International Translation Day: Spotlight on Translators The International Federation of Translators (FIT) celebrates Translation Day on September 30, a date that coincides with the day of Saint Jerome —the translator of the Bible and the Patron Saint of all translators.
Commonly known as Jerome of Stridon, Eusebius Hieronymus was born in what we know today as Croatia and died on September 30, 420 AD, close to Bethlehem.
His native tongue was the Illyrian dialect and he later learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, all of which he came to fully dominate. But why do his life and work constitute a role model for translators more than 1600 years after his death?
Multilingual Environments: The Key to Global Evolution
After studying the sacred scriptures, Saint Jerome was appointed as the secretary of Pope Damasus I, who entrusted him with the task that would constitute his legacy: translating most of the Bible into Latin from the source New Testament manuscripts. That text would become the official Bible for the Catholic Church for fifteen centuries, and was the version first printed by Gutenberg in 1452.
According to the UN, the International Translation Day is “an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of language professionals, who play an important role in bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understand and cooperate, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security”.
Based on some estimates, in 2015 there were more than 640,000 translators worldwide.
As Saint Jerome in his day, language professionals —not only translators and interpreters, but also a wide range of specialists that includes editors, proofreaders and transcribers play a crucial role in communication, social integration, education and development.
Likewise, it has become increasingly evident that multicultural settings ensure cultural diversity and dialogue, promote cooperation and build societies that benefit from comprehensive perspectives. Translators also play a vital role to transform political momentum into actual benefits in the fields of science, technology and sustainable development.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document. It’s been translated toin more than 500 languages.
The History of Translation: Milestones and Great Linguists
Although Saint Jerome is the Patron Saint of translators, we can find many outstanding linguists and milestones that have left their mark in history:
- Ptolemy II Philadelphus ruled Egypt from 285 to 246 BC. During his dynasty, he ordered the translation of the Five Books of Moses and reunited 72 wise men from Judea, who were versed in Hebrew and Greek.
- In 196 BC, the Rosetta Stone was more than 4.92 feet high and weighed more than 1768 pounds. This stone was engraved with a decree celebrating Ptolemy V in the first anniversary of his kingdom. The decree was written in three different languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic scripts and Ancient Greek.
- The Greek-born Roman epic writer Livius Andronicus (284 BC – 204 BC) translated The Odyssey –attributed to the poet Homer– from Greek to Latin.
- In the 9 and 10th centuries, Baghdad became a hotspot for the main translations from Greek to Arabic, which were rapidly distributed throughout Europe.
- The Toledo School of Translators developed between the 12 and 13th centuries and was mainly devoted to the translation of theological and philosophical texts from Arabic to Latin.
- In 1534, Luther translated the Bible, but with a key difference: instead of keeping the formal tone of Latin in German —as was customary in those times— his translation spoke to the people in everyday language, to make the text more accessible to the populace.
- In the 20th century, with the arrival of new technologies, came the digital dissemination of content. This created an unprecedented boom in the production of and access to information globally. This process is still ongoing and has put translators in the spotlight as the main driving force of this new hyper-connected world.
“I have always tried to translate in a pure and clear German. It has often happened that for two, three or four weeks we have searched and inquired about a single word, and sometimes we have not found it even then”, stated Luther after translating the Bible into 16thcentury German.
From the times of oral transmission of stories, translators have consolidated their role as professionals that act as a bridge between different cultures. Their role is not simply to replace a set of words with others; translators bear the daily responsibility of adapting content to the target audience to connect different peoples, cultures and realities. Thus, the intercultural communication process that they facilitate in every project is invaluable in the current global context.