International Translation Day 2013

By Marion Rhodes

International Translation Day is almost upon us. Around the globe, translators and interpreters mark September 30 as “their day.” The date has been promoted since 1953 by the International Federation of Translators to commemorate the Feast Day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators and interpreters.

St. Jerome was born in the mid 300s, a time when translation wasn’t exactly the booming industry it is today. At a time when Internet glossaries and CAT tools weren’t even conceivable, he produced some of the world’s most important translations, including much of what became the Latin Vulgate Bible. And yet, St. Jerome’s approach to translation wasn’t that different to that of many modern-day translators. Much like translators today, St. Jerome realized the importance of a reliable source text for an accurate translation. He was also an early advocate of sense-for-sense translation rather than choosing a word-for-word approach. He knew that the best way to really learn a foreign language is to immerse yourself in it, so he moved to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to improve his Hebrew.

Most importantly, St. Jerome was aware of his weaknesses and inadequacies – something all modern translators should take to heart – and admitted fault when it was warranted. Realizing that no translation is ever 100% perfect, he frequently returned to his work for revisions or corrections. And just like translators today, St. Jerome made mistakes. Arguably his most famous translation blunder was putting horns on Moses as he descended from Mt. Sinai. The original Hebrew scripture (Exodus 34) stated that Moses had “rays of light” coming from his head when he returned from the mountain. Unfortunately for St. Jerome, the Hebrew word for “rays of light” can also mean “horns,” which is the meaning he decided upon. It is due to this translation error that visitors to Rome can now admire a marble statue of a horned Moses, sculpted by none other than Michelangelo.

More information about St. Jerome and his work is available on the website of the Translator Interpreter Hall of Fame.

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