The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 370 languages

Another ten translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) may, for the second time, make it the most translated document in the world. With the addition of more versions in dialects of indigenous peoples from the Russian Federation, the total number of different language options now available for UDHR is 370.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in English - © OHCHR Photo“A decade ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) received a certificate from the Guinness Book of Records as the most translated document in the world. Back then, the UDHR was available in 298 languages and dialects, from Abkhaz to Zulu. Since then, the UN Human Rights office has received a constant flow of translations.

The ten ‘new entries’ are all found in Russia: Karelian, Nenets, Nganasan, Veps, Tuvan, Shor, Altay, Khakas, Yakutian and the Evenki language, which is also used in Mongolia and in the People’s Republic of China. They are spoken in different areas of the country but all share some historic elements.

The number of speakers of each of the dialects varies, ranging from Yakutian which has around 360,000 to Nganasan spoken by only 500 people. The origin of these languages is varied. Tuvan, Shor, Altay, Khakas and Yakutian are Turkic languages. Karelian, Nenets, Nganasan and Veps are Finno-Ugric dialects, and Evenki is a member of the Tungusic group.

The translation of the UDHR into the ten indigenous dialects was supported by the Human Rights Office. Dirk Hebecker, the Senior Human Rights Advisor in Moscow, says he believes that giving people the opportunity to read the UDHR in their language is an important support for endangered languages. As an example, Evenki, a Siberian dialect is now considered at risk. According to the last census in 2002, more than 90 percent of Evenki speakers were opting for Russian as their principal language.

As the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, on 10 December 2008, the UDHR is “a single short document of 30 articles that has probably had more impact on mankind than any other document in modern history.”

The UDHR is not only translated into languages used by millions. Mandarin Chinese has more than 885 million native speakers but the nearly extinct Pipil, a dialect spoken in El Salvador and Honduras in Central America, counted only 20 speakers in 1987. The UDHR was added to its literature in 1998.

Anyone can submit a new translation of the UDHR to the UN Human Rights office at any time. Rules for submission can be found on the following page: Submission Guide

7 December 2009