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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


/trɑːnsˈleɪt/ /træns-/ /-nz-/

1.     To turn from one language into another; ‘to change into another language retaining the sense’ (Johnson); to render; also, to express in other words, to paraphrase.

c1300 Cursor Mundi 232 Þis ilk bok it es translate In to Inglis tong to rede.


The origin of the word translate stems from the word transfer. First used in 1382, transfer was derived from the Latin word transferre, in which trans means “across” and ferre “to carry”.

This notion of carrying one thing from one form to another was applied to languages. To translate is to carry the meaning of a word from one language to another.  Derived from the Latin term translatus, the passed participle of transferre, in which latus also means “to bear or carry”.

An iconic artifact that is often closely related to the term translate is the Rosetta Stone, an Ancient Egyptian fragment of stone that has been inscribed with a decree. The decree on this stone slab is written in three different scripts. The upper portion is written in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs which are used for significant and religious documents. The middle portion is written in demotic script, the common script of Egypt. The lower portion is inscribed in Ancient Greek, which at that time was the language of the rulers. The text written in the three scripts is essentially the same and so the Rosetta Stone was the first evidence of Ancient Egyptian bilingual text to be discovered.

To translate script or speech to and from different languages is to impart information and knowledge. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone lead to the deciphering of inscriptions on monuments, tombs and Egyptian hieroglyphs that had been a mystery for centuries. This allowed archaeologists to learn an immeasurable amount of information about Ancient Egyptian history and culture.
The act of translating across different languages opens endless avenues of communications between the populations of the world. Having the facility to translate the research of Russian scientists into languages understood by the American population is monumental to the progression of society. Even on a smaller, more intimate scale, the ability to ask directions and communicate with locals in a foreign land is a valuable and enriching asset. By speaking the language of the land one can fully immerse themselves into the culture and learn more about the country than any novel or observation as an outsider could ever teach. The ability to convey the same information by different means is an invaluable skill that unifies and educates.

The Italian language translates easily into Spanish.

[1] "transfer, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/204699?rskey=fXoDFj&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 15, 2012).
[2] "translate, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/204841 (accessed November 15, 2012).
[3]  "The Rosetta Stone," The British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_rosetta_stone.aspx (accessed November 15, 2012).

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