By Joey Wilson-Brooke
There are a lot of international days of recognition that give us the opportunity to remember or celebrate a moment of history so we never forget it, like 9/11 and Remembrance Day on November 11th. And there are also, let’s admit it, some quite obscure days too. 3rd July is Compliment your Mirror Day, and 1st January is Bloody Mary Day (although, I think I could get behind that one!). So it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that there is also an International Translation Day.
It was initially celebrated on the 30th September, as it was the same day as the feast of St. Jerome, who is credited as the Bible’s translator and taken as the patron saint of translators all over the world. The celebration of this day have been promoted since the 1950’s by the International Federation of Translators, and in 1991 they launched the idea to have a day that internationally recognises translating. Since then, the idea has grown and grown and this year seven different organisations that promote literature are coming together for the celebrations.
This year English PEN, Free Word and the British Library, in association with the British Centre for Literary Translation, the Translator’s Association, Literature Across Frontiers and Wales Literature Exchange (I said there were a lot of organisations), are congregating at the British Library, on 26th September to bring you a fun and varied day full of translation-related activities.
Now, I am as guilty as the next typical Brit-on-holiday, who boldly travels to foreign countries, confident that they will have no issues because “everyone speaks English, surely!?” It is only when you stop and think about what we would do without translations that we realise this really is a day that deserves international recognition. It can be small things, such as not being able to curl up with a bag of Smash! (a genius combination of salty crisps dipped in chocolate from Norway, not instantaneous mashed potato) and devour the final five episodes of Forbrydelsen on Netflix (yes, that is the original series of The Killing from Denmark). Why? Because I would have only a vague clue of what was even going on without the subtitles – translation in action, quite literally. Scandi-noir would not be so heavily adored in Britain without translation. When we think on a grander scale, and go back to the year 1215, without the efforts of translators we wouldn’t know what the Magna Carta said, firstly in Latin (Magna = great, Carta = charter) and secondly in vernacular Norman French. This was the starting point that led to the rule of constitutional law in England, the beginnings of the law we abide by now. Without translation, the Magna Carta might as well have been a very large and old piece of toilet paper.
So, even if you can’t make it to the all the amazing seminars being held on the 26th September in London, make sure that on the 30th September you take some time to think about the importance of translation. If your evenings are as fun as mine can be, crack out that old Cambridge Latin Course textbook and reminisce with Caecillius and Quintus about those old Grammar school days. If you are bilingual, why not read a couple of chapters from a book in a foreign language and be proud of your talent. There is a great list of fantastic books in translation (and English PEN members can get 10% off if you buy these titles from venture partner, Foyles) which just demonstrate the quality of literature the English reading community would miss out on without translation. Or, if it has been a long hard day, grab that bottle of much deserved wine, put your feet up on the coffee table and press play on the first episode of Broen|Bron (that’s The Bridge in English). I promise you, the additional reading will be worth it.