Happy International Translation Day!
Today is International Translation Day! Where would we be without translators? While it’s terrifying to imagine life without them, it’s luckily not realistic. Translators and interpreters of some rudimentary kind have existed for as long as people, tribes, cultures and nations have tried to cooperate, which is to say forever. Let’s find out a bit more about their special day.
Photo credit: Natalia Y
What is International Translation Day?
Translators and other language professionals do a great deal to promote intercultural communication and global cooperation by facilitating dialogue and contributing to peace and development. On 24 May 2017, the UN declared 30 September to be International Translation Day as a way to honour the role of language professionals and their crucial contributions on the world stage. This date was chosen because it is the feast day of St. Jerome, translator of the Bible and the patron saint of translators. Saint Jerome was an Latin priest who is mostly known for his efforts in translating the New Testament from Greek to Latin and the Hebrew Gospel into Greek. His native language was thought to be Illyrian, an Indo-European language that no longer exists. He learned Latin in school and became fluent in Greek and Hebrew thanks to his studies and travels. St. Jerome died near Bethlehem on 30 September 420, providing us with a date for International Translation Day.
Read some winning translations from the UN’s St. Jerome Translation Contest here.
Who were the first translators?
The first recorded translation is thought to be the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient literary work. It was written in Sumerian in Mesopotamia using cuneiform inscription (which was in use from the early Bronze Age) and translated into other Asiatic languages around 2000 BCE.
Another ancient and very well-known translation is provided by the Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed with three versions of a text and dates from 196 BCE in Memphis, Egypt. The top is written in hieroglyphs, the middle is in the cursive Egyptian script known as Demotic, and the bottom is in Ancient Greek.
Multilingualism promotes tolerance
Translation is crucial to providing clarity and creates a positive and tolerant climate around public discourse; it is vital to diplomacy and interpersonal communication. Speakers of more than one language have access to a special perspective – they are able to recognise and compare cultural patterns and connections that might otherwise be lost. Speaking a different language – a second, third, or however many you can learn – makes it possible to see a different culture from the inside, because language is such a deep part of cultural identity that it arguably provides the most meaningful insight into that culture. This transmission of culture naturally promotes tolerance and constructs a shared identity.
Some fun facts about translation:
- The three most translated authors are Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.
- Translators can translate around 250 words an hour, which means a translator working full time could do 520,000 words a year.
- The most targeted languages for translation are English, French, German, Italian and Russian.
- Wikipedia pages can be read in 286 different languages.
- The Bible is available in 554 languages, making it the most translated text in history.