they are read. Therefore, no deviation in translation from the actual meaning of the words, to

accommodate the general trend of thought and behaviour affecting a language, is conceivable,

unless, of course, the equivalent of the original word does not exist in a given language. In one

of His talks quoted in “The Promulgation of Universal Peace”, page 76, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:

 

The truth is that all mankind are the creatures and servants of one God, and in His

estimate all are human. “Man” is a generic term applying to all humanity. The biblical

statement “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” does not mean that woman

was not created. The image and likeness of God apply to her as well. In Persian and

Arabic there are two distinct words translated into English as man: one meaning man and

woman collectively, the other distinguishing man as male from woman the female. The

first word and its pronoun are generic, collective; the other is restricted to the male. This

is the same in Hebrew.

 

Concerning the English language, it is interesting that the 1983 edition of the Concise

Oxford English Dictionary gives “human being” as the first meaning of “man”; and only as the

fourth meaning “adult human male, opp. to woman, boy, or both.” Therefore, the use of “man”

or “men” in translating the intent of the Revealer of the Words to embrace all humankind seems

a good choice.

(20 May 1984, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [2]

 

1 “The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to theUnited States and Canada in 1912”, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), pp. 174 and 374.

 

 

 

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We have considered your memorandum of 6 June 1989 and appreciate the points you

have raised concerning the sensitivity of women, both Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í, to the use of

what are construed to be exclusively masculine words in the Sacred Writings of the Bahá’í

Faith.

 

While we recognize that the problem of gender in language presents difficulties at the

present time, we must also recognize that the problem varies considerably from language to

language, depending on the number of grammatical genders that each language uses.

 

Since the immediate concern in the translations … centres on usage in English, we shall

concentrate on the problem as it exists in that language. English is fortunate in having a

common gender. The problem of gender-specific nouns is, therefore, susceptible of two lines of

solution. One is to change the usage of nouns, the other is to permit the consciousness of

sexual equality to modify the meaning of nouns as now used. Undoubtedly both courses will be

followed in the evolution of the language. The word “doctor” for example, is now clearly of

common gender in English, although originally masculine. Our feeling is that, in general, it is

preferable to permit the change of consciousness to change the meaning that people attribute to

the words, rather than to press the use of forms of words that seem contrived and, to many

people, ridiculous—a reaction that does not help the advancement of the cause of the equality

of the sexes. Following this reasoning, as you will have noted, we used the word “chairman” in

relation to the sessions of the International Convention, although all were women.

 

In respect to the Sacred Writings, the originals, clearly, cannot be changed, and we do not

feel at liberty to change Shoghi Effendi’s usage of “man” or “mankind” to “humanity” or

“humankind”.

(27 November 1989, from a memorandum from the Universal House of Justice

to a Bahá’í Office of Public Information) [3]

 

There are, as you indicate, many conventions of expression in use at the present time

which reflect the male dominance of human society in the past. We must hope that as the

consciousness of human beings changes and as the equality of the sexes comes to be accepted

in theory and in practice throughout the world, the meanings attached to certain words will

change accordingly, as will the usage of words. Language is a living thing and changes as the

culture which it reflects changes….

 

The important point here is that one will not persuade people to change their usage of

language until one has convinced them of the true understanding of the reality of things; but

when they once understand the truth, the meaning that they attach to words changes, and thus a

change in usage becomes much less important, if not irrelevant.

(8 March 1990, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual) [4]

 

… the House of Justice is well aware that, at various times, the meaning attached to certain

words becomes influenced by emotions and can assume overtones which are offensive to some

segments of the population. In the case of the generic terms in the English translations of the

Bahá’í Writings, the tendency to take such terms as being applicable only to males is a

reflection of the male-dominated society which has prevailed for so long, and to which there is

 

 

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a reaction from women who are seeking legitimate recognition and equality. Bahá’ís can well

sympathize with such concerns, while pointing out that language is a living thing and that the

intended meaning of the generic terms will doubtless become more readily apparent as the

influence of the Bahá’í commitment to equality of the sexes permeates human society more

fully.

 

It is understandable that some non-Bahá’ís are initially disturbed by the use of those

terms in our Writings which are associated conventionally with a male orientation. Seekers

after truth should be assisted to determine the intended meaning of such terms through

reference to the Bahá’í Teachings, rather than through assuming that these terms have the

meaning now prevalent in the world; thus they will find that they should seek that meaning

which is consistent with equality of men and women, and which also happens to be the primary

meaning associated with classical usage of the English language to convey spiritual truths. A

similar approach is called for when a seeker encounters a number of other terms and phrases in

the Writings.

 

Members of the Bahá’í community should not fall unconsciously into the error of

labelling the Bahá’í Writings as being “sexist” or “discriminatory”, or of feeling a need to

apologize to non-Bahá’ís for the terms used. Such an attitude would be indicative of a lack of

understanding of the Bahá’í approach to this issue, and a lack of confidence in the position

adopted by the Faith in regard to use of generic terms.

(26 September 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a

National Spiritual Assembly) [5]

 

We regret the very long delay in responding to your request … for help in locating

something in print regarding the use of the male pronoun in the Bahá’í Writings. In this regard

we are enclosing a copy of extracts from letters written on behalf of the Universal House of

Justice to individual believers regarding the use of the masculine gender in the Writings.

Related to this subject is the reference on page seven in the introduction to “The Kitáb-i-Aqdas”

where it is stated that it is apparent from the writings of the Guardian that “where Bahá’u’lláh

has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies ‘mutatis mutandis’ between a woman

and a man unless the context makes this impossible”.

(26 June 1994, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [6]

 

In relating the Teachings of the Faith to the discussion of contemporary social issues,

Bahá’í publications are challenged by the need to adapt editorial policies to the ever-changing

public perceptions of those issues, without compromising the fundamental Bahá’í principles

and concepts involved. The question of “gender inclusive language” guidelines is a case in

point. The editors of a publication like the Journal will certainly have acquainted themselves

with the various points of view on the subject current among the readership which they and

their authors are addressing, together with prevailing modes of expression. These factors will

exercise an influence on Bahá’í editorial policy, but must do so within the context of the

Teachings.

 

Clearly, the Scriptures of the Faith, as revealed by the Founders and interpreted by

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian, impose their own requirements on Bahá’í authors and editors

 

 

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alike. On the one hand, an editorial board will quite properly be concerned to take into account

the preferences and convictions common to the great majority of the intended readers of its

publication. On the other, Bahá’í authors must be left entirely free to discuss the Revelation of

Bahá’u’lláh in its own terms and language as set out in the Bahá’í Scriptures themselves and in

their authorized interpretations, irrespective of current fashions in academic and other public

discourse. That is to say: the Sacred Writings of the Faith and those of the Guardian do not use

the “gender inclusive language” now in vogue, and it would therefore not be appropriate for the

Editorial Board to impose such current standards on Bahá’í authors.

(26 July 1996, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National

Spiritual Assembly) [7]

 

Your letter of 19 September 1996 expressing your concern regarding the use of inclusive

masculine terms in the Sacred Writings has been received by the Universal House of Justice,

and we have been asked to reply.

 

The point you have raised regarding the sensitivity of women, both Bahá’í and non-

Bahá’í, to the use of masculine nouns and pronouns when referring to God is noted and your

concern appreciated. It is recognized that the question of gender in language presents

difficulties at this time; however, it must also be recognized that the problem varies

considerably from language to language, depending on the number of grammatical genders that

each language uses.

 

English is fortunate in having a common gender. Therefore, the issue of gender-specific

nouns may be resolved either by changing the usage of nouns, or by permitting the

consciousness of sexual equality to modify the meaning of nouns as they are now used. No

doubt both courses will be followed in the evolution of the language. It is generally considered

preferable to permit the change of consciousness to change the meaning that people attribute to

words, rather than to press the use of forms of words, which may seem contrived.

 

Likewise, when considering the manner in which masculine nouns and pronouns are used

to refer to God, it is important to bear in mind that when Bahá’u’lláh was revealing His

Scriptures He had to use language and forms of expression which could be understood by those

whom He was addressing. This is the case with every Prophet; He is compelled to use old

forms through which He will raise humanity to a new level of understanding. In Arabic and

Persian, as in English and most European languages, it has been customary to refer to God as

“Lord” and “Father”, rather than “Lady” and “Mother”. While using the conventional wording

Bahá’u’lláh approached the matter on two levels. In relation to God He devoted vast numbers

of Tablets to conveying the truth that God is not only neither male nor female, but is far above

all human understanding. If you study deeply the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh that portray both the

transcendence and immanence of God you will find that the entire question of sex in this

context falls into total insignificance.

 

On the human level, the Bahá’í Teachings stress again and again the equality of men and

women. They do not ignore the differences between the sexes, but repeatedly emphasize their

equality. This is a universal concept, irrespective of the language in which it is expressed.

Regarding the pronouns which refer to the Deity, in Arabic there is a distinction between

the masculine and feminine; however, the Persian language does not make such a distinction in

pronouns between the sexes. As you have noted in your letter, the style of translation into

 

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English was set by Shoghi Effendi. In respect to the Sacred Writings, the originals clearly

cannot be changed, and the House of Justice does not feel it appropriate to change Shoghi

Effendi’s usage of certain nouns in his translations. The Guardian did not even approve the

changing of pronouns in Bahá’í prayers when they are read. Therefore, no deviation in

translation from the actual meaning of the words, to accommodate the general trend of thought

and behavior affecting a language, is permissible, unless, of course, the equivalent of the

original word does not exist in a given language.

 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “...in His estimate there is no question of sex.” “In the estimation of

God there is no gender.”

