The History of Translation

The History of Translation


The need for translation is ever-increasing as globalisation moves forward, the internet spreads and world culture develops. Many theorists throughout the ages insist that a good translator must both know the language fluently and also understand the culture they are translating.

The word translation derives itself from a Latin term meaning ‘to bring or carry across’. The first ever known translations were those of the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh into Asian languages from around the second millennium BC. One of the earliest English translations was that of the Bible in 1100 AD.

When talking about the history of translation, it is important to remember the theories and names that emerged at its different periods, each era has been characterised by changes in translation history.

For centuries, people believed in the story of the tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis, this story showed descendants of Noah building a tower so that they could reach Heaven, God however caused them to speak different languages so they couldn’t understand each other and to regain control. He then scattered the descendants all over the earth, which caused a number of languages to increase through diversion, making people look for ways to communicate resulting in translation.

After people started to move away from this story of Babel, they began to look for specific dates and figures that mark the periods of translation history.

The history of translation shows a constant movement of ideas and forms with new influences being absorb because of the work of translators. There are some periods of translation history that are very distinct but relatively unknown, such as the work of the missionaries, the translation of the Bible and the Orientalist translators in India. Some researchers believe that writings on translations go back to the Romans and that Cicero and Horace from first century BC where the first theorists who distinguished between word for word and sense for sense translation.

In the sixth century BC medical theories found in Greek thinkers originate from India and India began trading and creating ties with Mediterranean countries. In Baghdad, the philosophical and scientific works of Ancient Greece were translated into Arabic in the ninth and tenth century this learning then spread through Spain into Europe. Later Roman poets adapted Greek texts and in 645 AD Buddhist monks translated Indian sutras into Chinese. In 1085 AD, The School of Toledo was responsible from translations from Arabic to Latin and then to Spanish.

In the latter half of the twentieth century translation studies became an important subject in schools and language teaching. With technological advances and developments of digital materials and the internet, cultural exchange has increased. This has led to the need to not only translate more, but also increase the accuracy of the translation. Audio-visual and cinematographic translation marks a changing ear in translation.

The history of translation is characterized by the emergence of new theorists and improvements in research creating a very wide and rich history and being a consequent reason for many conflicts.

In the 21 century, translation occurs now more than ever as business, tourism and emigration continue to expand and develop.

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2 comments on “The History of Translation

  1. this is so interesting to me. i’ve always been very interested in language and translation, and love learning more. thanks for this – beth


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