Many of the books you love are translations. Major political events throughout history were only possible because of the existence of interpreters. Every country’s justice system relies on expert linguists who make communication possible between individuals who speak different languages. Even some of the most popular songs out there have versions in more than one language. In the words of Anna Rusconi, “words travel worlds, translators do the driving.” Below is a list of some of the most famous translators and interpreters of all time.
St. Jerome (347—420 AD)
St. Jerome was a young priest who spoke Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Back in the fourth century, as Latin began to replace Greek as the most common language in many places, a Bible in Latin was an urgent need. St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. These translations became the official Catholic translation of the Bible and were used for one thousand years. Today, history remembers him as one of the most famous translators of all time.
Read more here: St Jerome.
Gaspar Antonio Chi (1531—1610)
Gaspar Antonio Chi, also known as Gaspar Antonio de Herrera, was a Yucatan Indian who interpreted between Spanish and Mayan. He was an interpreter of King Charles V of Spain and an informant for Diego de Landa in writing his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán. Chi had a great knowledge of the Spanish, Latin, and Maya languages.
Read more here: Gaspar Antonio Chi.
Sacagawea was the only woman in the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805-06 into the American West. The two explorers hired her as an interpreter and guide because of her good command of the Shoshone language. She also had an amazing knowledge of the lands the expedition explored. Sacagawea interpreted during the negotiations between the explorers and the Shoshone tribe. The fact that a woman is among the most famous translators of the 18th century —a time when women did not enjoy many rights— says a lot about Sacagawea’s skills.
Read more here: Sacagawea.
Alexander Burnes (1805—1841)
Alexander Burnes was a British interpreter born in Scotland. He later became a spy for the British military in the early 1800s. He spoke English, Hindi, and Persian. In 1831, the British government entrusted him with a survey of the Indus River. His next adventure took him to Afghanistan, travelling in disguise, dressed as a native. For his accomplishments, the British crown knighted him in 1839.
Read more: Alexander Burnes.
Mark Twain (1835—1910)
Mark Twain, is one of the great authors of American history. He is famously known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. During his lifetime, however, he published nearly 30 books. Even though he was not a translator, there is a funny anecdote involving his translation skills. Twain is not necessarily best remembered for his contributions to the art of translation. Upon discovering a French translation of his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Twain decided to translate the French vesion back into English.
He wanted to make fun of back translation by producing an absurd word-for-word final product. He kept the French word order and grammatical structure intact, even when they made no sense in English.
Read more here: Mark Twain.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899—1986)
Jorge Luis Borges was a very famous author, but he was also a talented translator (although he did not have a degree). He translated Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince into Argentinian Spanish at the age of 9. Later in his life he translated the works of other authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, and Virginia Woolf.
Read more here: Jorge Luis Borges.
Valentin Berezhkov (1916—1998)
He was a talented interpreter who worked for Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov during World War II. He interpreted at many conferences, including the Tehran Conference in 1943, the first of the World War II conferences of the “Big Three” Allied leaders (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom).
Read more here: Valentin Berezhkov.