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History and Application of Translation

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Published: Tue, 19 Sep 2017

 L. Saunders

1. History of translation

Language is the most important process in people s lives either if it’s written, spoken or non-verbal. People would not be able to socialize or interact without language.

Across the centuries just as people built bridges to link cities,people used language interpreters and translators in order to built bridges between other cultures.

What exactly translation is?

Sonia Colina claims that Translation may refer to an activity or a product and the field that studies both activity and product.

Translation is the process of transferring the meaning of written texts of one language to another language. There is a lot of confusion between “translators” and “interpreters”, but the two terms are very different in many ways.

Translators take a written text in one language: e-mail, articles, newspapers, books or academic papers and translate it into another language by writing it down on the paper. It implies time and study of the texts while the interpreters work together with other people either virtually or directly or over the phone, internet or public meetings.

The great differences between translators and interpreters is that a translation can take days, weeks or even months depending on the length of the text while interpreting is a process carried out in real time. It is very difficult and very challenging for interpreters to do their job because they must be very fast in both languages and precise, they have no time to consult the dictionary, a colleague. Interpreters have great responsibility especially when they interpret in a political context, one mistranslated word can issue great political wars.

Translators on the other hand are more relaxed being able to stay in their own environment, have breaks, and use their dictionaries or grammar books.

I explained therefore the difference between translation and interpretation, but I wonder is Translation a process which appeared in the current century or it had existed in the past as well?

The process of translating or decoding started centuries ago

Along the history we notice that trades were made through people who were able to speak their one language but also another language.The Bible which was crucial in the 8th century managed to be translated by some of the most well-known people: Martin Luther,St.Jerome William Tyndale etc. People who did not have access to education could not understand the religious services spoken in Latin. Therefore Translation was necessary in order for ordinary people to understand the holy service and to have a more personal knowledge and approach towards God.

With the spread of Christianity, translation started to gain another role which was the spreading of God’s word.

The Bible of the “chosen people” was originally written in Hebrew.When the Persian empire dominated the Eastern Mediteranean basin, Aramaic became the official language of the area and for religious reasons it was necessary for the Jewish to have the Torah OR Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) translated into the common language from traditional Hebrew.The result was Targums which survived after the original Hebrew scrolls had been lost.

By the mid of the 3rd century a.d. Greek was the dominant language and Jewish scholars started to translate the Hebrew religious text into that language.Septuagint became the Greek version of the Jewish Bible. The zeal of Christianity needed more translators of both the Old and New Testament into:Coptic, Ethiopian,Gothic and Latin.

Early translators

St. Jerome

In 382 the pope, Damasus, commissionsJerome to provide a definitive Latin version. In his monastery at Bethlehem, tended by aristocratic virgins, the saint produces the Vulgate. This eventually becomes established as the Bible of the whole western church until the Reformation.

By the time the Vulgate is complete (in about 405), the barbarian Goths also have their own version of parts of the Bible – thanks to the astonishing missionary effort of Ulfilas.

William Tyndalale

William Tyndale has been called the apostle of England and one of the finest man who ever lived.He was a man loved by those who loved God but hated and haunted by Rome because he was the first who would translate the Bible from Greek into English.

He was ultimately betrayed by a trustee friend and imprisoned for a time before being strangled and burnt to the stake in a place called Vilvoorde. From the time of Pope Innocent, it had been declared by Rome that “As by the old law the beast touching the holy mount was to be stoned by death so simple and uneducated man were not to touch the Bible or venture to preach its doctrines”(Schaff,History of the Christian Church VI,p723)

In Tyndale’s time,England was still a Catholic country and priests were communicated the mass in Latin,a language which could not be understood by ordinary and uneducated people, that is why Tyndale who knew Latin wanted to learn Greek therefore he studied Greek under Erasmus another great translator who offered a translation of the new Testament.

Tyndale dared to stand upp against the cardinal because he considered that his attitude towards people was ignorant and selfish, people were poor and disorientated because they could not understand but what they were told to do while he was wearing the golden rings emphasizing his pride and ego.

William Tyndale was convicted that: “it was impossible to establish the laye people in any truth…except the scriptures were plainly layde before their eyes in their mother tongue”(William Tyndale)

Ulfilas and his alphabet: AD c.360

Ulfilas is the first man known to have undertaken an extraordinarily difficult intellectual task – writing down, from scratch, a language which is as yet purely oral. He even devises a new alphabet to capture accurately the sounds of spoken Gothic, using a total of twenty-seven letters adapted from examples in the Greek and Roman alphabets.

God’s work is Ulfilas’ purpose. He needs the alphabet for his translation of the Bible from Greek into the language of the Goths. It is not known how much he completes, but large sections of the Gospels and the Epistles survive in his version – dating from several years beforeJeromebegins work on his Latin text.

A restricted Bible: 8th – 14th century AD

The intention of St Jerome, translating into Latin the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, was that ordinary Christians of the Roman empire should be able to read the word of God. ‘Ignorance of the scriptures’, he wrote, ‘is ignorance of Christ’.

Gradually this perception is altered. After the collapse of the western empire, the people of Christian Europe speak varieties of German, French, Anglo-Saxon, Italian or Spanish. The text of Jerome’s Vulgate is understood only by the learned, most of whom are priests. They prefer to corner the source of Christian truth, keeping for themselves the privilege of interpreting it for the people. Translation into vulgar tongues is discouraged.

There are exceptions. In the late 8th centuryCharlemagnecommissions translation of parts of the Bible for the use of his missionaries in the drive to convert pagan Germans. In the 9th century the Greek brothersCyril and Methodius, sent from Constantinople to Moravia at royal request, translate the Gospels and parts of the Old Testament into Slavonic.

These are missionary endeavours, promoted by rulers as an act of government when pagan Europe is being brought into the Christian fold. In the later fully Christian centuries there is no equivalent need to provide the holy texts in vernacular form. Any such impulse is now a radical demand on behalf of ordinary Christians against the church hierarchy.

The strongest medieval demand for vernacular texts comes in France from a heretical sect, the Cathars. The suppression of the Cathars is complete by the mid-13th century. But in the following century the same demand surfaces within mainstream western Christianity.

John Wycliffeand his followers produce full English versions of the Old and New Testament in the late 14th century. At the same period the Czechs have their own vernacular Bible, subsequently much improved by John Huss.

These translations are part of the radical impulse for reform within the church. Indeed the issue of vernacular Bibles becomes one of the contentious themes of theReformation.

A complaint by an English contemporary of Wycliffe, the chronicler Henry Knighton, is a measure of how far the church of Rome has swung on this issue since Jerome‘s campaign against ‘ignorance of scripture’. Knighton rejects translation of the Bible on the grounds that by this means ‘the jewel of the church is turned into the common sport of the people’.

2. Types of Translation

Roman Jakobson describes three types of translation:Intralingual (or rewording an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs in the same language), interlingual (or translation proper an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language) and inter-semiotic translation or transmutation-an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems)

Jakobson points out how difficult it is to achieve complete equivalence because of the complexity of the codes involved. Even in intralingual translation we have to make use of combination of code units to interpret meaning. So even synonyms cannot guarantee full equivalence. This becomes complicated when the SL and TL are different. In addition to the difference between two language systems, cultural differences also pose huge barriers to translation activity. Eugene Nida says: “Since no two languages are identical, either in the meanings given to corresponding symbols or in the ways in which such symbols are arranged in phrases and sentences, it stands to reason that there can be no absolute correspondence between languages.


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