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Translation Vagaries Throughout History

By Expert Author: Roger Jenkins

The art and science of translating written text or the spoken word into another language that is understandable has many vagaries. This is not a precise science because it is nearly impossible to translate verbatim a word for word transcript.
It is because of the localization of words or text and the vagaries that go with specific locations that makes it literally impossible to obtain an exact translation. In order to get the best from translating efforts, it requires that the individual doing the translation understand the cultural background of the original as well as the one the text is being translated into to avoid costly mistakes and embarrassments.
There is a very rich and lengthy history surrounding translation. In history, we see that the first viable translation took place in Sumeria about 2000 BC as the Epic of Gilgamesh was translated into languages spoken in Southwest Asia.
The Rosetta Stone is a most famous historical translation that appeared around 196 BC and was commissioned by Ptolemy V of Egypt. It was inscribed in three different languages and is thought of as a definitive example of the science of translation. Now, it is considered the key to understanding translation.
The task of translation is not always easy. This is shown in the translation of Rosetta Stone because it took longer than twenty years to fully decipher this text that was on the stone. This took place during 1799.
The history of translation has been a rocky road in numerous cases. It is very difficult to retain the original meaning while changing the words.
At the time translation was brand new in ancient Greece, there is evidence of much discussion appearing in print concerning how to go about translation. Here is where literal translation (meta-phrase) and actual translation (paraphrase) were developed as well as a process laid out which made sure that accurate translation between cultures were possible.
Translation became much more of a science during the 1700s when writer and translator John Dryden described the process of translation as being two different modes of phrasing. He agonized over many of his translations, speaking about them in this fashion: " When words appear... literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since... what is beautiful in one language is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author's words." Modern day translation takes a great deal of instruction in word substitution from Dryden's methodology.
As the 18th century saw advances in translations, this led to less accuracy. Translators who perceived a text might be boring to the audience, they often left them out altogether, and this brought about some strange, yet unique translations.
When the 19th century rolled around commerce--due to improved transportation--became much more global in nature and translation became more necessary than ever before. New styles, new methods and entirely new levels of accuracy were achieved because it was necessary to accomplish accurate translations to provide for doing business with people from other cultures and languages.
As we have moved into the 21st century and the age of computers, there is now even more importance applied to accurate translation. The world is now more like one country separated only by different languages and cultures. We have become a global community where people from different language groups come together on a daily basis. Individuals interact online and countries, governments and business buy goods and services from each other.
Machine translation arrived on the scene and began taking up where individual translation left off, and some companies began to rely on inexpensive machinery to help in this area of business, but this was found to be woefully inadequate. Some hilarious results have occurred using mechanical translation as the only means. Do you remember the fiasco that happened when the game Zerowing, a Japanese game was translated poorly during the early nineties that rendered "All your base are belong to us."
No one is saying that translation through software doesn't have a place because it does help for online users and document translation.
Websites and brochures are created and must be translated, giving rise to the need for a rapid, or in some cases, a nearly instant translation. Software can be a means for the translation of sites to provide for that instant -if not perfect-understanding.
Today, most legal, medical and business translation is accomplished using software assisted human translators.The two methods together can catch problems that may exist in the translation. They further provide for an accurate and understandable translation from one language to another. Translations are then double checked to ensure that localized expressions and words are being used that will give the right idea as well as the right text.
With the evolution of translation technology, the changes have been dramatic and they allow for more accuracy at a greatly reduced cost. This has done much to increase the understanding between people of the world.

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