Translation is everywhere!
Updated: May 26, 2020
You most probably read translations every day of your life without even realising it.
You wake up and check your Samsung smartphone and the date, the features and all your settings on your South Korean device are in English. Perhaps you check out some funny videos on TikTok and take a look at your privacy settings in English on the Chinese app. You climb out of your IKEA bed that you built yourself, following the English instructions provided by the Swedish furniture company. For breakfast you pour out your Nestlé Shreddies and read the back of the Swiss company’s packaging to find that it's all in English and you can understand it. You take a shower and wash your hair with your Schwarzkopf shampoo and the instruction label on the German product is in English. You get dressed into your H&M clothes for the day and all the labels from this Swedish brand are in English. Hooray! You can understand the washing and ironing instructions. Before going to work you sit down and play Animal Crossing on your Nintendo Switch. Everything you read is in English despite the fact that it was created in Japan. Then you get in your Volkswagen Polo and all the buttons and labels in your German car are written in English, even the instruction manual is in English. The only way that these brands were able to market in the UK is with the help of translators!
How often do you read a book and wonder whether it is a translation? In fact, the language that has been translated out of the most is English, so if you are reading in English then it is more likely that your book has been translated into another language than that it is a translation itself. Having said this, English is the fourth most common language for books to be translated into, after German, French and Spanish.*
Many books that you will have heard of or read are translations into English. The Bible is a great example of a book that has been translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English as well as 697 other languages as of October 2019 according to Wycliffe.** Other books that you have probably heard of are Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and other fairytales by the Brother’s Grimm which have been translated out of German, as well as stories such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables by French author Victor Hugo.
It is not always obvious when a book is a translation. Translators are often working away in the background and you will rarely see their name next to their work. How many more authors can you name than translators?
A lot of what we know from history has come from translated texts and documents. We learned about the Ancient Egyptians from translations of hieroglyphics. We learned about the ancient Greeks and the Romans from translations of Ancient Greek and Latin. The Vikings spoke Old Norse and the Normans spoke a dialect of French. In more recent history, most of what we know about the World Wars is thanks to translations from various languages. Documents like the Domesday Book which was translated from Latin are great examples of translation in history.
Thanks to translation, we are able to access so many resources and buy from a huge range of brands. Imagine what life would be like if we couldn’t play our favourite video games, read our favourite books or learn about history because we are unable to understand any languages other than our mother tongue.
*According to the Index Translationum