Celebrating International Translation Day
Did you know? September 30 is International Translation Day! Recognized since the Federation of Translators (IFT) foundation in 1953, it acknowledges the essential role that translators play in our increasingly globalized world. The annual celebration coincides with the Feast of Saint Jerome, which honors the eponymous Bible translator and patron saint of translation. In honor of this year’s International Translation Day, we’re exploring translation’s past, present, and future.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Translation
Translation was common in the ancient societies of the Middle East due to the number of languages spoken in each kingdom. Translators, who often doubled as interpreters, came from all social classes and ranged from slaves to royalty. They had no formal training and were simply bilingual or multilingual.
Roman statesman Cicero later developed the philosophy of equivalence translation. This means the translation should convey the message of the original text in the socio-political context of the target language. Instead of translating word-for-word, each sentence should be translated as a whole. Another term for this translation method is sense-for-sense, which St. Jerome coined Centuries later.
The Middle Ages and The Protestant Reformation
During the Middle Ages, vernacular languages gradually replaced Greek and Latin in business and in the Church. Adaptation translation, or recreating the effects of the source text into the target language by locative adaptations, became a commonly used method. For example, in Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, the shekel, a currency of Ancient Israel, was translated to silberling, the currency of Saxony.
When Martin Luther ushered in the Protestant Reformation, the demand for vernacular translations of the Bible increased significantly. And by the end of the 16th Century, it was available in German, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Slovene.
The invention of the printing press by Johan Guttenberg made it possible to mass-produce books. This, along with a renewed interest in literature and ancient texts, increased the demand for translations.
During this era, a debate arose over whether translation should be faithful to the original or comprehensive for a general audience. Religious texts that weren’t completely faithful were known as “profane translations.” By the latter half of the 17th Century, the ideal translation would be one based on transparency and faithfulness. That meant the translator considered the context, syntax, idioms, and grammar of the original text.
The Industrial Revolution
Due to innovations in science and technology, the focus of translation shifted toward scientific and technical texts. The era also saw the refinement of translation methods and practices.
German translator Friedrich Schleiermacher split translation into two methods: domestication and foreignization. Domestication involves changing the text to adapt it to the target language better, while foreignization preserves the meaning of the text, even if this makes it less clear. Chinese translator Yan Fu would later develop the influential 3-Facet Translation theory based on faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance.
The 20th Century
By the 20th Century, literal translations had fallen out of favor and were confined to scientific, academic, historical, and religious texts. Translation became an academic study during the second half of the Century, and most translators were trained professionals.
The era also gave rise to the use of technology in translation. In 1947, the U.S. military used machine translation for the first time to decode reports from Russian operatives. By the 1990s, the use of computer-aided translation (CAT) tools had become commonplace.
Methods of Translation
Today, translators choose a method based on the type of text; many methods are built on translation philosophies of the past. Here’s a look at three:
Machine Translation (MT)
Machine translation is a modern method of literal translation. Translation software translates texts word-for-word without the help of a human translator. MT works best for texts such as technical manuals, internal documents, and user-generated content.
MT can be combined with post-editing, a process in which a human translator reviews and edits the translation. This improves the quality and readability.
Free translation, also known as paraphrase translation, involves reproducing the general meaning of the text. It’s not a word-for-word translation and sometimes requires adapting the content better to match the cultural norms of the target audience. Translators typically use this method for website localization due to cultural differences, legal requirements, and technical constraints.
A portmanteau of translation and creation, transcreation is a method of adapting a message to maintain the intent, style, and tone of the original. It’s often used in marketing and other persuasive materials to evoke the same emotional response. The result is often a translation that differs significantly from the original.
The Future of Translation
As for the future? Technology will continue to shape the field, resulting in faster, more accurate, and lower-cost translations.
Translation Tools, Cloud Technology, and Workflow Optimization
Automation tools will optimize workflows, saving time and money during projects. Software that converts files and CAT technology will continue to tackle repetitive tasks. And file sharing and cloud technology will allow for a faster communication, better workflows, and project documentation. Working on the web will become the norm as downloading documents becomes a thing of the past.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Translation
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning will likely lead to a new generation of machine translation software. It will evolve to understand the nuances of linguistics better and expand to include more languages and dialects.
The Role of Human Translators
As machine translation matures, human translators’ knowledge of a market’s culture and customs will become more relevant. Their role will shift away from technical work to more creative projects that require a mix of translation, cultural adaptation, and creative writing.
However, no matter how much technology advances, it’s unlikely to replace the need for human translators. That means we’ll be celebrating International Translation Day for years to come!
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