A journey through the history of the translation profession

Translation profession

The practice of translation dates back to the origin of human language . In a broader sense, almost everything in this world is a translation of something else. As Derrida, the famous French philosopher, says, even a writer’s actual work is a translation profession of his own thoughts. 

Legal aid translation is inextricably linked to people’s lives. So let’s take a closer look at the origins of this fascinating practice and how it has changed over time. The aim of this article is to shed light on both the history of translation and that of the translator and to give an overview of the changes in the profession.


The word “translate” was used as “ōversetten” in Middle Low German as early as the 15th century and derives from the Latin trādūcere or trānsferre , which means something like transferred  . This original term defines the main meaning of translation as transferring a text from one language to another . This practice of transferring the meaning of a source text has come a long way: from antiquity to modern times. It opened new debates on a wide range of topics ranging from language, culture, translation theories, translation as a discipline, etc.

Since ancient times

The 3rd century BC translation of the Bible entitled “Septuagint” is considered the oldest known work of translation. The Jews, who had forgotten their native language, Hebrew, sought a group of seventy translators to translate the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. The name “Septuagint” represents the seventy scholars assigned to translate the Bible in Alexandria, Egypt. In contrast, some historical accounts recognize the “Rosetta Stone or Rosetta Stone” as the first translation of the 2nd century BCE world. on.

The history of translation can be divided into two thematic blocks, namely western and oriental translations. The history of Western translation can be divided into four main periods. This classification, prepared by Western scholar George Steiner, is as follows:

  • First period : Roman translators (Cicero and Horace to Alexander Fraser).
  • Second period : from Alexander Fraser to Valery.
  • Third period : from Valery to the 1960s.
  • Fourth period : from the 1960s to the present.

The translation works from these periods had a major impact on the development of European languages . Works of translation introduced people to different cultures and identities and bridged the cultural boundaries between nations through literature. The translation of the Bible into Latin, the translation of the Sumerian poem “Epic of Gilgamesh” into various Asian languages, etc. are considered to be some of the ancient translations that formed the basis for the invention of new theories and ideologies for Occidental and Oriental scholars. The translation of Buddhist literary works contributed significantly to the advancement of Asian cultures and the development of Asian languages ​​to what they are today. Almost all languages ​​began to create a plethora of new words that eventually helped promote linguistic richness. 

With the arrival of Buddhism in China from India, the Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures in particular were translated into Chinese. In the 5th century B.C. The translation of the Buddhist scriptures was better organised in China by the founding of a school of translators. This translation milestone is one of the first examples of a professional approach to translation. Parallel to the creation of translation works, there were debates about word-for-word translation and sense-for-sense translationFood for thought and shed a whole new light on translation and the role of the translator. Saint Jerome, who was entrusted with translating the Bible into Latin by the Roman Catholic Church, believed that translators should choose a sense-for-sense translation rather than a word-for-word translation (“non verbum e verbo, sed sensum exprimere de sensu”). 

He is credited with being the first to coin the term sense for sense in his “Epistle to Pammachius.” Also , Kumarajiva , an Indian Buddhist monk, advocated that translators should take a free translation approach when translating sutras. This monk is said to have made this observation while examining the accuracy and readability of translated sutras using a literal translation approach. It was at this point that Kumarajiva introduced the practice of the translator signing his name on the text he is translating, thus certifying his work.

On the way to modernity

Over time, the profession of translator has come a long way, and the whole development has made room for a new discipline. The need for a distinct discipline called translation was fundamental as the debate between linguistic and literary approaches to translation erupted worldwide. The debate that took place at the IV Slavic Congress in Moscow was historic in that it suggested the need for a separate science that included all forms of translation. The development of translation as a discipline in its own right has impacted the field of translation through the introduction of new translation theories and practices expanded. Before the 1990s, translation scholars followed many schools of thought, such as the prescriptive paradigm, descriptive translation studies, skopos theory, etc. However, the cultural shift in the 1990s opened up a multidisciplinary approach to translation studies, integrating it with other fields such as history, Gender studies, feminism, cultural studies, postmodernism, etc. combined. 

Translation theorists such as Sussan Bassnett , André Lefevere, and later Lawrence Venuti were pioneers in establishing the cultural turn of translation studies. The theories of translation that existed prior to this shift did not shed any light on the socio-cultural background against which the translation process takes place. 

During this period, this emerging discipline took a step forward by introducing numerous areas of translation studies. The areas that belong to the translation studies can be called postcolonial areas, gender studies, sociology of translation, audiovisual translation,court room interpretation, etc. Taken together, these theories and new approaches have led to a sea change in translation studies, with a holistic view of the appreciation of different languages ​​and cultures. In addition to the cultural approach and the paradigm shifts, the translation profession has gone through different phases over time. The machine translation can be said to be one of the latest technological developments in this field, which is likely to have both good and bad implications for the translator’s future. This subfield of translation is still in its infancy as scientists are still exploring the possibilities of high-quality machine translation.


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