There are so many books in the world, in so many languages! Have you ever wondered how many? It is impossible to obtain an exact figure, and even if we could reach an accurate one, would we even be able to read everything on the list? To give you an idea, nearly 200,000 new books are published each year in the UK alone… and there are about 195 other countries in the world. Of course, not all of them publish as many books, but some speak many more languages than we do. India, for example, has 22 official languages! What does this have to do with anything, you may ask?
All the following are book titles in various languages: The Little Prince, Pikku Prinssi, An Prionsa Beag, O Mikros Pringkipas, A Kis Herceg, Den Lille Prins, Il Piccolo Principe, O Principezinho… But they are not just any book titles… They are the same book! Indeed, on top of the number of new original books published each year, you would need to add all the books translated into other languages. Thus, Le Petit Prince, the famous short story by French author Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, is among the most translated books ever and exists in close to 250 languages and dialects. In comparison, Harry Potter is a very small player, with “only” 64 translations. Can you guess which books have been translated into the most languages?
So, what is the most translated book ever? Any guesses? Let’s rephrase the question: which book was the first to be printed for mass distribution? Yes, the Bible is indisputably the most translated written text in the world and has been translated in its entirety in over 600 languages. Moreover, the New Testament alone exists in over 1,400 languages, and, if we add up all the various extracts and biblical stories ever translated somehow somewhere on the planet, there are passages of the Bible in over 3,000 languages. That’s half the languages on the planet!
Any guess which is number 2? The answer may surprise you. The accurate number of translations of a book is often difficult to assess, but it would seem that the most translated non-religious book is Le avventure di Pinocchio, or The Adventures of Pinocchio, written in 1881 by Italian journalist and writer Carlo Collodi. It is available in over 260 languages.
Number 3 is Le Petit Prince, of course.
What about number 4? Who said “Harry Potter” again? Shame on you! J. K. Rowling wasn’t even born when linguists and authors started translating Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which you can now read in over 170 languages.
As for number 5, the answer is unclear, but very close behind Alice are Andersen’s Fairy Tales (19th century, Denmark) and Twenty thousand leagues under the sea by Jules Vernes (1869, France), both with around 150 translations. They are closely followed by The Adventures of Asterix by Goscinny and Uderzo (1960s, France & Belgium), and The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé (20th century, Belgium), both accessible in around 110 languages.
So, hesitating what to read on the beach this summer? How about rediscovering your favourite book in another language? Wherever you are spending your holiday, if it’s on the list, you have a fair chance of finding it at the closest book shop!