The word “translation”comes from a Latin term meaning « to bring or carry across ». The Ancient Greek term is ‘metaphrasis’ (« to speak across ») and this gives us the term ‘metaphrase’ (a « literal or word-for-word translation ») – as contrasted with ‘paraphrase’ (« a saying in other words »). The first known translations are those of the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh into Asian languages from the second millennium BC. Later Buddhist monks translated Indian sutras into Chinese and Roman poets adapted Greek texts.
Translation undertaken by Arabs could be said to have kept Greek wisdom and learning alive. Having conquered the Greek world, they made Arabic versions of its philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, translations of these Arabic versions were made into Latin – mainly at the school in Spain. These Latin translations of Greek and original Arab works of learning helped underpin Renaissance scholarship. Religious texts have played a great role in the history of translation. One of the first recorded instances of translation in the West was the rendering of the Old Testament into Greek in the 3rd century BC. Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translation, produced a Latin Bible in the 4th century AD that was the preferred text for the Roman Catholic Church for many years to come. Martin Luther himself is credited with being the first European to propose that one translates satisfactorily only toward his own language: a statement that is just as true in modern translation theory.
In the modern world, translation is as important – if not more so – as it was several millennia ago. Officially, there are about 6,800 languages spoken around the world, of which a significant portion have unique scripts and many have shared scripts based on the origins of the language in question. These challenges are compounded by the fact that nearly every culture in the world has interactions with every other culture. This means that there are an incalculable number of translation requirements every second of every minute of every day around the world. It’s no wonder, then, that translation is a dominant part of intercultural interaction.
The slow speed of manual translation has led to technology stepping in. Thus, machine translation (MT) was born. With the dawn of the technological age, the application of software to the field of translation became an interesting subject that was, and continues to be. Although more fallible than purely human translation, machine translation is a useful tool that has found several applications. For example, MT is regularly used for weather reports and other speciality areas where linguistic variables are limited. It is sometimes used for written government or legal communication, too, albeit with a modicum of human intervention. Though currently limited in application, it is a useful tool in the repertoire of any professional translator – if only to make the job a little bit easier or quicker. In its most advanced form, MT may give satisfactory output for unrestricted texts, but it is still best used when domains and variables (such as disambiguation or named entities) are controlled in some way. There is no doubt that the need for human translators will remain, and that even the best MT software can only go so far where sensitive or specialised translation is required. For results of the highest quality and integrity with respect to the source and target material, there is still no adequate substitute for human translator.