10 interesting facts on translation and translators

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Posted: 
September 25, 2017
Written by: Marc-André Descôteaux , Language Portal of Canada

Every year on September 30, we celebrate International Translation Day. Why on that date? Because it coincides with the Feast of St. Jerome, who was one of the first translators to translate the Bible into Latin.

International Translation Day is about celebrating translators and the work they do. To mark the occasion, I’ve compiled 10 interesting facts on the fascinating world of translation!

Some translation stats

1) The 5 most translated languages in the world are English, French, German, Russian and Italian.

2) The Bible, which can be read in nearly 650 languages, is thought to be the most translated publication (and at least one of its books has been translated into 3,225 languages). Next is the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is available in more than 500 languages.

3) Certain literary classics have also been translated into many languages, such as The Adventures of Pinocchio (available in 260 languages) and The Little Prince (available in 300 languages). Translated into 70 languages, Harry Potter still has a way to go!

4) About 330,000 people practice translation as a profession, and that doesn't include those who do it informally.

5) According to a UNESCO database called "Index Translationum", which lists all of the books translated in the world, the top 3 most translated authors are Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.

The work of translators

6) The English verb "translate" comes from "translatus," a form of the Latin verb "transferre," meaning "to bring over, carry over."

7) The translation profession is more than 1,000 years old! That's right, The Old Testament is thought to have been translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC, making it the oldest recorded translation.

8) Scientific knowledge has long been shared through translation. For example, Émilie de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet, an 18th-century physicist, was the first person to translate Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation into French.

9) Translators are known for inventing alphabets, the precious tools that allow us to share our knowledge. Mesrop Machtots invented the Armenian and Albanian alphabets. Saint Cyril invented the Cyrillic alphabet, used today to write Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian, among many other languages. And a little closer to home, we have James Evans in Manitoba, who invented Cree syllabics, which are used to write the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada.

10) Translators play a key role in providing access to foreign literature. Portuguese writer José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, expressed this reality so well when he said, "Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature."

What do you think of Saramago's quote? Have you discovered authors you love through translated works? If so, share them with us in the comments below!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

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About the author

Marc-André Descôteaux

A translator and reviser for about 20 years, Marc-André Descôteaux has been interested in the web since the days of the 2400-baud modem. Insatiably curious, he is passionate about culture, travel and language. He is delighted to contribute to the Language Portal of Canada team.

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