 

The challenge, therefore, is to accept the use of pronouns in their generic sense, which

will lead one to view the matter in terms of a spiritual response, rather than one of semantics.

 

The principle of the equality of men and women, which is firmly established by

Bahá’u’lláh and forms one of the basic tenets of our Faith, will be fully realized as the human

race matures in its understanding of the significance of His Revelation. Equality will be

achieved as a direct result of the transformations the believers make in their attitudes toward

this fundamental issue, and despite the exigencies of the languages in which the revealed Words

have been received and translated.

(24 October 1996, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [8]

 

In response to your email of 21 August 1998 requesting guidance concerning the use of

“gender-sensitive language” for use in your “discussions with potential authors and in the

editing of their work”, we are able to provide the following comments.

 

The Universal House of Justice has previously stated in response to a similar query that

the use of “gender inclusive language” is one of the many contemporary issues which challenge

Bahá’í publications to adapt editorial policies to the ever-changing public perceptions without

compromising the fundamental Bahá’í principles and concepts involved. It is the responsibility

of authors and editors to acquaint themselves with the various points of view on the subject

current among the readership which they are addressing, together with the prevailing modes of

expression. These factors will exercise an influence on Bahá’í editorial policy, but must do so

within the context of the Teachings.

 

Clearly, the Scriptures of the Faith, as revealed by the Founders and interpreted by

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian, impose their own requirements on Bahá’í authors and editors

alike. On the one hand, an editorial board will quite properly be concerned to take into account

the preferences and convictions common to the great majority of the intended readers of its

publication. On the other, Bahá’í authors must be left entirely free to discuss the Revelation of

Bahá’u’lláh in its own terms and language as set out in the Bahá’í Scriptures themselves and in

their authorized interpretations, irrespective of current fashions in academic and other public

discourse.

 

It is not surprising that the struggle to achieve such a balance during an era of

unprecedented social and intellectual turmoil is very challenging to Bahá’í publishers.

Inevitably, there will be certain segments of the public who will object in some degree to

 

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whatever resolution is arrived at in any given case, but this should not unduly distress either

Bahá’í authors or Bahá’í editors.

(16 September 1998, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a

Bahá’í Publisher) [9]

 

The Universal House of Justice has received your email message of 17 September 1999

requesting guidance on the question of gender as it relates to the Deity and the use of gender

specific pronouns when referring to God.

 

When considering the manner in which masculine pronouns are used to refer to God, it is

important to bear in mind that when Bahá’u’lláh was revealing His Scriptures He had to use

language and forms of expression which could be understood by those whom He was

addressing. This is the case with every Prophet; He is compelled to use old forms through

which He will raise humanity to a new level of understanding. In Arabic and Persian, as in

English and most European languages, it has been customary to refer to God as “Lord” and

“Father”, rather than “Lady” and “Mother”. While using the conventional wording,

Bahá’u’lláh devoted vast numbers of Tablets to conveying the truth that God is not only neither

male nor female, but also is far above all human understanding. If one studies deeply the

Writings of Bahá’u’lláh that portray both the transcendence and immanence of God it becomes

clear that the entire subject of sex in this context is essentially irrelevant….

 

The style of translation into English was set by Shoghi Effendi, and in respect to the

Sacred Writings the originals clearly cannot be changed. The Guardian did not even approve

the changing of pronouns in Bahá’í prayers when they are read. Therefore, when translating the

Sacred Writings it is not possible to alter the actual meaning of the words to accommodate the

general trend of thought and behavior affecting a language.

 

The challenge, therefore, is to accept the use of pronouns in their generic rather than

gender sense, which will lead one to view issues in terms of a spiritual response, rather than one

of semantics. The Bahá’í Teachings stress again and again the equality of men and women.

They do not ignore the differences between the sexes, but repeatedly emphasize their equality.

This is a universal principle of the Faith, irrespective of the language in which it is expressed.

(7 October 1999, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a

National Spiritual Assembly) [10]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITERARY STYLE—TRANSLATION

 

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 

Regarding the translation of the Books and Tablets of the Blessed Beauty, ere long will translations be made into every tongue, with power, clarity and grace. At such time as they are translated, conformably to the originals, and with power and grace of style, the splendours of their inner meanings will be shed abroad, and will illumine the eyes of all mankind. Do thy very best to ensure that the translation is in conformity with the original.

(“Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, number 31.13)

 

From the writings of Shoghi Effendi and letters written on his behalf

 

This is one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language however inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author of the Bahá’í Revelation. The hope is that it may assist others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal—a befitting rendering of Bahá’u’lláh’s matchless utterance.

(Shoghi Effendi, Foreword to “The Kitáb-i-Iqán” (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing

Trust, 1985)

 

It must have been very distasteful to you to read some of the off-hand and ungrammatical translations that more out of necessity than choice won circulation and were even published. Furthermore, it was always the expressed wish and desire of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to have proper and adequate translations that would not only convey the true spirit of the original but also possess some literary merit. And for this he emphasized the necessity of a board of translators. Such a board it has unfortunately been impossible to form as yet.

(28 March 1926 to an individual believer)

 

Shoghi Effendi hopes that before long we will obtain a group of competent English and Persian scholars who would devote their whole time and energy to the translation of the Words and bring out things that are really deserving. For whatever we have at present, even the very best, is only a mediocre rendering of the Persian or Arabic beauty of style and fertility of language that we find in the original.

(4 July 1929 to an individual believer)

 

Shoghi Effendi wishes me also to express his deep-felt appreciation of your intention to study the Qur’án. The knowledge of this revealed holy Book is, indeed, indispensable to every Bahá’í who wishes to adequately understand the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. And in view of that the Guardian has been invariably encouraging the friends to make as thorough a study of this Book as possible, particularly in their Summer Schools. Sale’s translation is the most scholarly we have, but Rodwell’s version is more literary, and hence easier for reading.

(23 November 1934 to an individual believer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-2-

 

He feels the highest literary standard possible should be maintained in any future translations of Bahá’í writings into Spanish, and for this reason he heartily welcomes the suggestion to refer such work to Spanish professors....

(14 December 1938 to an individual believer)

 

There is no objection to using, in translations of the Master’s words, a uniform style such as “he does” or “he doeth”. It certainly creates a ridiculous impression to use both. One or the other may be chosen.

 

In Persian it is impolite not to use the word “FaGrat” before the name of the Prophet, so that strictly speaking a proper translation should always have “His Holiness Moses” etc.;

however, as this seems peculiar in English, and not in the best usage of our language, he feels it can be dispensed with. Pronouns referring to the Manifestation, or the Master, should, however, invariably be capitalized.

(8 November 1948 to a National Spiritual Assembly)

 

Shoghi Effendi himself uses the King James version of the Bible, both because it is an authoritative one and in beautiful English.

(28 October 1949 to an individual believer)

 

He is interested in accomplishing two things—he would like in the European languages to have as much uniformity with the English translations as possible; he does not wish the Bahá’í translations to be in any way a flagrant violation of the rules of the language into which our literature is being translated.

 

Your Committee must conscientiously study this question, and then do the best you can to have the Bahá’í literature in French meet the high standards of the French language and grammar.

 

If the possessive and demonstrative adjectives and pronouns in French are never

capitalized where they stand for “God”, then this should not be done in the Bahá’í literature. If there is a precedent for doing so in the French language, however, they should be. The same is true of the attributes of God.

(15 February 1957 to the National Translation and Publication Committee

of France)

 

From letters written by the Universal House of Justice

 

We realise that translation is a very difficult task and that however good a translation is

there are always differences of opinion, both as to accuracy and style. However, in translating

Bahá’í Scripture it is important to remember that the style in the original is an exalted one and this aspect should not be lost when it is translated into other languages. It can be noted, for example, that when the beloved Guardian was making his translations into English he used a style that is far from being that of modern English usage but is admirably suited to the richness and imagery of the original.

(12 August 1973 to a National Spiritual Assembly)

 

 

 

 

-3-

 

A translation should of course be as true as possible to the original while being in the best possible style of the language into which it is being translated. However, you should realize that it will not be possible to translate the Tablets adequately into easy, modern Dutch. Many of the original Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are written in very exalted and poetic Persian and Arabic and therefore a similar flavour should be attempted in the language into which it is translated. You will see, for example, that in translating the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh into English the beloved Guardian has created a very beautiful and poetic style in English using many words which might be considered archaic and are reminiscent of the English used by the translators of the King James version of the Bible.

 

As you point out, a literal translation is often a bad one because it can produce a

phraseology or imagery that would convey the wrong impression, thus a translator is at times

compelled to convey the meaning of the original by means of a form of words suited to the

language. However, a person translating the Bahá’í Writings must always bear in mind that he or she is dealing with the Word of God, and, when striving to convey the meaning of the

original, he should exert his utmost to make his rendering both faithful and befitting.

(29 October 1973 to an individual believer)

 

From letters written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice

 

Those who are entrusted with the task of translating the Sacred Writings from the original into English should study the original very closely, and then attempt to express as accurately and as beautifully as possible in English that which the original conveys. To do this they frequently have to use various different synonyms in English to give the best translation of the same Arabic or Persian word when it appears in different contexts. Conversely, they may have to use the same English word in different contexts to translate various different words in the original. In doing this they attempt to follow the example set by Shoghi Effendi in his magnificent translations.

(31 May 1981 to a National Translation and Revision Committee of a National

Spiritual Assembly)

 

Translation is a very difficult art—an art in which absolute perfection is unattainable. However good a translation, there will always be those who would have preferred it otherwise, for taste, which is undefinable, plays such a large part in such judgements.

