Translation Evolution – Early Beginnings

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Translation dates back to as long as when the first words were spoken by cavemen. Ever since people living in caves learnt to communicate using words instead of just gesturing and using signs, translation came into existence.

In the prehistoric age, different languages came into being by different people who lived in remoteness. Cavemen, at first, were only able to speak and express using a single language. Nevertheless they were able to communicate over large distances using smoke signals or drums. More recent forms of these means of communication are radio, TV, internet and car navigation.

Being monolingual in those times, wasn't such a problem for the kind of lifestyle they had. For example; the Vikings only fought many wars, robbed people and captured land. However, being monolingual began to trouble those who traveled long journeys on horse-backs, camel-backs or sailed in the sea to explore. In the 13th century, the Italian explorer Marco Polo traveled to Asia he had to learn several languages. Most of these languages created the bases for languages like Persian, Mongolian, Uighur and Chinese according to researchers based on foreign spellings found in Marco Polo’s guidebook. This guidebook served as a model to the modern authors for the correct way to write a guidebook for centuries.

Foreign languages were learned by educated people of ancient civilizations which include Greece and Rome. A whole new culture called the Renaissance was developed by Latin writers and intellectuals of ancient Rome under the influence of Greek philosophers, playwrights and authors.

The best known translator from the time of Renaissance was a biblical scholar who translated Bible into Latin. He gained popularity with the name St. Jerome although his real name was Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus. The earliest printing press came into existence by the Germans in 1440 when translation gained importance for distribution of information. Before the press every book was manually reproduced, often by a monk.

Technical translation was not really required until the middle ages for two major reasons:

1. There was no internationally known and enforceable patent right system known. Although just a few patent rights were locally granted in the 14th, 15th and 16th century to investors in England, Venice and France.

2. The major books dealing with sciences such as astronomy, mathematics, botany or geography were written in Latin. Up until 19th century Latin was the most common language for communication. The book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium is the seminal work on the heliocentric theory of the Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, written in Latin during the 15th century for obvious reasons.

The execution of what has become the translation business in today’s modern world, to the extent that it all occurred in the ancient times and Middle Ages is still unclear and not so evident, although we have a few facts from here and there. For example, the fact that St. Jerome worked for the pope for translating Bible into Latin. Literary works and books of science were translated for imminent researchers and writers.

It can be concluded that letters or articles and excerpts from foreign newspapers, to the extent that these things were translated at all, were simply translated by people who “knew a foreign language”.
Gradually in the 20th century, a new profession of a translator was recognized. During this time mass communication completely evolved, telegraph, radio and TV were introduced. The character and the nature of communication evolved into what is known today as “the translation business”

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