Throughout the history of translations, it has played a vital role in almost every aspect of society. Since medieval times, translators were already of great help in the development of languages, shaping national identities and forming scholarships. Through the ages, translation and translators were there to help societies around the globe move forward.
History of Translations
Several translators in the past have been hailed for their work, due in part to the scarcity of translators and likewise because what they translated made a huge impact on religion, politics, education and other fields. One of the most famous was Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translators, who translated the Bible written in Hebrew and Greek into Latin, which became the official version of the Bible used by Catholics.
But in the 21st century, translators remained in the ‘background,’ silently doing what they do best – translating not only ordinary documents but literary works, speeches, critical documents, breakthrough inventions and discoveries, contracts, presentations, clinical trials, medical diagnoses, court cases and a lot more. In fact, translators are essential for culture, literature, science and knowledge. This could be a dilemma for some. Would you rather be famous and put additional pressure on yourself instead of concentrating on the work, or continue to be in the background and remain unrecognized?
The Western World regards the Bible translation from Hebrew to Greek as the first translation work of great importance. The translation is called the Septuagint, getting its name from the 70 individual translators who separately worked on the translation in the 3rd century BC. They were received by King Ptolemy II and given a feast before they were sent to a house in Pharos.
Each translator was confined in a cell or more probably a room in the house. Legend has it that despite working alone, each of the 70 translators came up with identical translations. And get this, they worked for 72 days to finish the translation! The translation was read in front of the king and queen. Each was given a considerable reward before they were sent home.
At that time, the Jews were dispersed in various places and they have forgotten their mother tongue, Hebrew. Because of this, they needed a new version of the Bible. The Septuagint version of the Bible was used later as the source material for translations into Georgian, Armenian, Coptic, Latin and several more languages.
While the translation of the Bible during the 3rd century was a major work, discussions about the work of human translators to bring across values among cultures were already done in the 2nd century BC during the time of Terence, a famous Roman playwright. He adapted several comedies into Roman from the original Greek works.
You’ll certainly admire the great minds of these translators because are definitely great thinkers as well. In the 3rd century, it is believed that the ‘sense for sense’ term was made up by St. Jerome. It was included in the Letter to Pammachius that he wrote. According to records, St. Jerome said that the translator should translate sensibly instead of word for word.
The same thought was echoed by Roman writer and philosopher, Cicero. He said that translation should not be ‘verbum pro verbo’ (word for word) in his work, “De Oratore” or “On the Orator.” For him, the translated words should not be counted in weight rather than in coins. Cicero, who was a Greek-Latin translator, said that the work of the translator was like an artist’s work.
Another famous translator from antiquity is the translator, scholar and Buddhist monk, Kumārajīva. He is famous for translating Buddhist texts in Sanskrit into Chinese in the 4th century. Among his translations, the most popular is ‘Diamond Sutra,” which belongs to East Asia’s Mahayana sutra. It is important in the study of Zen Buddhism and a devotional object. The translation greatly influences Buddhism in China due to its contextual rendering, making the translation straightforward. Would you believe that Kumārajīva’s translation remains the more popular? It’s because it is able to clearly deliver the meanings of the texts, which is far better than the more recent literal translations.
The medieval age
During the 5th century onwards, very few translations of works in the Latin language were available in common languages because Latin was the popular language. Alfred the Great, who was the king of England during the 9th century, commissioned the Latin to English translation of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius and Ecclesiastical History by Bede. The translations contributed to the development of English prose during the time of King Alfred the Great.
The foundations of the modern Spanish language was established with the help of a group of translators from the Escuela de Traductores de Toledo or the Toledo School of Translators in the 12th and 13th centuries. Several of them came from different parts of Europe to work on the translations of important medical, scientific, religious and philosophical works into Castilian and Latin from Hebrew, Greek and Arabic. During the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile in the 13th century, the translators from the school were tasked to translate works into Castilian, a revised form that led to the beginning of the Spanish language.
During the 13th century, Roger Bacon, an English linguist, determined that a translator must be fully knowledgeable in the source and target languages to be able to produce an accurate translation. At the same time, he already established that the translator should also be a subject matter expert. That’s how old the concept is.