(20 September 1982 to an individual believer)

 

From memoranda prepared by the Research Department at the instruction of the Universal

House of Justice

 

The question of which style of Swedish should be used for the translation of Bahá’í

Writings is one that, we feel, must be decided by the National Assembly of Sweden after

considering the views of those who are expert both in translation and in Swedish literary style. While it is not obligatory for them to follow the practice that the beloved Guardian adopted in English, it would be useful for them to bear in mind certain aspects of the problem which have been solved in English by Shoghi Effendi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-4-

 

The originals of the Bahá’í Writings are not only in three different languages (Arabic,

Persian and a few in Turkish), which have very different characteristics, but are also in a

number of different styles. Some are highly poetic and metaphorical, others more precise and

specific. In English-speaking countries, as in most others, religion and spirituality are in a

phase of eclipse; therefore the vocabulary used to convey many profound religious concepts has fallen into disuse. To attempt to express the highly poetic and allusive terminology of the

Bahá’í Writings in plain, modern English would either be banal or would make the passages

sound very strange and foreign. The Guardian’s use of a style of English that is slightly archaic, a style in which there is an abundance of spiritual and poetic terminology, acts as a bridge between the English of today and the style of the Persian and Arabic Writings of the Founders of the Faith.

(1 July 1985 to the House of Justice from the Research Department for the

Swedish Publishing Trust)

 

Those devoted believers who are currently engaged in translation work have a difficult task, for the originals of the Bahá’í Writings are not only in three different languages (Arabic, Persian, and a few in Turkish) but are also composed in a number of different styles. Some are highly poetic and metaphorical, others more precise and specific. The translators must study the original closely in order to attempt an accurate and beautiful rendition in English suitable for the style and language of the original text.

(27 May 1987 to an individual believer)

 

From “The Priceless Pearl”

 

THE WRITINGS OF THE GUARDIAN

 

In an age when people play football with words, kicking them right and left

indiscriminately with no respect for either their meaning or correct usage, the style of Shoghi

Effendi stands out in dazzling beauty. His joy in words was one of his strongest personal

characteristics, whether he wrote in English—the language he had given his heart to—or in the mixture of Persian and Arabic he used in his general letters to the East. Although he was so simple in his personal tastes he had an innate love of richness which is manifest in the way he arranged and decorated various Bahá’í Holy Places, in the style of the Shrine of the Báb, in his preferences in architecture, and in his choice and combination of words. Of him it could be said, in the words of another great writer, Macaulay, that “he wrote in language ... precise and luminous.” Unlike so many people Shoghi Effendi wrote what he meant and meant exactly what he wrote. It is impossible to eliminate any word from one of his sentences without sacrificing part of the meaning, so concise, so pithy is his style....

 

The language in which Shoghi Effendi wrote, whether for the Bahá’ís of the West or of the East, has set a standard which should effectively prevent them from descending to the level of illiterate literates which often so sadly characterizes the present generation as far as the use and appreciation of words are concerned. He never compromised with the ignorance of his readers but expected them, in their thirst for knowledge, to overcome their ignorance. Shoghi Effendi chose, to the best of his great ability, the right vehicle for his thought and it made no difference to him whether the average person was going to know the word he used or not. After all, what one does not know one can find out. Although he had such a brilliant command of language he frequently reinforced his knowledge by certainty through looking up the word he

 

 

 

-5-

 

planned to use in Webster’s big dictionary. Often one of my functions was to hand it to him and it was a weighty tome indeed! Not infrequently his choice would be the third or fourth usage of the word, sometimes bordering on the archaic, but it was the exact word that conveyed his meaning and so he used it. I remember my mother once saying that to become a Bahá’í was like entering a university, only one never finished learning, never graduated. In his translations of the Bahá’í writings, and above all in his own compositions, Shoghi Effendi set a standard that educates and raises the cultural level of the reader at the same time that it feeds his mind and soul with thoughts and truth....

 

The supreme importance of Shoghi Effendi’s English translations and communications can never be sufficiently stressed because of his function as sole and authoritative interpreter of the Sacred Writings, appointed as such by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. There are many instances when, owing to the looseness of construction in Persian sentences, there could be an ambiguity in the mind of the reader regarding the meaning. Careful and correct English, not lending itself to ambiguity in the first place, became, when coupled with Shoghi Effendi’s brilliant mind and his power as interpreter of the Holy Word, what we might well call the crystallizing vehicle of the teachings. Often by referring to Shoghi Effendi’s translation into English the original meaning of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá becomes clear and is thus safeguarded against misinterpretation in the future. He was meticulous in translating and made absolutely sure that the words he was using in English conveyed and did not depart from the original thought or the original words. One would have to have a mastery of Persian and Arabic to correctly understand what he did....

 

The Guardian was exceedingly cautious in everything that concerned the original Word and would never explain or comment on a text submitted to him in English (when it was not his own translation) until he had verified it with the original.

(Rúhíyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969),

pp. 196–204)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Difficult Art of Translation—Selected Extracts

From Letters Written By and On Behalf of the Universal House of Justice

Concerning the Translations of Shoghi Effendi

 

The matter of translation is a major problem. As you yourself know only too well, to

convey exactly the meaning and flavour of a passage from one language to another is often

impossible and one can but labour to approach as near as possible to the unattainable perfection.

Even our beloved Guardian, whose skill in this art amounted to genius, characterized his

translation of the “Kitáb-i-Iqán” as “one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language

however inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the Author

of the Bahá’í Revelation” and he expressed the hope “that it may assist others in their efforts to

approach what must always be regarded as the unattainable goal—a befitting rendering of

Bahá’u’lláh’s matchless utterance.”

 

The difficulty of translation increases when two languages express the thoughts and

metaphors of widely differing cultures; thus, it is infinitely more difficult for a European to

conceive the thought patterns expressed in Arabic or Persian than to understand a passage

written in English. Moreover, the beloved Guardian was not only a translator but the inspired

Interpreter of the Holy Writings; thus, where a passage in Persian or Arabic could give rise to

two different expressions in English he would know which one to convey. Similarly he would

be much better equipped than an average translator to know which metaphor to employ in

English to express a Persian metaphor which might be meaningless in literal translation.

 

Thus, in general, speakers of other European tongues will obtain a more accurate

translation by following the Guardian’s English translation than by attempting at this stage in

Bahá’í history to translate directly from the original.

 

This does not mean, however, that the translators should not also check their translations

with the original texts if they are familiar with Persian or Arabic. There may be many instances

where the exact meaning of the English text is unclear to them and this can be made evident by

comparison with the original….

 

We also feel that it is still premature to decide upon the question of the International

Auxiliary Language. It is quite clear from the Texts that any living or invented language may

be chosen, but the time and manner of its choosing and propagation are not yet decided.

(8 December 1964, from a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [1]

 

A translation should of course be as true as possible to the original while being in the best

possible style of the language into which it is being translated. However, you should realize

that it will not be possible to translate the Tablets adequately into easy, modern Dutch. Many of

the original Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are written in very exalted and poetic

Persian and Arabic and therefore a similar flavour should be attempted in the language into

which it is translated. You will see, for example, that in translating the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh

into English the beloved Guardian has created a very beautiful and poetic style in English using

many words which might be considered archaic and are reminiscent of the English used by the

translators of the King James version of the Bible.

 

 

 

 

 

The Difficult Art of Translation – Selected Extracts…                               25 July 2002

Page 2

 

As you point out, a literal translation is often a bad one because it can produce a

phraseology of imagery that would convey the wrong impression; thus, a translator is at times

compelled to convey the meaning of the original by means of a form of words suited to the

language. However, a person translating the Bahá’í Writings must always bear in mind that he

or she is dealing with the Word of God, and, when striving to convey the meaning of the

original, he should exert his utmost to make his rendering both faithful and befitting.

(29 October 1973, from a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [2]

 

Translation is, indeed, a very difficult art, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has explained that, ideally,

all translations of the Sacred Texts should be made by competent committees, rather than by

individuals. At the present time, unfortunately, there is seldom in any country a large enough

number of sufficiently skilled persons who can be called upon to constitute such committees,

and the institutions of the Faith have to rely on the services of such individuals as they can find

with adequate time and skill to undertake the arduous work of translation.

 

The Writings of the Faith are not in the nature of scientific treatises. One must remember

that the Manifestation of God is using the inadequate instrument of human language to convey

truths and guidance which can raise mankind high above its present level of development and

understanding. He makes extensive use, therefore, of metaphor and simile, and often

approaches a subject from several different points of view so that its various facets and

implications can be better understood. It would not be possible, therefore, to compile a list of

meanings for specific symbols, expressions and words, since they may vary in their implication

from passage to passage.

 

The translation of a passage can seldom be an entirely faithful rendering of the original—

one just has to strive to make it as faithful and befitting as possible. At the present time many

of the translations of the Writings fall far below the desirable standard, especially in those

languages spoken by a relatively small number of Bahá’ís, but time and an increase in the

number of Bahá’ís who have a profound understanding of the Teachings as well as an

exemplary command of the languages concerned will enable new and improved translations to

be produced. For the time being we must do what we can with what we have.

(8 September 1985, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual) [3]

 

With regard to your question about the style of English used in the translation of Bahá’í

prayers, we are asked to point out that finding an adequate style in English for expressing

beautifully the poetic, metaphorical and allusive style of many of the Bahá’í Scriptures is not

easy. The Persian and Arabic of the Bahá’í Writings are themselves considerably different from

the current styles and usages in those languages. Shoghi Effendi’s solution of using a slightly

archaic form of English, which is somewhat equivalent to the use in the original languages,

makes possible the use of images and metaphors that might seem strange if expressed in

modern English.

