The History Behind Translation


The history of translation goes back a long, long way; the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek in the 3rd century BC being one of the first major recognised translations. Since then, in a world with over 7,000 spoken languages, the translation services industry has grown to a value of around 40 billion USD and is predicted to reach almost 47 billion USD by 2028 – so how have we got here?

How did translation first develop? This question may shed some light on the nature of translation, as well as providing us with some clues about the direction that translation might be heading towards in the future.

How has the theory of translation changed?

Over the centuries, translation has contributed to everything from the large-scale spreading of religions to the development of a wide range of modern languages. It has boosted communication, insight and understanding that would not otherwise have been possible. 

Translation has influenced societal development, and we’re still feeling its impact today. 

The word translation (in English) comes from the Latin word translatio, meaning to ‘bring across’ or to ‘carry across’. However, the way in which language has been ‘carried across’ has varied hugely since the early days of translation. From this term, there is the sense of a ‘gap’, and it is this disconnect in human communication. Unfortunately, anthropologists can only speculate at what point our ancestors first developed language, but it is not hard to imagine early humans meeting other tribes and needing to break the language barrier to intermarry, trade or go to war.

Religious Translations throughout History

Since the origin of translation, religious texts have been a key focus. Saint Jerome – the patron saint of translation – was a Christian priest whose translation of the Bible into Latin gave us the Vulgate – the version of the Bible used by the Catholic Church. Previous Latin translations of the Bible (collectively known as the Vetus Latina), were based purely on the Ancient Greek Septuagint. However, the Vulgate used the Septuagint as the basis of the Old Testament, but with adjustments made based on Saint Jerome’s reading of the Bible in Hebrew as well. His translation was made between 383 and 404 AD.

Translation played a key role in the spread of Buddhism across Asia as well (a process that spanned much of the first millennium AD). Key to this were the translations of the Buddhist monk Kumārajīva. During the 4th century AD, he translated a wide range of religious texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. The most well-known of these today is the Diamond Sutra. It remains popular due to its clear delivery of the meaning of the original texts.

Religion continues to remain a key driver of translation today.


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The Future of Translation

Thanks to the growing profile of translation, more companies and individuals are educating themselves about how the translation industry works to everyone’s advantage. Translation has come a long way since Saint Jerome! As the industry continues to boom, clients are becoming increasingly well informed about how the translation process works. Companies will be asking for a greater range of services from their translation team, from copywriting to SEO and web design.

We are already starting to see shifts in working practices thanks to this growing understanding of the inner workings of the industry. Less than a decade ago, many companies kept their records on paper and owned several weighty dictionaries. Most modern companies have now moved online, and now translations are delivered in a range of file formats, including Word, PDF, and Excel.

We can see that throughout its history, translation has influenced our economy, society, our cultural change, and development. When two cultures can communicate, they can exchange ideas, discover common ground, and innovate for the future. Translation serves to help us set aside our differences and bring us closer together as one global human family.

Today, translation is essential to everything from global peacekeeping to tackling pandemics, as well as the survival and growth of many businesses. That’s why Dialogue works with a large pool of translators that have passed our extensive vetting process with the talent of covering 150 languages. Why not get in touch if you have a translation that we can help with? 

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