Our society today believes that proper education includes understanding your own tongue. What that understanding entails is sometimes debated, as is exactly what makes up “proper English.” Of course, Brigham had his own ideas about what was “proper” for English; while well intentioned the Deseret Alphabet didn’t really work out all that well. But he was also a strong proponent of learning in general, and learning language specifically.
Even in Brigham Young’s day, the Church needed members who spoke other languages. By 1860, the Church was already teaching in at least 4 languages other than English, but missionaries often had to learn the language themselves somehow. Perhaps this was in the back of Brigham’s mind when he said the following:
by Brigham Young
See that your children are properly educated in the rudiments of their mother tongue, and then let them proceed to higher branches of learning; let them become more informed in every department of true and useful learning than their fathers are. When they have become well acquainted with their language, let them study other languages, and make themselves fully acquainted with the manners, customs, laws, governments, and literature of other nations, peoples, and tongues. …
Remarks by President Brigham Young,
made in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City,
March 4, 1860.
Today the Church provides the LDS.org website in 100 languages — and has at least some materials available in several more. We are also proud of the huge body of members who have learned (somewhat) another language while serving as missionaries. Unfortunately, post-mission, this capability is mostly wasted. Returned missionaries rarely use the knowledge they have gained either for the Church’s benefit or even for their own benefit (although recently the Church’s online volunteer center has started trying to harness some of this knowledge).
I hope I can be excused for stretching the boundaries of what might be called literary criticism today—this is one of those subjects near and dear to my heart. I am convinced that expanding the reach of the gospel requires not only building the Church, but also building local Mormon cultures that support the Church. And these local cultures will require additional material translated from English, beyond the basics provided in Church handbooks and lesson materials. Even some Mormon literature, I’m convinced, will need to be translated.
Many years ago I came across the following button for sale at a conference. I like to think that Bro. Brigham would agree.