International Translators Day

St. Jerome

has long been the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopedists. St. Jerome in his Study by Antonello da MessinaFrom its founding in 1953, the International Federation of Translators has celebrated the day with events relating to translation and in 1991 launched a campaign to celebrate St. Jerome’s Day as International Translator’s Day. Today translators’ associations all over the world are holding special events to honor the day.

Jerome himself was an impressive linguist, translator and orator known for his command of both Latin and Greek. He later studied Hebrew in order to detect translation errors in the Christian Old Testament and to write his own version based directly on Hebraic texts. Although modern scholars comparing Jerome’s direct translations with Hebrew texts and Origen of Alexandria’s Hexapla cast doubts upon his mastery of the Hebrew language, he is recognized nonetheless as one of the most prolific writers of early Christendom, second only to the venerable St Augustine.

International Translators Day is especially interesting in the age of Internet. Today I popped in and out of Proz.com’s annual virtual conference without ever leaving my office. As the labors of most present day translators are not subsidized by wealthy Roman matrons as St. Jerome was in his day, the subject of the Proz.com conference inevitably turned to money and the volume of words that a translator could produce. It was the opinion of at least one panel moderator that this could run above 10,000 words a day and as high as 150,000 words a month, an astronomical figure that one must suppose includes a very high ratio of “fuzzy matches”. However, one must  keep in mind that according to contemporary scholars, even  the saintly Jerome racked up an impressive number of his own dubiously translated terms.

As the day and its many events around the world wind down, translators return to their daily work. At any given  moment of the day or night, 365 days a year, someone, somewhere in the world, is transforming a thought or idea from one language to another.  If he’s out there somewhere in the celestial spheres  revising his texts for all eternity, may Saint Jerome smile down upon them all.

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