In the 14th century, the first translation of the Bible from Latin to English was done by John Wycliffe. It was also during this century that Geoffrey Chaucer, an author, poet and translator, translated the works of Boethius from Latin into English and the French work, ‘Roman de la Rose’ into English. He also did many translations of works by Italian authors into English. In fact, he founded a tradition grounded on adaptations and translations of Italian and Latin literary works.
Late medieval to early Renaissance
Gemistus Pletho (Plethon), a Byzantine scholar from Constantinople went to Florence to reintroduced the philosophy of Plato. He influenced Cosimo de Medici into founding the Platonic Academy, which was headed by Marsilio Ficino, an Italian translator and scholar. The Platonic Academy translated all the works of Plato, Plotinus’ ‘Enneads’ and several other works into Latin. The works of Ficino and Erasmus of Rotterdam, who translated a new version of the Bible’s New Testament in Latin, helped develop translation work further, as readers demand more accuracy in the rendering of religions and philosophical works.
Another major translation work during the 15th century is the free adaptation and/or translation by Thomas Mallory of ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ that consists of the tales of King Arthur and the other characters such as the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere.
The rise of the West
The advancement in the printing process and the growth of the middle class during the 16th century further developed translation as the demand for new literary materials increased. This is the period when an English scholar named William Tyndale led a group to work on the initial Tudor translation of the New Testament in 1525. It was also the first time that the portion of the Bible was directly translated from Greek and Hebrew texts into English. After finishing the translation of the New Testament, Tyndale was able to translate half of the Old Testament before he was given a death penalty because he possessed an English version of the Scripture without a license. One of his assistants finished translating the Old Testament, which was mass produced later.
Theology professor Martin Luther produced a German translation of the Bible, and in the process claimed that only in the translator’s own language can one achieve a satisfactory translation. What he professed became the standard for two centuries and his translation of the Bible into German played a big hand in the contemporary German language’s development.
The Bible was likewise translated into Polish by Jakub Wujek in 1535. The English version of the Bible, known as King James Bible and the other translated versions had a long-lasting effect on the culture, language and religion of the countries where it was used. The critical differences in the translation of some of the passages and words in the Bible based on the translation somehow played a role in the division of Christianity in the West into Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
Several other translations of the Bible were done during the 16th century, making the Holy Book available in Slovene, Spanish, French and Dutch. Being one of the most translated and read books of the time, the Bible translations helped develop the modern languages in Europe.
Early Modern era
‘Don Quixote’ creator Cervantes commented that most of the translations during his time can be compared to looking at the reverse side of the Flemish tapestry, meaning you can still see the primary figures but they are obliterated by the loose woven threads.
English translator and poet, John Dryden tried to translate Virgil’s work in the way the Roman poet would write it if he was from England. However, he said it was not necessary to imitate the conciseness and subtlety of Virgil. It was an opposing view to what Alexander Pope, an English poet and translator, believed. Pope was known for the translation of Homer’s Iliad. He said that the translator does not have the license to alter the original, explaining that it is like drawing from life, where the features and alignments should not be changed.
At the latter half of this century, the ideals of translation were transparency and faithfulness. Faithfulness means the extent of the translation’s accuracy in rendering the source text into the target language while considering the context and features of the original. Transparency in the translation equates to idiomatic translation or how close the text appears as if it was written in the target language while conforming to the target language’s idiom, syntax and grammar.
Period of French and American revolutions
German translator, poet, theologian and philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder further reaffirmed the earlier statement of Martin Luther that a translator should translate into his native language instead of the other way around.
In this century, the concern of many translators focused on making reading the translated material easier. Accuracy was not yet a big issue for the translators. If they thought a passage might cause boredom or they failed to understand a part, they omitted them. They had the false impression that their translation style is the most proper wherein the source material should conform to their translation. They were even bold enough to do translations into languages they barely speak.
Ignacy Krasicki, an encyclopedist from Poland stated that the translator plays a unique part in society, describing that translation work is an art form and difficult work. He said that translation should only be done by people who are capable of seeing a better application for translating other people’s work instead of creating their own. They should put translation at a higher level of service for their country.
