Professional Translators Who Made History

Professional Translators Who Made History

Woman reading in a library

Our industry goes back thousands of years. Translators have been helping people communicate since the beginning of recorded civilization. While our history is long, much of the services we provide as professional interpreters and translators has remained the same!

Today, we refer to spoken translation as interpretation in the U.S., and the rendering of written text into another language translation. Want to know more about some of the most influential translation professionals in history? Here’s a few of the most widely known:

1. St. Jerome (347 – 420 AD) – Known as the ‘Patron Saint of Translation,’ he is one of the first famous translators in western history. St. Jerome translated the Bible from its original Greek and Hebrew forms into the Latin translation still used today. His was the only Latin translation available for a thousand years and includes some errors that influenced western culture. For example, he mistranslated the Hebrew word “keren” as “grew horns” instead of “radiated light,” and you can still find images of Moses with horns.

2. Sir Richard Burton (1821 – 1890) – From England, he traveled through Asia, Africa, and Europe as a scholar, soldier, and explorer. Sir Richard Burton boasted fluency in 29 languages. He gained notoriety for translating some of the most erotic works of his time, including the first English translation of the Kama Sutra and first uncensored version of The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night.

3. Constance Garnett (1861 – 1946) – A prolific translator of her time, Constance Garnett specialized in translating Russian literature for English audiences – more than 70 volumes. Her career featured novels written by Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky – and her work proved instrumental in introducing the authors to English speaking audiences. She was, however, criticized for her habit of omitting words or phrases that she didn’t know.

4. Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986) – Borges translated the works of Walt Whitman, William Faulker, Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Hesse, Virginia Woolfe, Franz Kafka, and André Gide. Rather than focusing on literal or “transparent” translations, he used the guiding principle of “happy and creative infidelity” to capture the original writing’s essence, spirit, and style. It’s said that he was only nine years old when he translated Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince into Spanish.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

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