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The history of translation - tracing the development of an ancient art

Learn about the evolution of translation from its earliest beginnings to the present day and how it has become an integral part of our modern world.


The history of translation is a long and complicated one, tracing back to the very earliest days of human communication. Though the details are often murky, it is clear that translation has been an important part of human interaction from the very beginning.

In this blog post we will:

  • examine some of the earliest examples of translation on record,
  • explore some of the ways that translation has evolved over the centuries,
  • and discuss the growth of translation as a profession.

So stay tuned for a fascinating journey through the history of translation!

The Earliest Examples of Translation

The early history of translation is shrouded in mystery. It is not known when or where the first translations were made. However, by the time of the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1550-1069 BCE), the practice was well-established, with scribes regularly translating documents from one language to another.

Some of the documents that were translated during this period include the Amarna Letters, which were sent between the pharaohs of Egypt and their counterparts in other parts of the world. These letters provide valuable insight into the diplomatic relations of the ancient world.

Another example of an early translation is the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. This translation was made in the 3rd or 2nd century BCE and is still used by some Christian denominations today. And since we are already covering the bible, of course, the story of the "Tower of Babel" deserves an honorable mention.

Drawing of Tower of BabelImage: Drawing of the Tower of Babel

Imagine if all of these documents weren't translated. Historians would have a more difficult time piecing together the puzzle of the past. Thanks to translation, we have a better understanding of the cultures and peoples of antiquity. So even if you think translating small documents such as restaurant menus or instruction manuals is beneath you, know that you are playing a significant role in preserving history.

If you are looking to learn more about the evolution of language, take a look at our recent blog post covering the development of language.

The Modern Era of Translation

The modern era of translation began in the 19th century with the rise of the nation-state. As countries around the world began to assert their independence, there was a need for translations of official documents such as constitutions, treaties, and laws.

This need was further amplified by the rise of global trade and colonialism. As businesses began to operate in multiple countries, there was a growing demand for translations of commercial documents such as contracts, manuals, and product descriptions.

Drawing of 19th centuryImage: Artistic representation of the 19th century

The increase in demand for translation services led to the professionalization of the field. In the early 20th century, the first professional translation associations were established in Europe. These associations set standards for the industry and helped to train Schools and colleges were established to train the next generation of translators.

The growth of the translation industry continued in the second half of the 20th century with the rise of the United Nations and the European Union. These organizations required translations of a wide range of documents, from speeches and United Nations resolutions to technical manuals and brochures.

This demand led to a significant expansion of the translation industry, with the number of professional translators quadrupling between 1950 and 2000.

The translation industry has continued to grow in recent years, with the rise of globalization and the internet. With more businesses operating internationally and more information being shared online, the demand for translation services is higher than ever. Especially website translations have become more important in these global times.

The Future of Translation

Drawing of a potential far away futureImage: Drawing of a potential far-away future

The future of translation is impossible to predict. However, one trend that is likely to continue is the growth of the translation industry. As the world becomes more interconnected, there will be an increasing need for translations of all kinds of documents.

Another trend that is likely to continue is the increasing use of technology in the translation process. In the past, most translations were done manually by professional translators. However, in recent years there has been a growing use of computer-assisted translation tools such as translation memory and machine translation or even blockchain and artificial intelligence.

These tools can save time and money, but they also have the potential to reduce the quality of translations. As a result, there is a growing demand for human translation services that can provide high-quality, accurate translations.

Overall, the future of translation looks bright. As the world becomes more connected, there will be an increasing need for translation services. This will provide opportunities for both professional translators and translation businesses.

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