 

Furthermore, styles of writing are changing comparatively rapidly. If it were already

found necessary to use a style different from that used for translations fifty years ago, one can

estimate that a further change would be called for fifty years hence. One merely has to consider

the large number of new translations of the Bible that have appeared, and are still appearing,

and yet many English-speaking Christians prefer to continue using the Authorized Version in

 

The Difficult Art of Translation – Selected Extracts…                               25 July 2002

Page 3

 

spite of its proven inaccuracies. Holy Scriptures have a profound meaning for their readers, and

to change the familiar words too often can be gravely disturbing.

 

Books of Scripture themselves mould the language in which they are written. The House

of Justice believes that if translators strive to render the words of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and

‘Abdu’l-Bahá into English in a way that reproduces as accurately as possible the meaning of the

originals, that is as beautiful as possible, and that harmonizes closely with the style used by

Shoghi Effendi, these Writings themselves will have a far-reaching effect on the ability of

Bahá’ís, and especially Bahá’í children and youth, to use the English language effectively for

thought and for expression.

(3 February 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [4]

 

It must be remembered that Shoghi Effendi’s translations carry with them a large measure of interpretation of the intent and purpose of the Author of the text he set about to translate—an interpretation which he, as Interpreter of the Sacred Text, could alone authoritatively provide.

(27 February 1989, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a

National Spiritual Assembly) [5]

 

You ask whether the translations of Shoghi Effendi should be considered as the

“standard” and whether, because of his function as infallible interpreter, the

Guardian’s translations provide “the true interpretation of the Writings”. We are

asked to call attention to the Introduction to “The Kitáb-i-Aqdas” where the

Universal House of Justice describes the essential qualities of the Guardian’s

translations and the fact that they “are illumined by his uniquely inspired

understanding of the purport and implications of the originals”.

(15 December 1994, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individualbeliever) [6]

 

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter dated 9 August 1999 in which

you seek to know how soon will the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh be published in “the common

language of standard English to facilitate teaching”. We have been asked to respond as follows.

 

The House of Justice appreciates your desire to make the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

accessible to your relatives and others who may dismiss them as illogical because of the style in

which they are written. Nevertheless, to attempt to express the highly poetic, metaphorical and

allusive terminology of the Bahá’í Writings in plain, modern English would either be banal or

would render many of the passages strange and foreign. The Guardian’s use of a style of

English that is slightly archaic, a style in which there is an abundance of spiritual and poetic

terminology, acts as a bridge between the English of today and the style of the Persian and

Arabic Writings of the Founders of our Faith.

 

In comparing the translation of the Bible with that of Bahá’í Texts, you may realize that

the Hebrew of the Old Testament is far more blunt and straightforward than the Persian and

Arabic of the Bahá’í Writings. Additionally, the koine Greek of most of the New Testament is

the everyday speech of that time. The challenges posed to translators of the Bahá’í Writings are

much more exacting than those that confront translators of the Bible. It is therefore not

advisable to use one kind of translation as a standard for the other.

The Difficult Art of Translation – Selected Extracts…                               25 July 2002

Page 4

 

Finally, although it is not possible to translate the Writings in a manner that brings them

in conformity with the standards of common English, you may be confident that if the hearts of

those to whom you present the Writings are ready, the style of the Sacred Texts will not stand as

a barrier to their understanding and accepting the teachings.

(2 September 1999, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an

individual believer) [7]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Importance of and Guidance on Translating

the Bahá’í Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages

 

 

 

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 

Regarding the translation of the Books and Tablets of the Blessed Beauty, erelong will

translations be made into every tongue, with power, clarity and grace. At such time as they are

translated, conformably to the originals, and with power and grace of style, the splendours of

their inner meanings will be shed abroad, and will illumine the eyes of all mankind. Do thy

very best to ensure that the translation is in conformity with the original.

(“Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, number 31.13) [1]

 

From Letters written by the Universal House of Justice

 

It is, of course, permissible to translate Bahá’í writings into other languages and dialects

of languages. It is also possible to simplify or paraphrase the Bahá’í writings in order to

facilitate their translation into languages and dialects having small vocabularies. However, it is

not permissible to publish simplifications and paraphrases of Bahá’í writings as Bahá’í

Scripture.

(13 March 1969 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [2]

 

With the exception of certain oriental languages such as Turkish, Arabic and Urdu, which

are related to the original Persian or Arabic, new translations of the Sacred Text into languages

other than English must be made from the Guardian’s English translation where it exists. When

there is no translation into English by Shoghi Effendi of a particular passage, the National

Spiritual Assembly concerned should seek the advice of the Universal House of Justice. When

translations already exist, which are not made from the Guardian’s English text, but have been

published and approved, they may be used.

(28 March 1971 to all National Spiritual Assemblies) [3]

 

The point is well taken that it would unduly delay fundamental Bahá’i teachings being

published in a number of languages if we were to await the availability of Bahá’is competent to

make the translations. Summaries, commentaries and simple re-statements of the Guardian’s

writings, provided the text itself is not attributed to the Guardian, are to be encouraged.

(13 August 1972 to the Hands of the Cause of God in the Holy Land) [4]

 

We realise that translation is a very difficult task and that however good a translation is

there are always differences of opinion, both as to accuracy and style. However, in translating

Bahá’í Scripture it is important to remember that the style in the original is an exalted one and

this aspect should not be lost when it is translated into other languages. It can be noted, for

example, that when the beloved Guardian was making his translations into English he used a

style that is far from being that of modern English usage but is admirably suited to the richness

and imagery of the original.

(12 August 1973 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [5]

 

We have noticed a tendency in a number of countries to attempt to translate Bahá’í

literature into the current, easy, everyday language of the country. This, however, should not be

 

 

Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í

Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages                                                      Page 2

 

an overriding consideration. Many of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are in

exalted and highly poetic language in the original Persian and Arabic and you will see, for

example, that when translating Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings into English the beloved Guardian did

not use present-day colloquial English but evolved a highly poetic and beautiful style, using

numbers of archaic expressions reminiscent of the translations of the Bible.

(7 October 1973 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [6]

 

As to Counsellor …’s question in his letter of January 22, it may be pointed out to him that the translation and recording of some of the Holy Writings into native dialects not only helps the teaching work and pays honour to the native languages, but also provides the way to achieve an objective established by the Master and the beloved Guardian. Both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi

Effendi often encouraged the friends to memorize passages from the Writings and such a

practice acquires added importance in areas where there is a shortage of printed literature or a

high degree of illiteracy. Consequently, availability of passages from the Holy Writings in

native dialects is an important aspect of a successful deepening programme.

(19 February 1975 memorandum to the International Teaching Centre) [7]

 

From Letters written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice

 

In most languages each word has a range of meanings and also a penumbra of connotations. Certain of these overlap, giving rise to synonyms which are interchangeable in some contexts but not in others. It is seldom that there is an exact correspondence between the range of meanings and connotations of a word in one language and those of its nearest equivalent in another language. This lack of correspondence is particularly evident between the words of languages used in widely separate parts of the world or in verydifferent cultures.

 

The House of Justice feels, therefore, that to construct a rigid list of Dutch words which

are always used to translate certain other English words would not only be unnecessary but

definitely misleading. As the beloved Guardian pointed out, the word “Bahá” signifies at once

the “Glory”, the “Splendour” and the “Light” of God; there is no single word in English

which can express all these. Thus, as you have noted, it is translated as “Glory” in the use

“Bahá’u’lláh”, while in the list of the months, where “Jalál”, the second month, is translated

“Glory”, “Bahá” is translated “Splendour”. All translations are, to some degree, inadequate.

 

Those who are entrusted with the task of translating the Sacred Writings from the original

into English should study the original very closely, and then attempt to express as accurately

and as beautifully as possible in English that which the original conveys. To do this they

frequently have to use various different synonyms in English to give the best translation of the

same Arabic or Persian word when it appears in different contexts. Conversely, they may have

to use the same English word in different contexts to translate various different words in the

original. In doing this they attempt to follow the example set by Shoghi Effendi in his

magnificent translations.

 

The House of Justice suggests that, although your committee should, of course, follow

the instruction of the Guardian to make your translations into Dutch from the English

translations rather than from the original Persian or Arabic, you may find it helpful to consult

Persian believers who are well-versed in Dutch and who could check with the original Texts for

 

 

Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í

Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages                                                      Page 3

 

 

you. This could help you to make the correct choice of word in Dutch when the English

wording seems ambiguous.

(31 May 1981 to a National Translation and Revision Committee) [8]

 

Translation is, indeed, a very difficult art, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has explained that, ideally,

all translations of the Sacred Texts should be made by competent committees, rather than by

individuals. At the present time, unfortunately, there is seldom in any country a large enough

number of sufficiently skilled persons who can be called upon to constitute such committees,

and the institutions of the Faith have to rely on the services of such individuals as they can find

with adequate time and skill to undertake the arduous work of translation.

 

The Writings of the Faith are not in the nature of scientific treatises. One must remember

that the Manifestation of God is using the inadequate instrument of human language to convey

truths and guidance which can raise mankind high above its present level of development and

understanding. He makes extensive use, therefore, of metaphor and simile, and often

approaches a subject from several different points of view so that its various facets and

implications can be better understood. It would not be possible, therefore, to compile a list of

meanings for specific symbols, expressions and words, since they may vary in their implication

from passage to passage.

 

The translation of a passage can seldom be an entirely faithful rendering of the original—

one just has to strive to make it as faithful and befitting as possible. At the present time many

of the translations of the Writings fall far below the desirable standard, especially in those

languages spoken by a relatively small number of Bahá’ís, but time and an increase in the

number of Bahá’ís who have a profound understanding of the Teachings as well as an

exemplary command of the languages concerned will enable new and improved translations

to be produced. For the time being we must do what we can with what we have.

