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July 26, 2018By legaltranslationsTranslation Facts

The History of Translation: Past, Present and Future Impacts

The early history of translation and its impact

This is just a brief history of translation which shows throughout history, translation has played an important role in bridging both the linguistic and cultural divide that has long existed between countries. The history of translation indicates that translation took place as a way of encouraging trade between countries and a way of spreading messages in relation to religious beliefs and ideas formulated by early philosophers, academics, and thinkers.

The two earliest literary works found when studying the history of translation which are believed to have been the first to be translated include the Septuagint, The Epic of Gilgamesh in 2100 BC, and the bible translated by St. Jerome. In the history of translation studies, Asia translation played a vital role when Buddhist monks translated sutras into Chinese languages. The main role of early translation appears to be spreading religious beliefs far and wide according to findings after studying a brief history of translation.


    The quality of the translations was not necessarily that good and even translations done by St. Jerome had a major influence on Western culture. For example, there are numerous pictures showing Moses displaying horns on his head. This is because St. Jerome translated the word ‘keren’ in Hebrew as “grew horns,” when it should have been “radiated light.”

    Religious translation: translation of the Bible

    The history of translation shows that throughout the history of the bible that the Old Testament which was written in Hebrew was translated into Greek for the Egyptians who spoke Greek sometime between 200 and300 BCE. Later in the 4th Century St. Jerome, translated the Greek version of the bible into Latin and in the 9th century, there was a spurt in the number of languages that got a translation of the bible. Getting a translation of the Bible even today is commonly the 1st book that is translated when a language starts to be translated into other languages.

    Communities that have existed in isolation are still being discovered today as was recently revealed by FUNAE the government department in Brazil responsible for indigenous people. It announced that there were many tribes who still aren’t known about it. When they are discovered it’s a distinct possibility that religious groups will want to translate the Bible into their language. People will have difficulties understanding the religious translation of the Bible after a translation of the Bible has been completed because they won’t be able to read or write even in their own language.

    Famous translators throughout time

    St. Jerome one of the famous translators in the history of translation who lived from 347-420 AD He was a Christian scholar who as a language translator was able to translate the Bible into Greek and Latin from Hebrew. His translation, which was named the Vulgate, was the official Catholic Bible translation. It was subsequently used as its translation for thousands of years. St Jerome hasn’t lost his impact today as he is the patron saint of translators and this day is celebrated by translators on 30th September every year. Another famous language translator in the history of translation is Sir Richard Burton who lived from 1821-1890. He was the 1st person who translated the “Kama Sutra” into the English language. He also produced an uncensored translation of “The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.”

    Other well-known translations in the history of translation are the Priapiea and “The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefzaoui: A Manual of Arabian Erotology.” Jorge Luis Borges who lived between 1899 and 1986 translated “The Happy Prince” written by Oscar Wilde into Spanish for a Buenos Aires newspaper at the age of just 9 years old. He translated the works of Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Hermann Hesse, André Gide, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, and Walt Whitman into Spanish as well. He did not translate the Bible.

    The modern-day translation industry

    As can be seen from mistakes made by early translators like St. Jerome, professional translation services today can’t afford to make mistakes. This is because many important texts like a technical translation need to be translated where accuracy is key to a successful translation. Businesses or organizations will soon get to know if a professional translation service has provided them with a poor translation as their businesses won’t increase their revenue if the targeted customer can’t understand the translation.

    In the early history of translation, language service providers didn’t get the assistance from machine translation tools like they do today so this helps with a complicated technical translation. However, despite these modern additions to help language service providers it still hasn’t reached the point where machine translation can be relied on completely. Languages can’t be translated word for word as they contain idioms, nuances, and cultural variations that need to be understood by an experienced human translator who knows everything there is to know about his or her pair of languages.

    Translation tools are good at identifying a match at the sentence level, quite reasonable at finding concordances, and just terrible at making good sound suggestions at the level of the sub-sentence and even worse at the morphological level. This is the history of translation so far.

    Translation industry future

    So far there is no certainty where the future of translation is heading. Will there be soon no human translators performing human translation, or just machine translation, or whether human translators will always be key to accuracy in important translations? Anyone can go online these days and get a free Google translation of up to 3900 characters. If the language used in the text is quite simple, then no doubt Google translate can do an almost accurate translation.

    However, if you try to put a CV or letter of application for a job or a specific marketing document for a new product through the Google translate tool you are unlikely to get a favorable translation. If a translator uses machine translation tools to speed up a translation task which would then only need to be proofread for accuracy then these are tools that are likely to remain into the future. Machines are currently not proficient at forming coherent and grammatically correct sentences when asked to translate some text. This means they are not as reliable as a human translation. In such areas as law and medicine, highly accurate translations are essential, so at the moment human translation is still heavily relied upon to produce a quality translation.

    Last year in Korea, Sejong Cyber University put together three machine translation programs to compete with human translation. The result was that the machines failed to live up to hoped-for expectations. The machines were a lot faster but more mistakes were found in the finished machine translation. At the best, 90% of the texts translated by the machine were grammatically awkward, to say the least. The translation market by 2024 is predicted to hit the $1.5 billion mark, Global Market Insights reported. This will probably mean the future of translation will see more apps like Google translate will come on the market, but whether they will really be any good remains to be seen.

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