If you are a translator, did you know that one day every year was dedicated to celebrating everything to do with translating? It’s called International Translation Day and every year it takes place on 30th September. There is a different theme every year, too and this year it’s “indigenous languages and their translation.” If you work in a translation agency and your employer decides to ask you what you should do to celebrate International Translation Day 2019, you should suggest something to do with the challenges and benefits of translating indigenous languages. Even coming to terms with understanding why indigenous languages are so important might be a useful theme for the day.
The History of International Translation Day
Translation is something that is genuinely international in character. It serves to promote communication between communities, individuals, businesses and government agencies whose languages are different. Without translators, communication would be almost impossible and the chances of carrying out trade and solving massive global problems like pollution, overfishing, war and climate change would be almost impossible. What more reasons could there be to save one day every year to celebrate the role of translators all around the world – a world translation day?
The International Federation of Translators (FIT) was set up in 1953. Its purpose is to further understanding and cooperation amongst professional translators around the world. From its very inception, it has tried to promote the idea of having an International Translation Day. The day proposed by the FIT was the 30th of September. This is actually the same day that the feast of St. Jerome is celebrated and there is a good reason for this day being chosen. St. Jerome is credited with being the first person to translate the Bible into Latin from the original Hebrew and Greek.
Jerome was actually born in what is now modern-day Croatia, but he learned Hebrew, Greek and Latin equally well. He was born in 347 AD and lived until his death on 30th September, 420 AD. The reason that the date of his death was chosen was that when he was eventually canonised (made a Saint in the Catholic Church) so this became a feast day. Jerome was just a good as an interpreter as a translator and spent a lot of time in the Middle East. He actually died in Bethlehem.
The United Nations officially made September 30th every year an International Translation Day and with the help of FIT and other translation bodies around the world come up with different themes to help translators and their agencies, as well as other community bodies, celebrate the role of translators. It’s hard not to appreciate just how important translators (and interpreters) are to the work of the United Nations and all its separate bodies and agencies like WHO and UNICEF.
The declaration by the U.N. of International Translation Day only took place in May 2017. It is a relatively new arrival on the world stage that already has a large number of “International Days.”
This Year’s Theme: Indigenous Languages
Many indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing. Paradoxically, it is the very globalisation that is giving such a surge in demand for translation services that itself imperils so many indigenous languages. One of the reasons why indigenous language translation is this year’s International Translation Day 2019 theme is that there is recognition of how important it is for millions of indigenous people around the world for their language to be preserved and protected.
Indigenous people are often on the margins of the societies in which they live. Without effective translators, they face huge difficulties in accessing services that mainstream citizens take for granted. For indigenous people, their rich and diverse languages are an integral part of their culture. When a community loses its language, it is on the way to lose its culture, too. Often this loss goes hand in hand with impoverishment and a gradual deterioration in the social structure. The world is also poorer. There may be overall fewer people who speak indigenous languages, but there are many more indigenous languages than there are major languages like English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.
Summary: Celebrating the Work of Translators by Appreciating the Importance of Indigenous Languages
St. Jerome may arguably have been one of the world’s first important translators, but even if he wasn’t, his name and memory is still a good choice for an International Translators Day. It is symptomatic of the world’s growing interdependence that the work of translators is now recognised every year by the United Nations as a world translation day.
This year, International Translation Day 2019 will be celebrated by recognising the importance of indigenous languages, not just to the people whose languages they are, but to the rest of the world that is rapidly losing some of its rich mosaic of cultures in an ever-increasing trend towards globalisation.