Although translation is an art that exists since ancient times, languages keep changing and translation has to evolve as well. There are countless cases where translations are known to have played a decisive role in the development of literary cultures, pedagogical institutions, ecclesiastic reformations, and the global spread of a nation. Historically, translation was often used for academic purposes, in order to understand texts written in Greek or Latin. Today, academic translation is just one field of translation. The most popular fields of translation are: accounting, automotive, engineering, business, finance, law, marketing, medical, technology, tourism, website localization.
Leaving behind the definitions, formal descriptions and irrational rules of grammar, translation can be entertaining. Here is a list of 15 interesting facts about the translation world:
1. 300-200 B.C.E – The first major translation in the Classical World was Septuagint (pre-Christian translation of the Hebrew Bible). Septuagint means seventy in Latin and is the name of the Bible because of the seventy translators who are believed to have completed it.
2. Translation actually has a patron saint. St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century. His translation, called The Vulgate, was the official Catholic Bible in the 16th century.
3. International Translation Dayis celebrated every year on 30 September, on the feast of St. Jerome.
4. The most translated book in the world is the Bible – totally wrong. The highest number of languages that a whole book has been translated into comes from Listen to God and Live Forever, a 2011 publication by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The next most popular writings are:
– Pinocchio – over 240 languages from the original Italian;
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights – 438 languages from the original English, French and Spanish;
– Alice in Wonderland – 174 different language adaptations.
5. The word translate comes from the Latin for ‘to move from one place to another’.
6. The most common languages translated into are German, French, Spanish, English and Japanese.
7. There are about 330,000 professional translators in the world (~37.000 in Romania). Of course, this is not counting people who translate things informally, whose number is much bigger.
8. 78% of all books between the years 2000 and 2010 were translated into French or German, and only 5% into Chinese.
9. The average translator’s output is between 400,000 and 1,000,000 words per year!
10. 1,000 professional interpreters were available on-site during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
11. The most translated authors of fiction are: Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.
12. Translation is all around us. We translate things constantly (‘I had to translate what he said’, or ‘I had to translate her facial expression’).
13. Here are 5 interesting untranslatable terms from around the world, instances where other languages have found the right word and English simply falls speechless:
– Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese) – The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.
– L’appel du vide (French)– ‘The call of the void’is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it is used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
– Kyoikumama (Japanese) – A mother who relentlessly pushes her child toward academic achievement.
– Tartle (Scottish) – The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you have forgotten their name.
– Prozvonit (Czech) – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish the phrase for this is Dar un toque, in English To give a touch and in Romanian A da un beep.
14. In 2009, HSBC Bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated as ‘Do Nothing’ in various countries.
15. Two literary translations facts:
(a) Alice in Wonderland is one of the most widely translated books, with 174 different language adaptations. While words easily translate, imagination does not. Interpreting the enchanted land of curious creatures into hundreds of different languages created some interesting variations. In a Provençal dialect, the phrase for he’s crazy literally means ‘he broke the marble’ and so the Mad Hatter became the Marble Mason. In the Japanese translation, Alice does not argue with the Mad Hatter because it is frowned upon to disrespect one’s elders.
(b) When Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes was first translated to English, the outcome did not quite exemplify the words of Cervantes. For example, when Cervantes idiomatically used the word dedos meaning ‘inches’, the English version took dedos too literally and translated it as fingers.
Translation makes the world turn; whether it’s for business or pleasure, without translation communication would cease. According to Anthony Burgess, ”Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.”