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What do you know about the history of translations?

October 06 , 2021

What do you know about the history of translations?

by Target Language Translation Services

- October 06 2021

history of translation

The word translation is derived from the Latin word – translatio – meaning carrying or bringing across. Therefore, in general, translation means carrying or bringing text from one language to another. The history of translation has been a topic that has long been debated by scholars and historians, though it is widely agreed that translation pre-dates the bible. The bible tells of various languages as well as giving insight to the interaction of speakers from various areas.

The need for translation has been apparent since the earliest days of human interaction. Throughout the history of translations, it has played an important role in almost every aspect of society, whether it be for emotional, trade or survival purposes. The demand for translation services has continued to develop and is now more important than ever, with businesses realizing the significance of translating marketing material and business documents to expand internationally or succeed in penetrating foreign markets.

Ancient era

The Western World deems the translation of Hebrew Bible into Greek as the first translation work of great significance. The translation is given the name of the Septuagint as there were a total of seventy individual translators separately working on this project 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 used to work in his own cell by being confined or more probably a room in the house. Legend has it that despite working alone, each of the 70 translators provided 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 detached Jews had forgotten their mother tongue, Hebrew. Due to 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, who translated Greek comedies into Roman.

You’ll certainly admire the great minds of these translators because they 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. According to records, St. Jerome said that the translator should translate not just “word to word” but “sense for sense” during his translation of Bible into the Latin language.

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 vital 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, the Western world had started learning Latin. Since it was a new language for half of the population, there were some translations from Latin to dialect languages just so that people could understand things seamlessly. Back in the 9th century, it is said that the translation of two major works of English, such as The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius and Ecclesiastical History by Bede helped people to enhance their immature English prose. These two translations which were authorized by the King of Wessex in England – Alfred the Great, 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 travel from far away and settled down in Toledo, Spain to translate great religious, scientific, medical, and philosophical works from Greek, Hebrew and Arabic languages into Castilian and Latin languages. 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 shouldn’t only know one language but also have a systematic information of both the source as well as the target language so as to be able to produce a precise translation. At the same time, he already established that the translator should also be a subject matter expert and be disciplined enough regarding the translation work.

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 Boethius’s Latin work and Roman De La Rose written in French into the English language. He also did many translations of works by Italian authors into English, such as some work of Giovanni Boccaccio – an Italian humanist. 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 require more precision 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 like 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 an important role 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 impact 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, indicating 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 became famous 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 precision 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. Precision 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 precision, 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 precise 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, expressiveness and elegance. Among the theories, Yan Fu deems 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 influence on translation work around the world.

End of the 2nd millennium

Translation became more prominent and structured in the 20th century, where interpreting the context of the written text became significant. 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.

The Present and the future

With an enhancement in the industrial revolution and rapid development in economy, new machines were introduced that made translation even swifter. Although, the 18th century made sure the translation industry got a good future, however, the era of the internet gave it the required push. It is true that the internet has a huge role to play in the revolutionized access, understanding, and translation of the texts and documents worldwide

In 2012, the announcement of Google broke all the records. According to the company, Google Translate was capable enough of translating so much that could fill up approximately 1 million books in a day. This was an incredible growth that the translation industry could ever experience.

Although it is impossible not to avoid the increase in the use of machines to help the translation process, for instance, some instant translation services are capable only of metaphase translation, 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. Specialist firms, platforms and translators hold the advantage to translate texts and spoken word into multiple languages whilst observing the relevance and culture of the target receiver.

Despite the availability of pervasive machine translation and computer-assisted translation tools, there are some translators who contemplate getting a comparison as that with an artist. They not only want a credit for their perilous life but also for the knowledge, craft, passion, and dedication that they put in their work.

With a significant development in the technology and internet usage, it has also become easier for people to use online translation tools to make quick adaptations. Meanwhile, with the invention of new machinery, the time invested in translating texts has considerably decreased. This has given an opportunity to business owners to concentrate more on entering foreign markets and developing their businesses.

Moreover, this modernized revolution has also made deciphering new cultures a seamless process. Even if the translator has no idea of the target audience, it just takes a bit of research to dive deeper into the new culture and ethics.

This article is reprinted from United Translations, Day Translations and Kwintessential.

If there is a copyright, please inform us in time, we will delete it right the first time.

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