Start of the industrial revolution
Translation in this century is all about style and accuracy, with the translation policy centered on text. Because it is the Victorian era, bawdy language was the exception to the rule. Explanations in footnotes were also deemed necessary and translators aimed to tell readers that the text or book they were enjoying were translations of foreign originals.
Another exception to the standard is the translation of the ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám’ by Edward FitzGerald. Surprisingly, although he used very little from the original poems in Persian, his translations remain the most famous despite the availability of more accurate and newer translations of the poems.
The 19th century brought about many theories about translation. For Friedrich Schleiermacher of Germany, the translation could use two translation methods: transparency or domestication, which brings the writer to the readers, and fidelity or foreignization, which brings the readers to the writer.
On the other hand, the Chinese translator and scholar Yan Fu, developed a three-facet translation theory in 1898, based on his extensive experience in the English to Chinese translation of social sciences documents. The theories are faithfulness (being close to the source material in context), expressiveness (accessibility of the translation to the intended audience) and elegance (availability of the translation in a language that the target accepts as educated). Among the theories, Yan Fu considers expressiveness the most vital, since it allows the delivery of the content’s meaning to its target audience. In his theory, it meant changing the names into Chinese and changing the word order to fit the requirements of the Chinese language. His theories had a huge effect on translation work across the globe.
End of the 2nd millennium
Translation became more prominent and structured in the 20th century, where interpreting the context of the written text became important. Polish translator Aniela Zagórska, who translated every work of Joseph Conrad into Polish was given a great advice. Joseph Conrad was her uncle, and Conrad viewed translation as an art form that gives translators choices, which meant interpreting some of the text, instead of just translating them.
Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina, who translated the creations of Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, André Gide and William Faulkner into Spanish also believed that translation is an art. He said that a translator can do improvements on the original work and at times may stray from the source text. He also believed that contradictory and alternative translations of the same source material can be valid.
Literal translations were confined to scientific, academic, historic and religious materials. Interpreting, which was previously recognized only as a special type of translation was established as a different discipline in the middle of the 20th century.
Translation Studies, which first started in the latter part of the 20th century is already an academic course today. It includes various subjects, such as terminology, semiotics, philosophy, philology, linguistics, history, computer science and comparative literature. It requires students to choose their specialty, in order to receive proper training either in literary, scientific, technical, economic or legal translation.
Contemporary translators helped improve languages through loanwords and borrowing terms from source languages into target languages. Technology and the Internet created a global market for language services, including the creation of translation software and localization services. It created jobs for translators around the world, allowing many to be freelance translators who can find work without leaving their homes or their countries.
Working as translators opened new opportunities to bilingual people who acquire the necessary skills to be professional translators. They learn to use translation memory tools and other CAT tools to speed up the process of translating documents.
But the present situation is the reverse of the status of translators from Antiquity until the medieval years. Translators before were recognized as scholars, researchers, academics and authors. Today, translators are almost invisible as their names do not often appear in the documents they spent so much time to translate.
In 2018, the global language services, which include translation, is estimated to reach US $46.52 billion and has the potential to grow bigger in the coming years.
The future looks very optimistic for the language services industry, which is projected to be a US$56.18 billion industry by 2020. Expect to have more changes in the way translation services are delivered.
- With most companies serving global clients, the need for fast and effective communication increases. Many translation companies will be offering a full suite of translation to meet the demands of the market. Localization will be in higher demand to ensure that companies are able to cater to the preferences of their global consumers.
- There will be more demand for non-English languages. At the same time, more products and services from non-English speaking countries will be available to foreign markets, which will require translation services.
- Developments in CAT tools and other computer-aided productivity tools will lower the cost of translation. Further, there will be more demand for other minority languages from small yet fast-growing economies alongside the niche languages.
Although it is impossible not to avoid the increase in the use of machines to help the translation process, they are not seen as threats to human translators. Rather, they will be used to augment the work of translators to allow them to focus on the actual translation of a document.
Ensure that you are getting the most accurate translation by working with a professional translation services company. Call Day Translations, Inc. at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us for a quick quote. Day Translations is ready to serve you any time of the day, wherever you are. We are open 24/7, 365 days of the year.
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