(8 September 1985 to an individual) [9]

 

With regard to your question about the style of English used in the translation of Bahá’í

prayers, we are asked to point out that finding an adequate style in English for expressing

beautifully the poetic, metaphorical and allusive style of many of the Bahá’í Scriptures is not

easy. The Persian and Arabic of the Bahá’í Writings are themselves considerably different from

the current styles and usages in those languages. Shoghi Effendi’s solution of using a slightly

archaic form of English, which is somewhat equivalent to the use in the original languages,

makes possible the use of images and metaphors that might seem strange if expressed in

modern English….

 

Books of Scripture themselves mould the language in which they are written. The House

of Justice believes that if translators strive to render the words of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and

‘Abdu’l-Bahá into English in a way that reproduces as accurately as possible the meaning of the

originals, that is as beautiful as possible, and that harmonizes closely with the style used by

 

 

 

 

 

 

Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í

Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages                                                      Page 4

 

Shoghi Effendi, these Writings themselves will have a far-reaching effect on the ability of

Bahá’ís, and especially Bahá’í children and youth, to use the English language effectively for

thought and for expression.

(3 February 1988 to an individual) [10]

 

Of course the most fundamental requirement for the attainment of a good translation is

the availability of a translator who has not only a thorough understanding of the original

language, but also is able to write in clear and beautiful French, so that he can re-express in

French not only the true meaning of the original, but can clothe it in language which

appropriately reproduces in the French idiom the beauty of style of the original. While a literal

translation is almost inevitably a bad translation, the translator must guard against departing

from or adding to the meaning of the original even though he may have to use a phrase to

translate a word, or reduce a phrase in the original to one word in the French, or recast the order

of a sentence, or replace a metaphor which would be meaningless if translated literally by an

equivalent one which conveys the same meaning. In translating Shoghi Effendi’s writings in

particular you may find that many of his long sentences, which are perfectly clear in English,

are impossible in French and must be divided into shorter ones.

 

If there is no French-speaking Bahá’í with the requisite command of both English and

French, or if such friends are over-burdened, you may most certainly employ non-Bahá’í

translators. Here, however, you may face another problem, that of the translator’s

understanding of the Bahá’í teachings which underlie the words. It would be essential for you

to have such translations carefully checked by knowledgeable Bahá’ís, who can raise with the

translator any passages which they feel convey the wrong meaning.

 

When you are having any of the Sacred Texts translated on the basis of authorized

English translations, you should involve in the work one or more Bahá’ís who are fluent in

French and are also familiar with the original Arabic or Persian. Thus, when the translator finds

he is unable to grasp the exact meaning of the English words, his understanding can be

illuminated by reference to the original texts.

(2 December 1988 to a Bahá’í Publishing Trust) [11]

 

Translation is indeed a difficult issue, and it is for this reason that the official version of

the messages and letters of the Universal House of Justice are sent in the original English. Any

translation offered is unofficial and simply intended as an assistance to those who might wish to

avail themselves of it, and National Spiritual Assemblies are free to make their own translation

in accordance with local language needs. This also applies to the statement on Bahá’u’lláh

which the House of Justice requested you to translate into Chinese.

(7 August 1991 to an individual) [12]

 

You ask what is the purpose and wisdom of the translation of the Bahá’í Writings, and

what is the philosophy behind it.

 

As you know, one of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith is for a single language to be

adopted as the universal auxiliary language of mankind, to be taught in the schools of all the

nations. When that time comes, the need for so many translations will be greatly reduced, since

there will be one common medium of communication for all who dwell on earth. Alas,

however, it will take some time yet for the governments of the world to adopt such a farreaching

and fundamental measure.

Importance of and Guidance on Translating the Bahá’í

Writings into Indigenous and Other Languages                                                      Page 5

 

In the meantime it is essential for the Bahá’ís to convey the Word of God to all the

peoples of the world, as quickly and as completely as possible. For this, translation is essential.

The Writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are, as you know, in Arabic and Persian, as are those

of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Who also wrote some Tablets in Turkish. Shoghi Effendi, for his part, wrote

many of his most important works in English. To expect the Japanese Bahá’ís to learn Arabic,

Persian and English sufficiently well to really understand the Bahá’í literature in those three

tongues would be too great a demand. Fortunately, there is already a wealth of the Arabic and

Persian Writings translated into English, but even if the friends’ command of English is

sufficiently good for them to fully comprehend such Writings, there is an important emotional

and psychological advantage to their being able to read the Word of God in their own mothertongue. Thus we engage in translating the Writings into even tribal languages which have quite a small number of native speakers.

(14 December 1992 to an individual) [13]

 

Your letter of 9 May concerning the translation of Bahá’í literature into Georgian has

been received and we have been instructed to reply as follows.

You have asked whether Bahá’í literature should be translated from English or Russian.

In principle, the desirable course is to translate from English, as the English translations have

been made by the Guardian or authorized by the Bahá’í World Centre. If this is not practical at

the moment, then provisional translations can be made from Russian until such time as proper

translations from English can be prepared. Such a solution is far better than waiting and being

without Bahá’í literature in the native tongue of your region.

(23 May 1995 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [14]

 

Equally important is the right of the members of indigenous populations to learn, speak,

write and communicate in their native tongue, if they so wish, in addition to the official

language of the country in which they reside, for language is the expression of the spirit of a

people and the vehicle of its cohesive and inspiring traditions. Facility in one’s native language

in addition to the official language of one’s country can produce an enrichment of the heritage

of the entire people and can act as a stabilizing influence in society, while the cultural

oppression which seeks to obliterate minority languages can have a deracinating and

demoralizing effect that will be very difficult to correct. Furthermore, Bahá’ís advocate the

development or adoption of an international auxiliary language by which all the peoples of all

countries and cultural backgrounds will be able to communicate.

(25 July 1995 to an individual) [15]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

Bahá’í World Centre • P.O. Box 155 • 31 001 Haifa, Israel

Tel: 972 (4) 835 8358 • Fax: 972 (4) 835 8280 • Email: secretariat@bwc.org

 

 

15 August 2002

 

 

Transmitted by email: nsonger@sc.rr.com

Mrs. Nancy Branham Songer

U.S.A.

 

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

 

The Universal House of Justice has received your email dated 28 July 2002, and

referred it to our Department for response. In answer to your request for materials on universal

auxiliary language and universal language, we are providing for your use two documents which

address these general concepts, namely, an extract from a Research Department memorandum

dated 7 July 1994, and its attachment entitled “The Principle of an International Auxiliary

Language”. You may also find of interest the enclosed documents “International Auxiliary

Language”, providing references to this topic in the Bahá’í writings, and “Bahá’í World Centre

Library: A Partial Bibliography of Published Works on an Auxiliary Language”, which lists

some papers by Bahá’ís on this subject.

 

Regarding your request for guidance on translating the Bahá’í Writings, we trust that the

Research Department’s memorandum dated 25 July 2002, and its accompanying enclosures,

which were previously sent to you by email, will provide ample information on this topic.

 

You have asked that email attachments be sent to you in a form other than

Portable Document Format (PDF), such as Microsoft Word format. As it is the practice for

communications from the Bahá’í World Centre to be sent in only two formats, namely, plain

text (ASCII) and PDF, we regret that we are unable to provide electronic copies of the above

documents in any other form.

 

We hope that you will be able to glean adequate information from these materials to assist you in your endeavors to make a presentation at the upcoming Association for Bahá’í Studies conference.

 

 

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

 

 

Enclosures

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extract from a Research Department memorandum dated 7 July 1994

 

 

 

The Research Department has studied the questions concerning an international auxiliary

language raised by.... He expresses the view that there is an urgent need for the world to adopt

an international auxiliary language and for the Bahá’ís to be in the forefront of helping to make

this a reality. He indicates a willingness to spend time researching and promoting this

undertaking, and to this end, he raises a number of issues about the nature of such a language,

its promotion and its relationship to the Lesser Peace....

 

 

1.         An International Auxiliary Language

 

We attach a compilation of extracts entitled “The Principle of an International Auxiliary

Language” which addresses, in broad terms, the issues raised by Mr. ... and which serves as the

basis for the comments which follow. There are, of course, many other references in the

published Writings and in the talks given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His travels in the West, many

of which were collected in Paris Talks and The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Additional

talks on this subject can be found in a number of the volumes of Star of the West, for example:

 

volume III, no. 3, pp. 23-24

volume III, no. 19, p. 5

volume IV, no. 2, pp. 34-37

 

In addition, there is a chapter on the universal language in Payám-i-Malakút, a compilation

prepared by Mr. Ishráq-Khávarí. Some of the Persian friends living in ... would, undoubtedly,

have a copy of this book.

 

1.1 Degree of Priority?

 

With regard to the role of the Bahá’ís in promoting an international auxiliary language,

Mr. ... enquires about the degree of priority that the believers should give to this activity at this

point in time. We call attention to the following points, gleaned from the attached compilation:

 

- Shoghi Effendi underlines the importance of an international auxiliary language. In a

letter dated 24 April 1939, written on his behalf, he refers to it as “an indispensable

element in the upbuilding of the coming New World Order”.

 

- The Guardian summarizes the “whole question of an international language and its

relation to the Faith” in the following extract from a letter dated 17 October 1944, written

on his behalf to an individual believer:

 

We, as Bahá’ís, are very anxious to see a universal auxiliary tongue adopted as soon as possible; we are not the protagonists of any one language to fill this post. If the Governments of the world should agree on an existing language, or a constructed, new tongue, to be used internationally, we would heartily support it because we desire to see this step in the unification of the human race take place as soon as possible.

