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.

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.

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. According to records, St. Jerome said that the translator should translate sensibly instead of word for word. Cicero, who was a Greek-Latin translator, said that the work of the translator was like an artist’s work.

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 nearly two centuries.

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. Ignacy Krasicki, an encyclopedic 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. Translation became more prominent and structured in the 20th century, where interpreting the context of the written text became important.

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.

Concluding remarks:

The history of translation has always been in a phase of apt circulation, reaching everywhere globally. Today, we see the field of translation evolving and spreading to the most remote corners of the world. The western world was able to very well do its part in spreading the importance of this art to a major global level and still works on its enhancement throughout.


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