Top 10 interesting facts about translation

August 17, 2016 by Alison Tunley

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Top 10 interesting facts about translation

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With all the doom and gloom we’ve been experiencing in recent times with an uncertain political and economic climate I thought we’d keep it upbeat and light-hearted in today’s blog post. Let’s dive into some interesting facts about translation!

  1. Translation is a Latin word (‘translatio’ or ‘translationis’) meaning ‘to change venue’ or ‘transporting or transferring something’. Fitting to describe a field of work where the aim is to transfer meaning from one language to another.
  2. The most translated book in the world is thought to be the bible (the old and New testaments together have been translated into over 500 languages). Some parts of the bible (Genesis for example) have even been translated into Klingon!. However, ‘Listen to God and Live Forever’ (from the Watch Tower Society) has actually been translated into over 600 languages. Next on the list is United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (translated into over 400 languages). Several more publications for Jehovah’s Witnesses have been translated into nearly 300 languages. Literary classics Pinocchio and The Little Prince are not far behind with over 250 translations each. Modern favourite Harry Potter has been translated into nearly 70 languages.
  3. Translation is an important field of study and profession. Each year the wonderful world of translation is celebrated on 30th September on International Translation Day. Read more about this day and how translators worldwide remember our Patron saint, Saint Jerome in this blog post.
  4. The languages most often translated out of are English, French, German, Italian and Russian. Speaking of Russian, the original version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace has approx. 460,000 words, whereas the English translation is significantly longer (about 100,000 words longer to be precise).
  5. UNESCO has an online database called ‘Index Translationum’; a list of all the books translated in the world. According to their statistics, the top 3 most translated authors are: Agatha Christie (7233 translations), Jules Verne (4751 translations) and William Shakespeare (4293 translations). The world must really like Hercule Poirot!
  6. The most common target languages for translation are German, French, Spanish, English and Japanese.
  7. It is estimated that there are over 330,000 translators worldwide (plus many more who don’t do it professionally). That’s a very small percentage of the world’s population! About 0.0045% to be precise. A small group of talented individuals.
  8. The English language has over 250,000 words, that’s a lot of words to know if you have to translate into or out of English! That said the average person knows approx. 10-20,000 words.
  9. Based on the idea that a professional translator can translate approx. 250 words an hour. A translator working full time could translate up to 520,000 words a year (that’s 60,000 more words than War and Peace!).
  10. Language is thought to be about 200,000 years old (there is much discussion and study around this). Translation is slightly more ‘modern’ with the first recorded instances of translation dating back to the third century BC – a translation of the Old Testament – into Greek.

Translations and translated texts are everywhere, next time you’re reading something think about how many languages it’s been translated into already, or perhaps what the original text looked like. If you’re living in Germany, France, Spain or Japan (top 4 countries producing translations) then it’s highly likely you won’t be too far from a translated text. Enjoy reading!



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Alex Marsh says:

Thanks for spreading your experience.Great article, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your article.

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