International Translation Day
Where would we be without the benefits of translation services? Translation has a fascinating history and a huge impact on our lives today. On 30 September, we celebrate International Translation Day, as established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017. The UN chose this day because it is the feast day of Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translators. International Translation Day pays tribute to the work of translators, to recognise their impact on international cooperation and understanding, as well as their contribution to the development and strengthening of world peace and security. Each year International Translation Day is themed; 2022’s theme was ‘A World without Barriers: The Role of Language Professionals in Building Culture, Understanding and Lasting Peace’.
History of Translation
The translation of books has happened throughout history, all over the world. In many cases, the decision to translate a text has had significant outcomes and developments for society. The Toledo School of Translators was a group of scholars and translators in the city of Toledo in the 12th and 13th centuries. They translated hundreds of texts from classical Arabic into Latin, in subjects including philosophy, science, theology, and religious texts. Some scholars credit this translation movement as the foundation of scientific thinking and developments made during the Renaissance.
Some of the most famous early translations were of the Bible. St. Jerome was the original translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to Latin in the 4th century. Then, in the 1500s, Martin Luther translated the Bible from Greek and Latin into German. Furthermore, Martin Luther’s decision to translate the Bible was incredibly significant because it was a language that common people actually spoke. Previously, only those who understood Latin could read and understand the Bible; this was limited to members of the clergy and the highly educated. Luther’s translation work was the foundation of the Protestant movement.
Later, in 1799, the Rosetta Stone was discovered, which marked another huge milestone in the history of translation. It was a tablet made of rock, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in Egypt around 200 BC. The three languages were ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, a demotic script, and ancient Greek; Egyptian hieroglyphics had previously been thought to be a lost language, but having the three versions of the same text together enabled the translation of the hieroglyphics. After many years of study, translator Jean-François Champollion was able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1822.
Translation is an important part of spreading literature internationally. There are some famous translators who have received as much renown as some authors, for their ability to translate and bring beautiful literature to a new language and audience.
- Constance Garnett
Any reader who picks up an English translation of the works of Tolstoy, Chekov or Dostoyevsky is likely reading a translation completed by translator Constance Garnett. She was the first person to translate many works of Russian literature directly to English. A tireless worker, Garnett would finish the translation of a page and toss it on the floor, moving immediately to the next page. Many of the 71 volumes she translated between the 1890s and 1934 remain in print today. Her translation style captured the imagination of readers en masse, although she was far from flawless; some critiqued the amount of editorialising she undertook of the author’s unique voice.
- Gregory Rabassa
Could you imagine translating a book without having read it first? That is what translator Gregory Rabassa was sometimes known to do! He translated literature from Portuguese and Spanish to English. His work was in such high demand that author Gabriel García Márquez waited three years for Rabassa to begin to translate One Hundred Years of Solitude. Once completed, Gabriel García Márquez reportedly stated that the English translation was better than the original – high praise indeed!
- Mark Twain
Translation is often a word for word process, whereas localisation can make more changes to account for the context of the target language. Mark Twain once translated his own work to illustrate this. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” had been translated into French by a journalist critiquing the work. Twain took that translation and translated it back into English, laboriously and very literally. It ended up being difficult to read and nonsensical, illustrating why back-translation is hurtful to the intent of a text. He also published this back and forth in “The Jumping Frog: in English, then in French. Then, Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil.”
No article honouring International Translation Day would be complete without looking at the impact of translation. In fact, translators have influenced how we understand history. As illustrated above with the multilingual editions of important works, translating documents can inform our understanding of societies and cultures. It can also be pivotal for changing interpretations and opinions. Translation has always been important for communities to understand each other and communicate effectively.
In the words of author Edith Grossman: “Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”
As the world becomes a smaller place thanks to increased globalisation and improved technology, the need to be able to translate and share documents and materials across multiple languages continues to grow. Translation affects our ability to do business, grow charities, discover new things, and maintain international accord. Translation drives the creation of international agreements and policies and contributes to the dissemination of new and exciting ideas across the globe. The work of translators allows society to grow, not just financially or politically, but as people as well.
We celebrate too!
Every year, we also celebrate the International Translation Day. If you are a freelance translator, please visit our recruitment page and apply to work with us. If you are a business looking for a professional company to translate your website, reports or contracts, you’ve come to the right place. Your partnership with Renaissance Translations comes with professional memberships such as ATC and SDL LSP Partner Programme. Please contact our project managers to discuss your translation needs today.