A man writes on old paper with a quill next to books. Concept of English language translators.

4 Great Language Translators & their Famous Literary Translations

The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and many businesses translate English into other languages to communicate internationally. In fact, the languages translator market was valued at around $55 billion in 2022 and continues to expand. Currently, an estimated 330,000 translators worldwide help governments, businesses, and individuals translate language.

The Language Service Provider (LSP) industry is indeed a respected profession and a long-standing career choice. But the languages translator industry would never have scaled this rapidly were it not for the works of notable languages translators throughout history. It’s time to recognise these professional translators for their contributions to society.

Nowadays, there are numerous lists and rankings of the “Most Famous Translators of All Time” and “Top Translators in History” to be found online. However, we would like to honour a small sampling of our favourite historic translators from the past two millennia. Each English translator on this list is no longer living, but their legacies live on each time we read their translated words.


1. St Jerome: “The Patron Saint of Famous Language Translators”

  • Born: 347 CE
  • Died: 420 CE
  • Source Languages: Greek, Hebrew
  • Target Language: Latin
  • Famous Translation: The Vulgate (Catholic Bible)

The first languages translator on our list is St Jerome, famous for translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. His translation remained the official Catholic Bible for around 1000 years. It is down to him that we often see pictures of Moses with horns on his head. He used the Hebrew word “keren” as “grew horns” instead of “radiated light.” We all make mistakes, even saints!

Rather than translating word-for-word, St Jerome was the first translator to translate language “sense-for-sense.” This idea is still used by every good English translator today when they translate English. It helps text retain context and meaning rather than literally translating each word or phrase.

Thanks to St Jerome’s fantastic advance in the languages translator sector, enthusiasts worldwide celebrate International Translation Day on September 30th annually. This date marks the anniversary of his death in 420 CE and is also celebrated as the Feast of St Jerome.


2. Constance Garnett

  • Born: 1861
  • Died: 1946
  • Source Language: Russian
  • Target Language: English
  • Famous Authors Translated: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky

Constance Garnett is the only female languages translator on our list. As a well-educated British female, Garnett had a rare talent in the late 1800s. As a native English speaker, she studied Latin and Greek at university. Ironically, she didn’t become famous for translating text into her main languages. Instead, the English translator became renowned for her ability to translate English into Russian.

Today, Garnett is famous for translating over 70 volumes of Russian literature into English. Because of her work, significant Russian authors now have their work translated into English for readers worldwide. We are fortunate she continued her passion for years, not retiring from her translation career until she was 73.

Like St Jerome, her ability to accurately translate language was not perfect. If she were unclear of the meaning of a Russian word, or phrase, she would exclude it from what she would translate into English. Therefore, her translations were, and still are, controversial.


3. Jorge Luis Borges

  • Born: 1899
  • Died: 1986
  • Source Languages: English, Old English, French, German, Old Norse
  • Target Language: Spanish
  • Famous Authors Translated: Edgar Alan Poe, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, and many more

Jorge Luis Borges was a famous author and languages translator. From Argentina, this native Spanish speaker is a true polyglot and a well-respected linguistic master. He mainly translated works written in English into Spanish, which helped popularise many classics from literature, such as the works of those listed above.

Borges’ passion for converting text from one language to another began to translate language at a very young age. Impressively, he was only 9 years old when he was able to translate The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde from English to Spanish for a Buenos Aires newspaper. This made Borges perhaps the youngest English translator in history.

Although he did not have an advanced degree, he became a linguistic scholar, academic lecturer, and translator expert. Furthermore, he believed that translation is an art, not a science. Perhaps the industry can also thank Borges for the broadly recognised importance of localisation and transcreation, above and beyond being able to simply translate English to Spanish word-for-word.


4. Edward George Seidensticker

  • Born: 1921
  • Died: 2007
  • Source Languages: Japanese
  • Target Language: English
  • Famous Authors Translated: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Murasaki Shikibu

Seidensticker and his older brother were the only two in his Colorado high school class that went to university. In the 1940s, the US Naval Academy expanded its Japanese Language Training school and moved it from Berkeley to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Seidensticker was admitted to a 14-month intensive training program which taught him to translate language professionally.

By the end of the programme, Seidensticker was able to read a Japanese newspaper and soon learnt to translate English text from Japanese. He lived full-time in Japan from 1948 to 1962 before returning to the US to be a professor. Over his career, he was also able to translate many works into Japanese language and became an infamous languages translator.

Some of the most famous Japanese literary works translated into English included The Tale of Genji by Murasaki and Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. Kawabata was the first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. Many believe that the award would not have been received had it not been for the English translator.


Languages Translator Services You Can Trust

At Renaissance Translations, we are delighted to have the most talented languages translators in our network. We specialise in various areas of expertise to offer our clients a diverse breadth of services. We also offer over 120 languages. Whether you need an English translator to translate English or a linguist specialising in another language, we are here to help!

In fact, we are confident we can find a resource to meet any needs and demand you may have. We translate language accurately and professionally, ensuring you receive the high-quality work you deserve. Your partnership with Renaissance Translations also comes with professional memberships such as ATC, so you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands. Contact us today to learn more about our language translator service and make your content available in multiple languages.

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