Sense for sense vs. word for word – St Jerome on translation

St JeromeThis Saturday, 30 September is International Translation Day, which is celebrated every year on St Jerome’s feast day. St Jerome might be one of the most famous historical translators, due to his influential Bible translations in the 4th century.

He was commissioned by Pope Damasus to translate the Bible into Latin; this version later became known as the Vulgate. It was declared the official Bible translation in the 16th century and was in use until the second half of the 20th century.

In addition to his Bible translation and religious notes, St Jerome is also well known for his commentaries on translation. One of the motifs that often comes up in his letters and treatises is the question of verbatim, word-for-word translations. As an answer to his critics who accused him of deviating from the source text, he stated that when translating, he “render[ed] sense for sense and not word for word”. He argues that if he translates “word for word, the result will sound uncouth, and if compelled by necessity [he alters] anything in the order or wording, [he] shall seem to have departed from the function of a translator”.

This is a dilemma that translators still face more than 1500 years later. It is a fine line translators must walk and their decisions are influenced by many factors such as the purpose of the translation, the subject matter or the client’s specific instructions.

There are certain cases when they have to opt for more creative solutions, for example when translating idioms or slang. Also, when working on advertising slogans or children’s books, translators might also need to put snappy solutions above accuracy. In these situations, however, any changes to the source text are discussed in detail with the client to avoid any misunderstandings.

Literal translations are often necessary, for example for medical or legal translations where even the slightest change to the source can have undesirable results.

If you have any questions about a translation project or how we and our translators work, please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing or by calling 01223 356 733.


Source of St Jerome’s quotations:

Let’s celebrate ‘Women in Translation’ month!

August is ‘Women in Translation’ month. Join in and celebrate with us all the awesome female authors whose works are available to English readers through the means of translation.

Did you know that only one third of books translated into English come from female authors? Considering how many great books are out there in the world written by women writers, this is a rather sad figure. Started in 2014 by a blogger, Meytal Radzinski, the aim of ‘Women in Translation’ month is to ‘increase the dialogue and discussion about women writers in translation’, and, simply, to ‘read more books by women in translation’.

If you’d like to take part in ‘Women in Translation’ month, just grab a book and get started! If you need any inspiration, there are some recommendations by the First Edition Team below. Continue reading Let’s celebrate ‘Women in Translation’ month!

Translation musings: Synthesized jam or why I am wary of machine translation

“Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.”

Quote from 1984 by George Orwell

translate with the click of a buttonMachine translation is awesome, right? With a click of a button you get work done that a human translator would possibly need weeks for. A few teething problems – such as completely ungrammatical sentences, wrong terminology and nonsensical target texts? Never mind! Thousands of engineers are working on ultra-intelligent AI systems that will untangle all those nasty little glitches. Machine translation is the future. Machine translation is our destiny.

Well… to be honest, I don’t actually believe this. Continue reading Translation musings: Synthesized jam or why I am wary of machine translation

Translation musings: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou… what?

William Shakespeare First FolioThis year is the 400th anniversary of the death of the “Bard of Avon”, William Shakespeare. Everyone knows the name of this prolific poet, playwright and actor and we can all quote some of his immortal lines. You probably met some of his plays or poems at school, even if you spent your school years outside the UK. And most likely you were able to enjoy his plays in your mother tongue as his works have been translated into more than 80 languages. (Including Klingon and Esperanto, by the way.)

Did you really enjoy reading them though? Continue reading Translation musings: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou… what?

Translation musings: Cherry Stones

cherry blossomsTinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Thief –

And what about a Cowboy,
Policeman, Jailer,
Or…Translations project manager?*


I love this poem. Ok, granted, when A.A. Milne wrote Cherry Stones about dreaming what you might be when you grow up, he didn’t specifically mention Translations Project Manager. But here I am and it’s a job I love. One of the reasons for this was highlighted recently in relation to cherry trees. Continue reading Translation musings: Cherry Stones

Do you judge a book by its cover..?

Some years ago I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic creative writing course led by the (sadly late) great author Frederick E. Smith, best known for his 633 Squadron books. Having just learnt of his recent death at age 93, I could go on and on about the wonderful Mr Smith, but that, perhaps, is for another day.

Continue reading Do you judge a book by its cover..?

Pippi Longstocking around the world

The office has been getting all nostalgic today, after the Swedish author of the popular Pippi Longstocking series, Astrid Lindgren, was mentioned in a text being worked on by one of our team. A bit of investigation later and we found out that the Brits, German and Hungarian were all familiar with the fearless heroine, but she didn’t seem to have made her way into Brazilian popular culture (or at least, not our Brazilian!)

But the books have been translated into over 70 languages and some of the variations of her name are wonderful (try saying them out loud!)

Continue reading Pippi Longstocking around the world

A Clockwork Orange and other translations

This year marks the 60th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange, the highly acclaimed work of violence and youth culture written by Anthony Burgess, originally inspired by an assault on his wife during the blackout in London. Although Burgess himself dismisses the novel and was unhappy with the decision of the American publishers to omit the final chapter, radically changing the final outcome.

But as well as being one of the leading writers of the 20th century, Anthony Burgess was also an accomplished musician, linguist and translator. Burgess (born John Burgess Wilson in 1917) spent many years in Malaya during which he mastered Jawi, the Arabic script adapted for Malay, and taught himself Persian. He translated many of the best works of English literature, most of which were never published. He did, however, publish translations of Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus the King and Carmen, amongst others.

His love and interest in language is reflected in A Clockwork Orange, notably in the Anglo-Russian language, Nadsat, he invented for anti-hero Alex and his gang of ‘droogs’. He also invented a prehistoric language, Ulam, for the characters in the 1981 movie Quest for Fire and wrote about linguistics in the non-fiction works Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.

Find out more about Anthony Burgess and his work.

Embrace the unfamiliar

Here at First Edition we’re all avid readers and even have a FE Book Club to prove it. But we are a diverse lot, which makes for some interesting reading choices – sometimes pushing us to new and unexplored literary areas.

I recently read two very different books – The Door by Magda Szabo and Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott. The first is set in Hungary in the second half of the twentieth century, the second in Cambridge during more contemporary times.

The Door had me scuttling to Wikipedia on many occasions, to keep up with unfamiliar cultural and historical references. In contrast, part of the joy of Ghostwalk was the familiarity of the sights and streets of Cambridge.

Books, like business, satisfy different needs. It’s great to have the knowledge and ease of a well-loved and familiar genre or culture. But sometimes it’s good to be challenged and look to something outside that comfort zone. In business, it can be worth putting in the extra effort and doing the research to explore a new market or even a new country.

And don’t worry about an unfamiliar language – we’ve got that covered!