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Famous Translators over the years

By Ines Alexandre

St Jerome (347-420AD)

This religious figure was a priest, theologian and historian who spoke Greek, Hebrew and Latin. His most significant work was translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, as during the fourth century Latin was becoming the most common language and beginning to overtake Greek. This piece, called the Vulgate, became the official Catholic translation of the Bible for the next thousand years. More examples of St Jerome’s work include a translation of Liber locorum (‘Book of Places’), Eusebius’ work on Palestinian place-names and the alphabetical list of Hebrew names in the Bible called Liber interpretationis Hebraicorum (‘Book of Interpretation of Hebrew Names’.

Sacagawea

Sacagawea belonged to the Lemhi Shoshone tribe and was the only woman to be part of the 1805-06 Lewis and Clark expedition into the American West. The two explorers called upon Sacagawea to interpret and guide them because of her knowledge of the Shoshone language in addition to her familiarity with the local area. Through her necessary interpretations, the explorers and native people were able to communicate and negotiate, and therefore Sacagawea was a crucial part in the contacts made during these travels.

Alexander Burnes

Born in Scotland, Burnes was a British explorer, diplomat and interpreter before becoming a spy for the British military in the early 1800s. He was fluent in English, Hindi and Persian. Burnes was most well-known for his explorations in what we now call Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. His activities included bringing gifts to local rulers and exploring a variety of regions. For his service and achievements, Burnes was knighted in 1839.

Constance Garnett (1861-1946)

A translator of Russian literature, Garnett’s most notable translations included the works of Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Her translations, which amounted to 71 volumes during her lifetime, were not always the most accurate and in fact, when Garnett did not know a word or phrase, she would often resort to leaving it out completely. Despite this, she is responsible for the introduction of Russian authors to the English-speaking world, even being an inspiration for writers such as Hemingway.


Gregory Rabassa (1922-2016)

The New Yorker Gregory Rabassa’s literature translations were from Portuguese and Spanish into English. His work includes a long list of significant Latin American authors such as Jorge Amado, Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar. Rabassa was such a significant figure that García Márquez waited three years for Rabassa to schedule a translation of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ because he considered Rabassa to be one of the best.

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