When saying ‘translation’ one generally refers to the act of interpreting or rendering the meaning of the content in a text or utterance from a language to another, sticking to the message in the original text.
The word ‘translation’ means to carry or bring across. The Latin term ‘translatio’ designates a transfer, while the Greek ‘metaphrasis’ points to the meaning of speaking across.
The history of translation in the West is said to have started sometime between the 3rd and 1st century BC, when a series of Jewish Scriptures – the so called ‘Septuagint’ – was rendered into Greek. This document was found in Alexandria and it was created in order to help the isolated Jews understand the Scriptures.
During the Middle Ages, Latin was the common language of the books. However, the Bible, as well as some scientific, historical and philosophical works, had to become accessible to regular people as well. The very first interpretation of the Latin Bible – St. Jerome’s Vulgate – was recorded in 384 AD, but it was only partially translated and wasn’t well received by the Christian Church. Still, even today, St. Jerome is considered the patron saint of translation. Alfred the Great also supported the translations into Anglo Saxon in the 800s.
The most notable translation work recorded in those times was accomplished by the Arabs, who provided Arabic adaptations for many historical and scientific texts.
As for the English language, the first translations of superior class were those of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century, who tried his adaptation skills in Italian (translating texts from Boccaccio), French and Latin. Also, the most notable translation of the Bible in English was the Wycliffe Bible, dating from around 1382 AD. However, the adaptation work in English language didn’t achieve a higher standard until the Elizabethan Era.
The 18th century was disastrous for the translated texts, as the translating authors used to omit whatever was unclear for them in the original text, so their translations were highly subjective. Consequently, through the so-called translations new creations were born – Ossian is a great example of this phenomenon.
It was the 19th century that brought order and accuracy in terms of translated texts; that was when the principle ‘the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text’ appeared. And this has been the ruling principle ever since.
Nowadays, the act of translation is a prize worthy act. Many award ceremonies include a prize going out for the best translations of literary texts and for texts from other fields also.