For translation agency AgroLingua, 30 September is an opportunity to bask in some glory and reflect on our profession. International Translation Day has been celebrated every year on 30 September since the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in 2017 as an act to recognise the role of professional translation.
But to find out more about the significance of the date, we have to revisit the fourth century. The 30th of September is the feast of St. Jerome, whose probable year of birth was 347 in the village of Stridon on the border between Dalmatia and Pannonia. He was born into a wealthy family and grew up not far from Ljubljana. He was able to study grammar, rhetoric and philosophy in Rome. The ideal decision as it turned out. After converting to Christianity, he studied the scriptures and was ultimately ordained and assumed a prominent place in the papal councils. He is revered as a saint and as a father of the church by various Christian denominations. He is also the patron saint of translators. In the Catholic Church, he is considered to be one of the four Latin doctors of the Church.
Bible translation in Latin
Between 390 and 405, Jerome, the leading biblical scholar of his day, was commissioned by Pope Damasus to revise and produce an acceptable Latin version of the Bible from the various translations then being used. This version became known as the Vulgate. More than 1100 years later, the Catholic Church declared this translation to be the single authoritative text.
Jerome was a very intelligent, highly educated person. He could reportedly speak, write and understand several languages, including Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin. However, a flair for languages does not necessarily imply they can be translated correctly. In his letters to the Pope, Jerome explained that the translation of the Bible raised many questions for him, including his own moral response. He was confronted by the same challenges and considerations that are still part of the translation process today. Jerome realised that every translation also involves interpreting and recreating the original source and holds an inherent risk of altering some intrinsic meaning. And that inevitably, some shade of nuance may be influenced and changed during the translation process. Jerome died on 30 September 420 – exactly 1600 years ago!
The United Nations declared 30 September to be International Translation Day. In 1991 the International Federation of Translators launched the idea of an officially recognised International Translation Day, but celebrations have been promoted by the FIT since it was established in 1953.
On 24 May 2017, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared International Translation Day. In doing so, they paid tribute to the work of language professionals and recognised the role of the professional translation community in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development.
Translations are essential in multilingual countries
Wherever something is said, written, read or sung, translators are involved. Translation is a prerequisite for the promotion of culture and science, but also for the development of a national language. It serves a united Europe. Translations are essential in multilingual countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg or Switzerland. In Canada, legislation designates equal status to English and French and they have preferred status in law over all other languages.
On International Translation Day, numerous public events with industry professionals draw attention to the importance of preserving clarity in information and overcoming language barriers, whether this takes the form of literature or reference works, theatre or film and television, newspapers and magazines or advertising and technical manuals, websites, newsletters, annual reports ….
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