 

 

 

- The Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 2 June 1982 written on its behalf

indicated that “the important thing now ... is for the Bahá’ís to promote the principle” of

an international auxiliary language. It invited individual believers, who have “a particular

interest in this subject” and who feel so inclined, to study Esperanto.

 

- With regard to overall priorities, in a letter dated 2 March 1976 written on its behalf, the

Universal House of Justice stressed the importance of “teaching the Cause and winning

the goals of the ... Plan”.

 

1.2 The Nature of an International Auxiliary Language

 

Mr. ... enquires whether the Universal House of Justice sees the immediate need for

creating or adopting a complex language, suited to “the exchange of ideas and the advancement

of understanding at scientific, technological, commercial, literary and translation levels,” or the

development of “truly a universal ‘second language’” that would enable people “to

communicate on a merely social level”. We wish to note that, in the first instance, the

governments of the world will select the international auxiliary language. See section 1.3

below for a discussion of the timing of the adoption of an international language.

 

In a more general sense, Mr . ...’s question impinges on the subject of the nature of an

international auxiliary language. Though the extracts contained in the attached compilation

deal mostly with Esperanto, they appear to shed some light on the potential complexity of and

the functions which such a language might be expected to serve. For example:

 

- Shoghi Effendi, in letters written on his behalf, appears to have regarded Esperanto as

a vehicle for “introducing the Teachings into important social and intellectual circles”

(28 May 1937). He called upon the believers “to learn it and to translate Bahá’í literature

into it” (17 October 1944), and he recognized its value in fostering “unity and

understanding” (5 April 1947).

 

- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá envisaged the development of a language “more complete” than Esperanto,as it existed at that time. The Guardian indicated that the international language of thefuture was to serve as “an international medium of communication” (26 December 1936), as “a medium of exchange between the nations and peoples of the world” (4 June 1937). And, the Universal House of Justice indicated that it would “be used in all international commerce” (8 June 1980).

 

The following two extracts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi ... are also of

interest as they were responses to questions from individuals about the suitability of specific

languages to serve as an auxiliary language. The final sentence of the first excerpt appears to

contain a general principle to guide the selection of an international language:

 

He was interested in your efforts to make the English language, which undoubtedly

is the most generally spoken and widely understood, the world’s auxiliary language, and

we must wait and see how other European nations receive it. Of course as you had well

put it, the mere existence of prejudice is no ar gument against the possibility of making an existing language universal. The world must try to overcome its many defects and not

reinforce it. Perhaps the main consideration in future will be the specific qualities of a

language as being exact, rich and easy to learn for both East and West.

(18 May 1928 to an individual believer)

 

Regarding your question of “Basic English’s” usefulness as an international

language: He is not very familiar with it, as he is too preoccupied with the tremendous

amount of work he has to do here. But what little he has read about it makes him doubt

whether it would ever be adequate to meet the requirements of an auxiliary tongue.

(30 June 1944 to an individual believer)

 

 

1.3 Relationship to the Lesser Peace

 

 

Mr. ... asks whether the adoption of an international auxiliary language will be one of “the most important steps that needs to be taken to bring about the Lesser Peace” or whether it will be adopted “as a result of the process of establishing such a political peace”. Before addressing this issue it is important to consider the way in which the international auxiliary language will be adopted. In a letter dated 8 June 1980 written on its behalf to an individual believer ... the Universal House of Justice calls attention to two stages in this process:

 

...there are two different provisions in the Sacred Texts for the selection of an

International Auxiliary Language. On the one hand, this task is given to the governments

of the world, on the other it is given to the House of Justice. It is not possible now to

foresee exactly how this will come about, but it would seem reasonable to suppose that,

long before the Bahá’í community is large enough or can exercise the authority to

produce such a world-embracing change, events will compel the governments, either

progressively or all in concert, to select an International Auxiliary Language to be taught

as a second language in all schools and to be used in all international commerce. At a

much later stage, possibly at the time of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth, the Universal

House of Justice may well decide to review the situation and either confirm the decision

that the governments had made, or change the choice to a more suitable language.

 

As to whether the adoption of an international auxiliary language is a prerequisite to the

Lesser Peace, the Research Department has not been able to locate any clear statement in the

Bahá’í Writings that relates specifically to this question. It is, however, interesting to note that

the Universal House of Justice in the Peace Statement identifies a “fundamental lack of

communication between peoples” as a factor which “seriously undermines efforts towards

world peace”. And the House of Justice indicates that the adoption of an international auxiliary

language “would go far to resolving this problem and necessitates the most urgent attention”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE

 

 

The difficulties of international communication in a polyglot world are strikingly evident

to any Bahá’í who has gone travel teaching to foreign lands or has attended international

conferences. The Universal House of Justice feels that for it to choose any language for the

Bahá’ís to use as an international auxiliary language would give rise to greater difficulties than

would thereby be solved at the present time. The friends, however, remembering that this is

one of the very important principles of the Faith, would do well to support the concept

whenever possible, and to pray that the time is not far removed when the governments of the

nations will adopt a single language to be taught in all the schools of the world as an auxiliary

to the pupils’ mother-tongue. This compilation has been prepared at the World Centre of the

Faith, on instruction of the Universal House of Justice, to assist the friends everywhere to arrive

at a greater understanding of this principle, to which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed Himself in a

number of His talks in the West.

 

From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 

Thou hast written regarding the language of Esperanto. This language will be spread and

universalized to a certain degree, but later on a language more complete than this, or the same

language will undergo some changes and alterations and will be adopted and become universal.

I hope that Dr. Zamenhof may become assisted by the invisible confirmation and do a great

service to the world of humanity.

(Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá 'Abbás, vol. 3 (Chicago: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1930

printing), p. 692)                                                                                                [1]

 

As to the Esperantists, associate with them. Whenever you find one with capacity,

convey to him the fragrances of Life.... It is evident that the Esperantists are receptive and thou

art familiar with and expert in their language. Communicate also with the Esperantists of

Germany and other places.... Grieve not over the apathy and coldness of the Hague meeting.

Put thy trust in God. Our hope is that among the people the Esperanto language may hereafter

have a powerful effect. Thou hast now sown the seed. Assuredly it will grow. Its growth

dependeth upon God.

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1982),

sec. 228, p. 308)                                                                                           [2]

 

From letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi

 

What Bahá’u’lláh says is that the Supreme House of Justice will appoint a committee that will

study the whole matter and then either choose one of the existing languages or create a new

one, to function as an international language. The Master never went beyond that, i.e. He never

tried to solve the problem Himself and choose that language. He still leaves it to the Supreme

House of Justice. But He says that Esperanto will spread and even went so far as to encourage

all the friends who possibly can to study it. In fact the knowledge of Esperanto has proven very

useful for one who tries to teach in different countries of the world. But whether Esperanto will

become the international language which is to be a part of our religious and social duties to

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE Page 2

 

 

study, no one knows, and we have no evidence that the Master made any definite statement

along that line. The Master has scarcely ever assumed the solution of a problem that

Bahá’u’lláh has referred to the Supreme House of Justice. Esperanto may become an

international language, but it depends upon the House of Justice to choose it as the international

language. And no one is in a position to foretell.

(30 August 1928 to an individual believer)                                                           [3]

 

As to your suggestion regarding a more widespread use of Esperanto among the Bahá’ís

as a medium of correspondence, Shoghi Effendi, as you know, has been invariably encouraging

the believers, both in the East and in the West, to make an intensive study of that language, and

to consider it as an important medium for the spread of the Cause in international circles. He

has been specially urging the friends to have the Cause well represented in all Esperanto

Congresses and associations, and by this means cultivate greater friendship and co-operation

between them and the Esperantists.

 

But in this connection, he feels, he must make it clear that although the Cause views with

much sympathy and appreciation the activities which the Esperantists are increasingly initiating

for the spread of their language, yet it considers that the adoption of Esperanto by the entire

world is by no means an inevitable fact. Neither Bahá’u’lláh, nor even ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ever

stated that Esperanto will be the international auxiliary language. The Master simply expressed

the hope that it may, provided certain conditions were fulfilled, develop into such a medium.

(3 August 1935 to an individual believer)                                                           [4]

 

Concerning your study of Esperanto: the Guardian does not feel it advisable that you get

too busy introducing any changes in that language, as this is not only a type of activity for

which you are not qualified, but is also void of any use or advantage as far as your Bahá’í work

is concerned, in view of the fact that it is by no means certain that Esperanto will necessarily

develop into the world auxiliary language referred to by Bahá’u’lláh in His writings.

(17 April 1936 to an individual believer)                                                           [5]

 

Regarding the teaching of Esperanto: the Guardian thoroughly appreciates the efforts you

are exerting for the spread of this language, and fully realizes that through them you can find

many openings for teaching the Cause. He wishes me, however, to bring to your attention the

fact that neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did specifically state that Esperanto would

certainly become the international auxiliary language of the future. Neither did they enjoin its

teaching upon the believers. What ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chiefly did was to highly praise it, and to

reveal its possibilities. The teaching of Esperanto is, therefore, not a command or an obligation

in the sense that praying is for instance. What is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh is either the creation

of a new language, or the adoption of one of the existing languages for use as an international

medium of communication. Let us hope that Esperanto may some day develop into such a

medium.

