Honouring Four Historic Translators for their Global Impacts
The most notable authors in history are well known globally. Their works have been translated into hundreds of languages, so their masterpieces could be shared and enjoyed by readers worldwide. Would these authors be among the elite in history if their works remained available only in the original source languages? Would children around the globe, still today, delight in stories like Pippi Longstocking and Pinocchio, if those classics were only available in Swedish and Italian, respectively? Would the Bible and other religious scriptures have the tremendous long-standing impacts on society if they hadn’t been translated into hundreds, or even thousands, of languages?
The international spread of the great works in history would not be possible if it wasn’t for skilled translators! Luckily, this industry is continuing to expand. Forecasts put the market value at $56 bn by 2021. Given that there are 7,000 living languages on the planet, we are grateful that there are currently an estimated 330,000 translators worldwide. The Language Service Provider (LSP) industry is a respected, highly valued profession and long-standing career choice.
It’s about time these professionals are recognised for their contributions to society. Numerous lists and rankings of the “Most Famous Translators of All Time”, “Top Translators in History” and “Prominent Translators” can be found online.
We would like to honour a small sampling of our favourite historic translators from the past two millennia (ordered by their birth years.) All of these men and women are no longer living, but their legacies live on each time we read their translated words. We are grateful for their contributions: past, present and future!
St Jerome, “The Patron Saint of Translators”
- Born 347 CE
- Died 420 CE
- Source Languages: Greek, Hebrew
- Target Language: Latin
- Famous Translation: The Vulgate (Catholic Bible)
Fun Fact: We all make mistakes, even saints! He translated the Hebrew word, “keren” as “grew horns” instead of “radiated light.” That explains why pictures of Moses with horns on his head are common.
Our industry is forever grateful for the work of this great priest, theologian, historian and translator. His translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin became the official Catholic version that was used for one thousand years. Translators, translation agencies and enthusiasts worldwide celebrate International Translation Day on 30 September, which is the anniversary of his death in 420 CE and celebrated as the Feast of St Jerome.
- Born 1861
- Died 1946
- Source Language: Russian
- Target Language: English
- Famous Authors Translated: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky
Fun Fact: Like St Jerome, her translation skills were not perfect. If she was unclear of the meaning of a Russian word, or phrase, she would simply exclude it from her English version of the content. Thus, her translations were, and still are, controversial.
The only female on our honoured translators list. Constance Garnett, a well-educated British female, had a rare talent in the late 1800s. As an English native speaker, she studied Latin and Greek in university. Ironically, she became a famous translator from Russian to English. She learned the language from Russian exiles living in England and future trips to Russia. When she began translating, she partnered with her Russian friends. Over time, she became independent in her skill level.
Garnett is now known for translating over 70 volumes of Russian literature into English. Because of her work, significant Russian authors were introduced to English-speaking readers worldwide. We are fortunate she continued her passion for years, as she didn’t retire from her translation career until she was 73 years old.
Jorge Luis Borges
- Born 1899
- Died 1986
- Source Languages: English, Old English, French, German, Old Norse
- Target Language: Spanish
- Famous Authors Translated: Edgar Alan Poe, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling and many more
Fun Fact: Borges’ passion for converting text from one language to another began at a very young age. He was only 9 years old when he translated The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde from English to Spanish for a Buenos Aires newspaper.
From Argentina, this native Spanish speaker is a true polyglot and well-respected linguistic master. Most translators are unrecognised and overshadowed by the authors of the source content. Jorge Luis Borges was a famous author, translator and translation industry expert. This well-rounded perspective on the profession makes him one of the greats of all time!
Although he did not have an advanced degree, he became a linguistic scholar, academic lecturer and translation subject matter expert. In fact, his belief that translated content does not need to be an exact translation of the source supports the now widely accepted theory that translation is an art, not a science. Perhaps the industry can thank Borges for the broadly recognised importance of localisation and transcreation, above and beyond standard translation. Capturing the intent, tone and meaning of the original content and relaying it the most relatable format for the new audience is something machine technology will never be able to do.
Borges has brought some of the greatest literary works of all time to Spanish speakers worldwide.
Edward George Seidensticker
- Born 1921
- Died 2007
- Source Languages: Japanese
- Target Language: English
- Famous Authors Translated: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Murasaki Shikibu
Fun Fact: The first Japanese writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature was Yasunari Kawabata in 1968. Many believe that the award would not have been received had it not been for Seidensticker’s translation of this important work into English.
Son of a European-descent rancher in rural Colorado, Seidensticker and his older brother were the only two in his high school graduating class that went off to university. In the 1940s, he was an academic who wished to avoid the draft. The US Naval Academy was expanding its Japanese Language Training school and moving it from Berkeley to the University of Colorado at Boulder. After being admitted to a 14-month intensive training programme, he was able to read a Japanese newspaper (requiring a significant vocabulary and recognition of thousands of Kanji characters.)
He joined the Marine Corps and served in both the US and Japan. Later, he was employed by the US Foreign Service and then studied at the University of Tokyo to continue his Japanese language studies for several years. He lived full time in Japan from 1948 to 1962 before returning to the US to be a Japanese professor at a couple of universities.
Over the years, Seidensticker has become one of the mostly lauded Japanese translators. We are grateful his skills have brought some of the most famous Japanese literary works to English speakers, including The Tale of Genji by Murasaki
Obviously, great works continue to be written. The Harry Potter series created between 1997 and 2007 has already been translated into 80 languages. The author J. K. Rowling will always have a place in history, but who are the numerous translators bringing her delightful tales to the masses? Perhaps you, your children or grandchildren will carry on the profession and be honoured in a blog like this someday!
At Renaissance Translations, we are delighted to have some of the most talented translators on the planet in our network of 3,000 professionals. The combinations of areas of expertise (industries) and over 100 languages allow us to offer a diverse breadth of services to our clients. Regardless of the complexity of your project, we are confident we can find a resource to meet your needs. Contact us today to create a plan to make your content available in multiple languages.