The Role of Translators in the Evolution of Cultures and Languages

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The Role of Translators in the Evolution of Cultures and Languages * The translator’s work is more subtle, more civilized than that of the writer: the translator clearly comes after the writer. Translation is a more advanced stage of civilization. * Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), Argentine writer, poet and translator.  

* The total number of languages in the world is somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000. The reason for this vague figure is that the boundaries between languages and dialects are blurred, so that the precise number depends on the definition adopted. Although it is estimated that out of those languages more than 90 percent are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people, this enormous linguistic diversity still calls for large numbers of translators as communication facilitators between different language groups. * There is a good amount of research on the role of translators and their work in the diffusion of cultural, technical and scientific innovations through the ages. Historian of translation Louis Gerard Kelly goes so far as to claim that “Western Europe owes its civilisation to translators.” (Kelly, The True Interpreter, 1979, 1). Apart from knowledge transfer, translators have greatly contributed to the formation of languages through the ages. To appreciate this role, it is necessary to take a closer look at the translation process. * A fundamental dichotomy is at the heart of all translation work. On the one hand, it is desirable to render the original text with all its puns and nuances as accurately as possible in the target language. On the other hand, however, the translation must sound eloquent and fluent, and this is achieved by ensuring that the final text conforms to the grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions of the language in which it is written. It is ultimately due to the need for this delicate balancing act between fidelity to the original and fluency of the final text that translating is at the same time a...
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