Cheers to Centuries of Hardworking Translators

Clear your calendars… September 30 is International Translation Day!

The holiday is celebrated each year on the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists.

Now, I don’t know what kind of parties those crazy librarians and encyclopedists throw, but translators and interpreters around the world will certainly raise a glass to the many hardworking men and women who have contributed to our centuries-old craft.

Bible Translators

Some of the earliest, most prominent translators were Bible translators. This makes sense, of course, because the Bible was the first book to be widely printed.

St. Jerome himself was a Bible translator, responsible for translating most of the Bible into Latin.

Likewise, translating the Bible made its teachings accessible to a wider audience. This is our role as translators: to bridge communication gaps across languages, so that texts written in one language can be shared with readers of other languages.

Good Ol’ Hans

I must confess… I have a favorite Bible translator, and it’s not St. Jerome.

His name is Hans Tausen (1494-1561). He studied under Martin Luther in Wittenberg and went on to lead the Danish Reformation. He was also a well-educated language scholar, fluent in both Greek and Hebrew.

In 1535, Tausen translated the first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Pentateuch) from Hebrew to Danish. According to The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages, Volume 2, his translation “has been praised for its vigorous, bold and popular, strikingly vivid style, with rich, often genuinely Danish vocabulary; it has been judged as the most distinctively Danish Bible translation before modern times.” (Note: The image above comes from my copy of a 1932 reprint of Tausen’s translation, titled Hans Tausens Oversættelse af De fem Mosebøger.)

Hans Tausen is also my 13th great-grandfather. And while simple mathematics show that each of us has thousands of ancestors that far back, it feels pretty cool to have genealogical proof of direct lineage to a badass religious reformer and translator. Or as we lovingly call him in our family… Good Ol’ Hans.

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Photo: me (far left) with family in front of a statue of Hans Tausen in Ribe, Denmark, in May 1998

I like to think that some strand of his DNA that predisposes linguistic talent has been passed down over the years. As if translation is our 500-year-old family business. 🙂

In any case, this Friday, on International Translation Day, I’ll be celebrating my great-great-great-….-grandfather, as well as the countless other translators and interpreters who have devoted hours of study to languages and other fields in order to bridge cultures and expand our understanding of others.

Cheers!