As a translator, you want to create a perfect translation. You want to get as close to the original as possible. However, it’s not as simple as that. Translating a document can take 20 minutes or days. It depends on the target language, length of the document, and so much more.
During my time as a Translation Intern at Bromberg, I was given a training project translating a Generator Manual from English to Spanish. It was quite possibly the hardest translation project I’ve ever received. I worked on it for days, but it just wasn’t working out! Despite all my hard work and research, the translation still turned out terribly.
Instead of sitting there doubting my Spanish translation skills, I should’ve realized that the project was beyond the skills and knowledge I possessed at that time. I should’ve also thought about St. Jerome’s story.
According to the Catholic Church, St. Jerome is considered the Patron Saint of scholars like archeologists, librarians, students, and more. Many consider him the special guardian or advocate for translators as well. I prefer to look to him as a role model for how I translate my projects. Though he may not have lived the perfect life nor behaved in the best of ways, he was an excellent scholar and translator.
St.Jerome spoke Greek, Roman, and eventually Hebrew. He could also read Aramaic, speak Syriac, and knew some Arabic. He was best known for translating the Holy Bible from Hebrew to Latin. It wasn’t an easy task to achieve, especially because he wasn’t fluent in Hebrew when he started. In order to learn the language, he moved to Jerusalem. It took him many years to complete this work.
The translation, however, was not without its errors. One translation snafu he made was “putting horns on Moses”. Because the word in Hebrew for “rays of light” is the same as “horns”, St. Jerome mistranslated the sentence claiming Moses had horns coming out of his head. The mistranslation resulted in many incorrect depictions of Moses, including a statue created by Michelangelo in Rome (Which can still be seen to this day!).
Despite the errors, it is still considered his greatest work of translation. He was the first honoree inducted in the Translator Interpreter Hall of Fame. It wasn’t just his great translation skills which made him the Patron Saint of scholars, but also his humility about his work. He could admit mistakes and ignorance. He would revisit old translations and make corrections where needed. He would also point out that the accuracy of his translations relied on the accuracy of the source text.
While translators can do everything in their power to create the most accurate translation possible, there is still room for error.. Just like St. Jerome’s Biblical mistake, there are often multiple translations in the target language for one word. It’s not always easy to choose the correct word. Different dialects in the target language could disagree about one word versus the other. Translators have a lot to take in and understand while working, but it’s a challenge we accept.
So today, on the International Translation Day, let’s celebrate translators everywhere and appreciate their dedication to the craft, their diligence, and the products that allow us to communicate among languages and cultures.
Special for Bromberg by Patricia Wyza