7 Critical Milestones in Translation Industry History
It is no secret that the translation and language service provider (LSP) industries are growing rapidly. The current market size has recently expanded to just over $45 bn and is expected to grow to over $56 bn by 2021. With an estimated 300,000 translators in the profession today, it has become a well-respected and in-demand skill set and career choice.
Not to be confused with the interpretation of the spoken word, translation focuses solely on converting written content from a source language to a target or destination language. The purpose of translation is to allow information to be shared with diverse audiences with different native tongues.
The translation industry facts, famous translated works and famous translators have already been discussed on our blog. Let’s now look at the critical junctures in translation history that have allowed the industry to expand to what it is today.
- Creation of writing systems
Oral storytelling was the only way information was passed from generation to generation for years. The oral tradition was (and still is) an honoured practice that shape(d) cultures. Of course, the abilities of the human brain to interpret, convey and remember details limits the accuracy and completeness of information communicated verbally. We cannot be certain the original content was well conveyed when passed down through ancestral lineages.
The creation of various writing systems allowed information to be preserved in a more stable format. The earliest known writing systems date back to about 3,200 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt. As a reference, the Greek alphabet was created 2,800 years ago. The Latin alphabet we use today is about 2,500 years old and the Chinese writing system has about 1,200 years of history.
In addition, writing provided source text for those able to communicate in more than one language to read and share with others. Over time, this practice of consuming written content in one language and transforming it into another written language became known as translation.
- First significant translation
The most translated work in history is the Bible. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek in the 3rd century. Because so many Jewish people no longer spoke Hebrew, they commissioned 70 translators to independently translate the content. It was reported that they all output the same content and thus the new version was called The Septuagint, meaning ‘seventy’ in Greek.
- Progression of writing and translation tools
Writing tools progressed significantly over time: Stone tablets and chisels; knives and wood or bone; damp clay and stylus and ultimately ink and leaves or paper. Manual handwriting with these tools was time-consuming, but effective at preserving content over long periods of time. A major finding in 1799 was the Rosetta Stone carved in 196 BCE. This relic gave modern scholars the opportunity to study and translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Over time, primitive writing materials were replaced with ink pens, and then typewriters and eventually computers. With each writing tool improvement, the ability to translate also became more efficient.
Luckily, dictionaries, wordlists and lexicons (bilingual) were created along with the birth of writing systems. These books sometimes included definitions, common usage, etymologies (word origins), pronunciations and translations into other languages. Ancient dictionaries dating back to 2300 BCE compiled this information about the Sumerian and Akkadian languages. Books that assemble information on words in various languages are invaluable to linguistic scholars and translators alike.
- Academic study
Intellects that study the various facets of language have been known as grammarians or linguistic scholars for centuries. Another historical term was “philology”, the study of language. Academics were unsure where to place translation in the curriculum. They argued whether it should fall under linguistics or literary studies. Ultimately, an independent area of academic study, focused solely on translation, emerged globally between the 1950s and1970s. Terms describing translation studies included, translatology and traductology. Over time, the industry and profession have simply become known as “translation”.
- Duplication and transmission of data
The ability to duplicate and transmit content revolutionised history and the translation industry. In the 15th century, the printing press was invented, replacing the tedious process of manually transcribing content. Mass production of documents and books created access to information to large public audiences. Translating content into multiple languages proliferated the dissemination of information to readers worldwide.
From the 1970s to the current day, the speed of technological advancements to transmit data has accelerated. Computers with word processing software, copy and fax (facsimile) machines were found in offices worldwide. The ability to send clearly typed documents across the globe became instantaneous without shipping for the first time. Computer modems and the Internet took communications to a new level of speed and efficiency overnight.
It is clear that the translation industry would not have grown to its current market levels if it wasn’t for these data communication advances.
- Translation quality controls
As the translation industry matures, so do the qualifications of translators, agency licensing and quality control procedures and standards.
Translation is no longer a hobby or side job performed by freelancers. Reputable agencies implement formal recruiting policies and strict vetting processes before contracting with a translator. It is now assumed that most professional translators have earned degrees in translation, passed assessments, have applicable experience and hold nationally, or internationally, recognised certifications.
In addition, the company or Language Service Providers (LSP) must also register with local authorities, obtain the applicable business licences and carry professional indemnity insurance before taking on projects.
The process of translating content is also becoming systematised and regulated globally. Typical quality measures may include preparing the source text in a way it can be best worked with, matching the source and target languages and subject matter expertise required the best-qualified translator, editing and proofreading by a second translator and final quality reviews to ensure formatting is perfected before the project is delivered to the client. Formal global quality control standards for translating are outlined in the International Organization of Standardization’s quality management systems ISO 9001 and ISO 17100:2015.
Of course, utilising the most up to date translation technologies to ensure consistent terminology is now expected. See below.
- Technological advances in language translation
The translation industry has come a long way from the days of word processing software only providing basic spelling, grammar and word count functions. Now foreign word translating technology is built into even the most basic software.
The industry itself has advanced and so have the tools used in the profession. Language technology tools, such as computer-assisted translation tools (CATs), have resulted in a new level of translation accuracy and speed for every content topic.
Terminology Management (TM) and Translation Memory have become common terms in the industry. All sectors, industries and businesses have their own jargon and vernacular with nuanced meanings. Keeping the terms clear and consistent within and across projects is expected in today’s competitive translation services market. TM tools have created efficiencies by suggesting “full matches” and “fuzzy matches” for common terms used. Translators can now review the computer-generated suggestions to make the best translation decision to achieve the source writer’s intended meaning.
In addition, new technologies have been introduced to the translation industry to assist with workflow management. Quality control, project management and document management systems come together to create an efficient translation process and quality deliverable.
Although technology continues to advance, it will probably never be able to extract information and express meaning in a culturally appropriate tone as well as the human brain.
Renaissance Translations is grateful for the translation pioneers that have advanced our industry to the level it is today. As a community, we have progressed through several challenges and leveraged opportunities to create a global network of experts improving communications across languages. Thank you to our network of over 3,000 professional translators fluent in over 100 languages. We look forward to matching one of our professionals to your specific project requirements. Let’s discuss!