“Latter-day”: time to reconsider some translations?

The requirement to use the official name of the Church is meeting with much willingness to comply. One of the challenges is the length of the words, in particular for online references. If that is the case in English, it is all the more so in many non-English languages.

What about the translation of latter-day? I recognize that this topic has certainly been discussed at length in the Translation Department and I assume the option taken has been to leave well-established translations, even if inaccurate, unchanged. However, as names of websites and twitter accounts and the like are now being reconsidered, and given the challenge of the length of words, perhaps this is a good time to also adjust and standardize the translation of latter-day in some languages?

The five syllables in “of Latter-day Saints” are rendered in many other languages by much longer expressions such as van de Heiligen der Laatste Dagen (Dutch), des Saints des Derniers Jours (French), a Sfintilor din Zilele din Urma (Romanian), de los Santos de los Últimos Días (Spanish), and more. All these mean literally of the Saints of the Last Days or of the Saints of the Ultimate Days. Each forms a group of consecutive prepositional phrases, also adding definite articles, while in English of latter-day Saints is just one short prepositional phrase with one adjective and one noun.

What does latter-day mean?

The OED — Oxford English Dictionary —, which is the most detailed historically, gives two meanings for the adjective latter-day:

1 – Belonging to the latter days; of or relating to the end of the world.

2 – Belonging to (more) recent times; modern. Frequently designating a person, event, etc., regarded as the contemporary equivalent of a historical counterpart.

Which of the two meanings would predominate in the revelation that gave the name of the Church? Joseph Smith’s time knew a fair amount of apocalyptic rhetoric but not to the extent that the prophet expected the end of the world to come any day. More pertinent seems the understanding of dispensations and restoration: the Saints believed they were entering a new period coming after the previous one and that work was to be done to preach the Gospel to the world and gather the elect to Zion, to be achieved over a longer period. Perhaps religious zeal made the two meanings overlap: this present period, “the contemporary equivalent of a historical counterpart”, was also the beginning of the end.

The American Webster of 1828 — of Joseph Smith’s time — gives these meanings for latter (no separate entry for latter-day):

  1. Coming or happening after something else; opposed to former; as the former and latter rain; former or latter harvest.
  2. Mentioned the last of two. The difference between reason and revelation – and in what sense the latter is superior.
  3. Modern; lately done or past; as in these latter ages.

It seems fair to conclude that for Joseph Smith and his contemporaries latter-day was basically a temporal indication for their own time, coming after a previous time. The  restoration of the Gospel implied that this previous time was Christ’s ministry on earth and the period of the Saints of the New Testament.

In that case, latter-day could best be translated in other languages as one single adjective with the meaning of present, contemporary, in case there is no perfect equivalent for latter-day. It seems that some of the early translators of the name of the Church in the nineteenth century did not fully comprehend the different meanings of latter-day, or that latter-day was a missing or ambiguous word in the native lexicon, or that they were influenced by the apocalyptic connotation in the religious realm and thus ended up with the last days.

Do more recently introduced languages in the Church reflect this understanding of latter-day as present, contemporary, recent, latter? As far as I can see, this would be the case with pastaryjy dieny (Lithuanian). Any others?

Would a standardization for all languages not be recommended at this time with a rendering as short or nearly as short as the English latter-day saints (which is still challenging for online referencing)? In Dutch, for example, “of Latter-day Saints” could be translated by “van Huidige Heiligen”. The adjective huidig (= present, contemporary) implies a contrast with a former period. In German it would be “von Heutige Heiligen”. 

Any comments or suggestions for other languages were we now have a group of consecutive prepositional phrases pointing to the last days?


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