by Sabina Metcalf
People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.
Joseph F. Newton
Today, translators and interpreters across the globe are celebrating their national holiday – International Translation Day. For us, this day is an opportunity to demonstrate our pride in a profession that always challenges, inspires, and evolves. A profession that is increasingly important in our globalized world. Some people consider their work a daily chore: commuting long hours, sitting under fluorescent lights, struggling with mundanity. However, throughout my extensive career as a linguist, I am yet to encounter a single translator or interpreter who views their chosen path as a burden – rather, we see ourselves as bridges in a diverse world, acting as a link between various languages, cultures, and identities.
The word translation derives from the Latin translatio which itself comes from trans- and fero, together meaning “to carry or bring across” or, as Salman Rushdie, a Booker Prize winning novelist, puts it – “to bear across”. He believes that even though it is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation, something can also be gained. By building bridges across language and culture, we guide our fellow man through the high seas of everyday communications, dealings, and business transactions, and we add color, innovation, and understanding to an ever-changing world.
Similar to many famous bridges across the world, translators link the past of one generation to the future of another by putting historical texts in perspective and making the language of the old accessible to the young. In 1715-1720, Alexander Pope translated Homer’s Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem, in a way that has been acclaimed “a performance which no age or nation could hope to equal”. Dr Oliver Ready, an Oxford scholar, in his recently published translation of Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment brings the old Russian classic back to life in a compelling, colloquial, and modern way. We link the worlds that surround languages, we help people celebrate the diversity of our planet.
Just like the Golden Gate Bridge (translation: a red bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait) that adds vibrancy to a sometimes foggy and grey San Francisco, translators and interpreters can shed light onto our world with their bright vocabulary and colorful use of language. Their extensive vocabulary reaches into the dark corners of life, illuminating otherwise hidden mysteries, histories, and cultural intricacies. They can tame the wild, the dull and the homogenized; shepherd us and distribute the great beauty of cultures that have inspired writers and artists for centuries.
By building bridges across cultures, we not only open doors into a new world but also inspire people to view their own world in a new and reinvigorating way.
We connect people, we bridge their cultures, we bear them across their languages. Happy International Translation Day, everyone!
* Golden Gate Bridge, February 2014, photo by Sabina Metcalf