(26 December 1936 to an individual believer)                                                           [6]

 

As to your question as to what constitutes indirect teaching: it essentially consists in

presenting some of the humanitarian or social teachings of the Cause which are shared by those

whom we are teaching, as a means of attracting them to those aspects of the Faith which are

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE Page 3

 

more challenging in character, and are specifically and solely Bahá’í. The teaching of

Esperanto, for instance, has been a very useful way of presenting the Cause indirectly to many

people. It has opened many doors of contact for the believers, and has lately proved to be of

tremendous help in introducing the Teachings into important social and intellectual circles.

(28 May 1937 to an individual believer)                                                                       [7]

 

Regarding the subject of Esperanto: it should be made clear to the believers that while

the teaching of that language has been repeatedly encouraged by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá there is no

reference either from Him or from Bahá’u’lláh that can make us believe that it will necessarily

develop into the international auxiliary language of the future. Bahá’u’lláh has specified in His

Writings that such a language will have either to be chosen from one of the existing languages,

or an entirely new one should be created to serve as a medium of exchange between the nations

and peoples of the world. Pending this final choice, the Bahá’ís are advised to study Esperanto

only in consideration of the fact that the learning of this language can considerably facilitate

intercommunication between individuals, groups and Assemblies throughout the Bahá’í world

in the present stage of the evolution of the Faith.

(4 June 1937 to a National Spiritual Assembly)                                                        [8]

 

One thing, however, the Guardian feels the believers should be very careful to avoid in all such contacts with the Esperantists: namely that of giving them the impression that they

consider Esperanto as necessarily constituting that international auxiliary language of the future

referred to by Bahá’u’lláh and stressed by Him as an indispensable element in the upbuilding of

the coming New World Order.

 

To give them such a false conception of the true Bahá’í attitude regarding the choice of

the future world international language would not only be an act of dishonesty and disloyalty

towards the Cause, but would lead to serious misunderstandings and misapprehensions, and

eventually result in counteracting the effect of any temporary gains or advantages which may

accrue to the Faith through such association and contacts with the Esperantists.

 

It is not so much that language as the central idea it embodies and inculcates which the

Bahá’ís endorse, and only through keeping firm to such an attitude can they hope to establish

any fruitful and enduring contacts with various Esperanto groups and associations throughout

the world.

(24 April 1939 to an individual believer)                                                                       [9]

 

He feels that this is a very important opportunity which you have now obtained of

teaching the Faith to the Eskimo people, and he hopes your efforts will be crowned with

success.

 

He would not advise you to teach them Esperanto, as we have no way of knowing

whether it will ultimately be chosen as the auxiliary language of the world. He thinks the most

direct and quickest way of communicating with them in a common tongue should be chosen; in

other words either you should learn their language or they yours, whichever will yield the

quickest results.

(12 December 1942 to an individual believer)                                                           [10]

 

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE Page 4

 

 

We have no authentic record of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s in which He states that Esperanto will be

the universal language of the future. It may be Esperanto, it may be some other language, we

do not know; but as we believe so firmly in the necessity of an international language, we are

always eager to co-operate with the Esperantists.

 

The thing of primary importance at present, especially in America, is the teaching of the

Cause. With good will and determination an auxiliary language—especially one of the nature

of Esperanto—can easily, and relatively quickly, be learned; whereas the Cause requires that

people change not only certain ideas but their very characters and habits, and this is much

harder to do and often takes a long time!

(25 January 1943 to an individual believer)                                                           [11]

 

Regarding the whole question of an international language and its relation to the Faith:

We, as Bahá’ís, are very anxious to see a universal auxiliary tongue adopted as soon as

possible; we are not the protagonists of any one language to fill this post. If the Governments

of the world should agree on an existing language, or a constructed, new tongue, to be used

internationally, we would heartily support it because we desire to see this step in the unification

of the human race take place as soon as possible.

 

Esperanto has been in wide use, more so than any similar language, all over the world,

and the Bahá’ís have been encouraged by both the Master and the Guardian to learn it and to

translate Bahá’í literature into it. We cannot be sure it will be the chosen international language

of the future; but as it is the one which has spread most, both East and West, we should

certainly continue to co-operate with its members, learn to speak it and translate Bahá’í

literature into it.

 

He feels you can rest assured that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement, made in Paris, was prompted by His insight and wisdom and not due to the opinions of anyone else.

Naturally the money of the Cause should not be spent on translating and publishing

literature in international languages that have no following worth mentioning!

(17 October 1944 to an individual believer)                                                           [12]

 

He feels that the subject of the Bahá’í work in Esperanto in Germany is a matter for you

to take up with the National Spiritual Assembly; we Bahá’ís do not claim Esperanto will be the

auxiliary language of the future—but, as we firmly believe in the necessity of an auxiliary

language, we are glad to support this work by publishing books in Esperanto and encouraging

the Bahá’ís to learn it, if they wish to. Co-operation with this society is an excellent means of

spreading the Cause, as Martha Root demonstrated in her travels. However, all details in this

matter must be decided by the National Spiritual Assembly. You can contact Bahá’í

Esperantists in England and the U.S.A. through their respective National Spiritual Assemblies.

(29 July 1946 to an individual believer)                                                                       [13]

 

Regarding your question about the Esperantists: for many years they have been one of

our closest contacts in Europe, and many of them have become believers. They are working for

one of our greatest principles, and we certainly should associate with them. In Germany the

 

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE Page 5

 

 

Bahá’ís published an Esperanto magazine, and Martha Root represented the Cause at Esperanto

congresses. We cannot say we are sure this language will be the international one, but we are

anxious to see it spread as it fosters unity and understanding. By all means foster your contact

with them. Whether Esperanto will be chosen as the international language or not we cannot

say, but we can say we hope it will spread because it nearly fulfils such a noble purpose.

(5 April 1947 to an individual believer)                                                                       [14]

 

He was also very pleased to see the contact with the Esperantists is being maintained.

This friendly co-operation with them, and attendance at their Congresses, is very good, and will

no doubt bring the Bahá’í Cause to many of their members’ attention. Also, he hopes, it will

lead to many of them becoming Bahá’ís in the future.

(24 March 1949 to an individual believer)                                                           [15]

 

 

From letters written by or on behalf of the Universal House of Justice

 

Your letter of 9 ‘AImat, 128 expressing your feeling that the endorsement by the

Universal House of Justice of an international auxiliary language for Bahá’í conventions would

not prejudice any future World Government in its choice of world-wide tongue for official use,

and that Esperanto is widely used by clerical, businessmen’s and scientific conventions, has

been received.

 

Regarding your first comment, inasmuch as Bahá’u’lláh has said that the Supreme House

of Justice will appoint a committee that will study the whole matter and then either choose one

of the existing languages or create a new one to function as an international language, when

such a choice shall have been made the action will automatically constitute an endorsement of

the chosen auxiliary language.

 

With reference to Esperanto, we share with you an excerpt from a letter written on behalf

of the beloved Guardian by his secretary to an individual in 1937:

 

The interest which the Bahá’ís have and should have in this language is essentially

because of the vital significance of the idea it represents rather than the belief in its

inherent worth as a suitable and adequate international medium of expression.

 

The Bahá’ís indeed welcome Esperanto as the first experiment of its kind in

modern times. They are in full sympathy with the Esperantists in so far as they stress the

absolute necessity for the creation of an international language to be studied by all the

peoples of the world in addition to their respective national languages.

 

As to the most propitious time for the choosing of an international auxiliary language, we

feel that it is not feasible for the House of Justice to make the choice at this time.

(8 June 1971 to an individual believer)                                                                       [16]

 

We have consulted about your joint proposal for the formation of a League of Bahá’í

Esperantists, a “Bahá’í Esperantista Ligo” (BEL), and have sought the advice of the Hand of

the Cause Adelbert Mühlschlegel because of his long interest in Esperanto as an approach to

overcoming the language obstacles which confront the world. He is enthusiastic. And we

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE  Page 6

 

concur that such a League would be helpful to the Faith as well as providing a useful channel

for teaching Esperantists the world over.

 

1. You are free to name the League as you have suggested. The significance of the

initials is a happy sign.

 

2. Responsibility for the League will be exercised by the National Spiritual Assembly of

the country in which the secretariat is established. You have suggested that, at the outset, the

secretariat of the new League might be in Brazil, under Professor Paul Amorim Cardoso as

Secretary. In that case the National Spiritual Assembly of Brazil will assume jurisdiction of the

League in whatever ways may be required during Professor Cardoso’s tenure.

 

3. Whenever there are Esperantist events, congresses and the like, in various lands, the

National Assemblies of those countries should be informed of the prospective Bahá’í

participation, their permission requested and their instructions followed with respect to any

Bahá’í activities at the congresses. For example, for the forthcoming Universala Esperanto-

Kongreso in Belgrade, you should seek the advice and follow the guidance of the National

Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Austria, which has jurisdiction over Bahá’í activities in

Yugoslavia, as well as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

 

4. You may, of course, publish whatever literature in Esperanto the League will be able to

afford, remembering that each publication must be reviewed and approved by the National

Spiritual Assembly in whose area it is to be published. Such an Assembly may well, of course,

use members of the League to review the translations. We ourselves shall bear in mind the need

for increased literature in Esperanto, but the needs for literature in so many languages is

pressing and we cannot hold out hope of providing any considerable amount of financial

assistance at this time.

 

5. A request for special messages by National Assemblies or by the Universal House of

Justice may be made by the League as a part of its function of dissemination of the name and

principles of the Faith.

 

Your zeal on behalf of Esperanto as a functional international language will, we feel, be

well rewarded by the entry into the Faith of many of your Esperantist associates who will thus

take the step from universality in language to the greater universalities of one religion and one

mankind. We assure you of our prayers for your labors on behalf of our matchless Cause.

