Translators work to preserve languages, dialects and history

Translators play a vital role in saving the world’s languages, their work allowing 6,000 to 7,000 spoken tongues to exist, and 3,000 rare dialects to survive.

“Without translation, there is no history of mankind,” said linguist Astrid Guillaume, of the Sorbonne University in Paris.

“We know histories and cultures of the world only by way of translations,” she added.

The word “translate” comes from the Latin “traducere,” which means “to carry across.” Here are three examples of how translators serve linguistic diversity.

Read more: The Japan Times

Arabic translators did far more than just preserve Greek philosophy

In European antiquity, philosophers largely wrote in Greek. Even after the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean and the demise of paganism, philosophy was strongly associated with Hellenic culture. The leading thinkers of the Roman world, such as Cicero and Seneca, were steeped in Greek literature; Cicero even went to Athens to pay homage to the home of his philosophical heroes. Tellingly, the emperor Marcus Aurelius went so far as to write his Meditations in Greek. Cicero, and later Boethius, did attempt to initiate a philosophical tradition in Latin. But during the early Middle Ages, most of Greek thought was accessible in Latin only partially and indirectly.

Elsewhere, the situation was better. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek-speaking Byzantines could continue to read Plato and Aristotle in the original. And philosophers in the Islamic world enjoyed an extraordinary degree of access to the Hellenic intellectual heritage. In 10th-century Baghdad, readers of Arabic had about the same degree of access to Aristotle that readers of English do today.

Read more: Aeon

Putting an accent on the Maltese language

When it comes to languages, Maltese is as distinctive as it gets. Not only does it consist of an eclectic blend of other tongues, but it is also considered to be a unique branch of Arabic that has undergone Latinisation over the course of several centuries. There are just over half a million native Maltese speakers on the planet, comprising mainly of the population of Malta and the many thousands of expats living across the EU and New World countries.

And yet, even though Malta’s main language is quite niche, it is still recognised as one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. In fact, it is the only Semitic language used in European Institutions in an official capacity. This is truly an impressive feat for such an underrepresented language, but there are still many issues that Maltese faces on a European level.

In a bid to mitigate these challenges, a group of Maltese translators have been investing a lot of energy to ensure the correct use and development of our language. Since December 2009, a publication called l-aċċent has been dealing with these issues by bringing together the knowledge of people from within the European Institutions, academics at the University of Malta, and other individuals that have a vested interest in the Maltese language.

But, before we get into the nitty gritty of l-aċċent, it is important to understand that translating official European Institution documents into Maltese is no simple task. Louise Vella, a translator working at the European Commission and founding member of l-aċċent’s editorial board, is well aware of the difficulties that persist in her profession. “Maltese, like all other languages, is evolving at a fast rate,” she explains, so grammar and terminology can be quite cumbersome during the translation process.

Read more: Times of Malta

Translators: Publishing’s unsung heroes at work

For John Cullen, his first few paragraphs are the most important and the most difficult. Just like the writers whose work he translates, he agonises over finding the right words. “I sit in my little office reading aloud to myself,” he says. “The first page has about 20 drafts. You have to see the spirit of the original author and to reproduce it. Particularly with a first-person narrative, it becomes very important to find the right voice. Once I hear that, or delude myself into thinking I have, I can go forward.”

Cullen translated into English from French the Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, one of the African novels on the longlist of the FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices fiction award. His creative efforts illustrate a growing debate about the importance of translation and whether its practitioners deserve more recognition for bringing fiction from a broader range of cultures to a wider international readership.

Read more: Financial Times