The need for language translation has been around since the beginning of language itself.

The History of Translation

Friday 24 January, 2014

The need for language translation has been around since the beginning of language itself. From religious texts and famous philosophies to the modern agencies and technologies we use today, the practice of translation has evolved leaps and bounds over time.

Translation and Religion

Language has been important in religion ever since biblical times. In the Bible itself it talks of the myth of the tower of Babel, where the world was flung into a multilingual existence.

In Christian history, St Jerome Vulgate, the patron saint of translation, translated the bible into a Latin version in 384CE, which was widely used by the Catholic Church for centuries up until the late middle ages. He studied Hebrew so that he could translate from the original texts instead of the Greek version that everyone else was using. However, the Latin version ended up with an unfortunate error.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai his head is said to have had “radiance” or “karan” in Hebrew. But, St Jerome read it as “keren” instead, translating into “horned”. This famous mistake resulted in centuries of paintings and depictions of Moses with horns, including Michelangelo’s famous sculpture.

However, St Jerome Vulgate was not the first religious translator by any means. It’s believed religious translations in the West started when the Old Testament was translated into Greek between in 3rd BCE. This was brought on because Jews who had been moved around the West had forgotten their native language of Hebrew and needed Greek versions to understand. The translation was known as the ‘Septuagint’. This refers to the seventy translators who were commissioned to translate the bible in Egypt. To ensure their accuracy, each translator was forced to work in solitary confinement, and according to legend, at the end all seventy versions proved identical.

The first English translation of the Bible was created in ca. 1382 which ended up being a very disjointed text because of the underdeveloped English prose at the time. It was only at the end of the 15th Century that the great age of English prose caught up with the Bible.

Translation of Literature & Philosophy

When the Arabs conquered the Greek world, they undertook a large-scale translation of its entire philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, these texts were then translated into Latin, which had a major impact on advancing European academics, science and culture.

The first proper literary translations into English only came about in the 14th century when Geoffrey Chaucer adapted this collection Knight’s Tale from Italian. This brought about a tradition of adaptations of great literary works from older languages into English. Poets relied on their own judgement when it came to translation and sometimes weren’t even fluent in the language. This meant that the texts weren’t always translated accurately. They were often adapted to suit what they thought the author was trying to say.

This tradition of free adaptation continued right up until the 19th century when a new standard of accuracy was brought about. Exactness was prized above all, and correct translation became a must for everyone in the field. This emphasis has been brought forward to today, though translators now understand that literal translation is not always the best translation.

Translation and Technology

Fast forward to the modern day and translation has come a long way. People no longer need to rely on professionals when they want to find out the word or phrase for something in another language. There are so many smartphone apps that allow you to instantly receive a translation. Google Translate and Yahoo! Babel Fish also give users access to a language they have never had before.

Translations Agencies

While these applications can be fun and informative, human run translations agencies are generally favoured by companies and people who are looking for more accurate translations. They are now widely used in the business, law and medical field to translate important documentation.

Humans are still the most reliable form of translation available, because they understand the intricacies of language which a machine does not. Even though they may not be as instantaneous as apps and programs online, a certified translations agency is still the best approach to translation in the modern world.

Romo offers a range of language translations services for the modern day world. If you are ever in need of assistance, feel free to contact us for a free quote.

0203 696 8680

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