September 30, 2013

International Translation Day

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International Translation Day, which is today, is a relatively recent phenomenon, though its roots go far back. Founded in 1953 by International Federation of Translators, it is in fact the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators. Jerome earned this role by undertaking the translation of the first translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew; earlier Latin translations had used the Septuagint, a translation from the Hebrew into koiné Greek, thus putting those translations at two removes from the original. It was a mammoth task, and not one that other early Christians, like Augustine, thought was necessary or even desirable. Any translator who has tried to argue for a re-translation or a new translation based on the source text, rather a language that the original book was translated into (sometimes called a “pivot language) before making its way into a third language will feel Jerome’s pain.

It seems particularly appropriate that International Translation Day should be the result of this union between a 1st-century Slovenian saint who dedicated 20 years of his life to a translation that all his peers thought was irrelevant and the International Federation of Translators (FIT), a vaguely UN/UNESCO-ish body that represents translators, interpreters, and something they call “terminologists.” Translation does nothing if not create odd bedfellows between the dogged individual eccentric on a linguistic crusade and umbrella organizations with wildly broad mandates and bad clip art.

In honor of all such odd unions, I’d like to share some translations that I’m glad exist:

 

Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.

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