(19 March 1973 to a group of Bahá’í Esperantists)                                         [17]

 

As English and Persian are the two official languages of the Universal House of Justice

we regret that we cannot write to you in Esperanto but we will be glad to enclose an Esperanto

translation of our letter for you in view of the fact that you do not understand English well. We

hope that it will be possible for Mr. Habibullah Taherzadeh to make such translations if his time

allows.

 

With regard to the enquiry in your letter of 11 Jalál, our understanding of the aim of the

Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo when we agreed to its formation was that it was to be an official nonneutral department of the Universal Esperanto Association comprising those Esperantists who

are also Bahá’ís with the aim of encouraging collaboration among such friends and promoting

the Bahá’í teachings among their fellow Esperantists.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE  Page 7

 

 

While individual Bahá’í Esperantists are, of course, free to encourage their fellow Bahá’ís to study Esperanto this should not be an activity of the Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo and it should be borne in mind that whereas it is clear that the Bahá’í Faith upholds the principle of an

international auxiliary language no decision as to which language this shall be has yet been

made.

(10 May 1974 to the Secretary of the Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo)                                     [18]

 

Further to our letter to you of 2 December 1974, and with reference to your question on

the world language, the Universal House of Justice has asked us to draw your attention to the

statement of Bahá’u’lláh in the Eighth Leaf of the Exalted Paradise (see Bahá’í World Faith, p.

182): “We have formerly declared that speech was decreed to be in two languages, and that

there should be an effort to reduce it into one.”

 

When the beloved Guardian was asked by an individual believer about the meaning of

this passage, his secretary gave the following reply on his behalf:

 

What Bahá’u’lláh is referring to in the Eighth Leaf of the Exalted Paradise is a far

distant time, when the world is really one country, and one language would be a sensible

possibility. It does not contradict His instructions as to the need immediately for an

auxiliary language.

(29 December 1974 to a National Spiritual Assembly)                                [19]

 

The House of Justice instructs us to say in reply to Mr. ...’s letter to the Local Spiritual

Assembly of ... that he should be advised that the time has not yet come for the Universal

House of Justice to take any such step as he suggests. There is no doubt of the vital importance

of the establishment of a universal language and it will inevitably come about but the believers

have more urgent matters to attend to at the present and are asked to concentrate on teaching the

Cause and winning the goals of the Five Year Plan.

(2 March 1976 to a National Spiritual Assembly)                                            [20]

 

The House of Justice realizes that you must sometimes be faced with somewhat

embarrassing situations in relation to your fellow-Esperantists since, as Bahá’ís, you are fully

aware that, for all its undoubted qualities, Esperanto may well not be the international language

that is ultimately chosen, and that it is the concept of an international language that the Bahá’ís

are enthusiastic in supporting rather than any particular solution to the problem.

 

The Guardian’s advice that Bahá’ís must be entirely open about this matter in relation to

Esperantists so as to avoid serious misunderstandings and misapprehensions in the future will

no doubt be of great assistance to you in your work and enable you to forge ahead with full

enthusiasm without, in any way, appearing to sail under false colors.

(6 October 1976 to the Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo)                                                            [21]

 

You are quite correct in stating that there are two different provisions in the Sacred Texts

for the selection of an International Auxiliary Language. On the one hand, this task is given to

the governments of the world, on the other it is given to the House of Justice. It is not possible

 

 

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF AN INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE   Page 8

 

now to foresee exactly how this will come about, but it would seem reasonable to suppose that,

long before the Bahá’í community is large enough or can exercise the authority to produce such

a world-embracing change, events will compel the governments, either progressively or all in

concert, to select an International Auxiliary Language to be taught as a second language in all

schools and to be used in all international commerce. At a much later stage, possibly at the time

of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth, the Universal House of Justice may well decide to review

the situation and either confirm the decision that the governments had made, or change the

choice to a more suitable language.

 

Of course, conditions may produce a development very different from the one just

outlined. One of the characteristics of Bahá’í Administration is its flexibility which enables it

to deal with unforeseen developments and continually changing conditions. The one certain

thing about the choice of an International Auxiliary Language is that the Universal House of

Justice does not judge the present time propitious for it to take any action in this regard.

(8 June 1980 to an individual believer)                                                                       [22]

 

It is not yet timely for the House of Justice to make a pronouncement in favour of any particular

language—the important thing now, in this particular field, is for Bahá’ís to promote the

principle. Learning Esperanto, or one of the other proposed auxiliary languages, brings one

into touch with people all over the world who are conscious of the need, who are internationally

minded, and who may well be attracted to the Faith. Therefore, if you have a particular interest

in this subject and an inclination to study Esperanto, you should feel no inhibitions about doing

so.

(2 June 1982 to an individual believer) [23]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTERNATIONAL AUXILIARY LANGUAGE

 

 

 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talks on this subject are found as follows:

 

Paris Talks                                                        pp. 155–157

Promulgation of Universal Peace

(1982 ed.)                               60–61, 182, 232–233, 300,

      318, 434–435

 

Star of the West

 

Vol. III, no. 3, pp. 23-24                                  Message to the Esperantists, 25 April 1912

   Also vol. XI, no. 18, p. 304

Vol. III, no. 19, p. 5                                           Report of comments made to the president

   of the Esperantists of England

Vol. IV, no. 2, pp. 34–36                                  Address delivered in Edinburgh on

   7 January 1913

Vol. IV, no. 2, pp. 36–37                                  Address delivered in Paris on

   12 February 1912

 

The following references are to be found in other Bahá’í Writings:

 

Gleanings (U.S. ed.)                                          pp. 249–250

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf                                                 138

Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh                                                       22, 68, 89, 127, 165–166

Bahá’í World Faith                                               288

Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. III                               596

God Passes By                                                       211, 218

World Order of Bahá’u’lláh                                     203

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bahá'í WORLD CENTRE LIBRARY

  A PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF PUBLISHED WORKS

  ON AN AUXILIARY LANGUAGE                                                    3 September 1991

 

 

Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo. Ask a question, get an answer, about the world inter-language

Esperanto. —[Rotterdam, Netherlands] : Bahaa Esperanto Ligo, [1988]—[3] leaves.

 

Conference on Language in Religion (1987 : Paramus, N.J.) Language in religion / papers from

a conference sponsored by the Center for Research and Documentation on World Language

Problems (Rotterdam and New York) ; edited by Humphrey Tonkin and Allison Keef. —New

York : Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems, 1988—[2], 141

leaves.

 

Dale, John. Unity and a universal language : world means to world peace / by John Dale.—

Ceará Brazilo : Eldono de Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo, 1976—30 p.

 

Dale, John. Unueco kaj universala lingvo : mondrimedoj al monpaco / de John Dale ; trduko

de Roan Orloff Stone. —Ceará, Brazil : Eldono de la Bahaa Esperanto-Ligo, 1976—29 p.

[Unity and a universal language. Esperanto]

 

Davidson, John A. World peace through world language / by John A. Davidson. --In: Bahá’í

Studies Conference (6th : Brisbane, Qld.). Proceedings of the Bahá’í Studies Conference,

1987 : [Willeton, W.A.] : The Association for Bahá’í Studies (Australian Committee), 1987—

153 p.

 

Esperanto language and the Bahá’í Faith / compiled by Habib’u’llah Zabihian. —Espoo,

Finland : [Zabihian], 1983—3 leaves.

 

Esslemont, Peter. Wanted, universal language : the story of Esperanto.

-- In: Outlook, the voice of the Brotherhood Movement, (Apr. 1956), pp. 3–4.

 

Esslemont, Peter. Zamenhof and Esperanto / by Peter Esslemont. --Sandgate, U.K. : Edmund

Ward Pub. Ltd., [between 1945 and 1960]—[16] p.

 

Gaskell, R.F. The International auxiliary language situation / by R.F. Gaskell.—In: Bahá’í

Studies Conference (5th : Yerrinbool, N.S.W.). Proceedings of the Bahá’í Studies Conference,

1986 : [Willeton, W.A.] : The Association for Bahá’í Studies (Australian Committee),

[1987]—122 p.

 

Heller, Wendy, 1949-. Universal language, a Bahá'í perspective / Wendy Heller. —[United

States : Heller, 1987]—10 leaves.

 

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Tonga. The Bahá'í viewpoint - a universal

language = Ko e vakai ‘a e tui Bahá'í : lea ‘e taha ma’a mamani. —Nuku’alofa : National

Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Tonga, [1988]—[2] p.

 

Pettersen, Arild. The Bahá'í Faith and universal language. —[Brooklyn, N.Y. : Pettersen],

1987—15 leaves.

 

 

Published Works on an Auxiliary Language

 

Semple, Ian, 1928-. An International auxiliary language / Ian Semple. –In : English today

(Cambridge, U.K.), no.9 (Jan. 1987), pp. 18–19.

 

Shahrokh, Roya June. Proposal for the Bahá’ís to initiate the process for the selection of the

international auxiliary language by the governments of the world / Ms. Roya June Shahrokh.

—Fair Oaks, Calif. : Shahrokh, 1989 --14, [2] p.

 

Symposium on Bahá’í Education (Birmingham, U.K.), 2nd. Trends in Bahá’í education :

proceedings of the second symposium on Bahá’í education, Birmingham 1989 / edited by

Hooshang Nikjoo. —London : Bahá’í Publishing Trust, c1990—vii, 238 p. ; 24 cm.

 

Witzel, Donald R. The Movement towards a universal auxiliary language,

1532-1977 / by Donald R. Witzel. —Maracaibo, Venezuela : Witzel, 1977 --i-ii, 46, iii-iv

leaves.

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