Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Translators and interpreters: what's in a name?

We all know the difference between translating (dealing with written communication) and interpreting (dealing with spoken communication), even though people need to be reminded about it sometimes ;-)
But where do these terms come from? I am quite curious about etymology, it’s a key to look deeper into the meaning of words and, ultimately, into our origins. So I did a bit of research and thought I’d share it here.
The word translation derives from the Latin translatio, where trans means “across” and latum is the supine form of fero, meaning “to bring” (therefore translatio = to bring across).
As for the modern Romance languages, the various words for translation often derive from the Latin traducere, from trans (“across”, as mentioned above) and ducere which means “to lead” (therefore traducere = "to lead across"). For example, in Italian it is traduzione, and in Spanish it is traducción.
For the word interpreting/interpreter, things seem to be more complex. Interpreter comes from the Latin interpres, where inter means between”, but the second part pres appears to be of uncertain origins. Some suggest it may be related to the Sanskrit prath-, “to spread abroad”, and to the PIE (Proto-Indo-European language) root –per meaning “sell”, maybe in the broad sense of “give equal value for”; this, in turn, may be related to Latin pretium, “price”. This seems to suggest the primary acknowledged role of the interpreter as a mediator in commercial negotiations between people speaking different languages. A connection has also been suggested with Ancient Greek φράζειν (phrazein, meaning to point out, explain, declare”), φράσις (phrasis, speech), and φραδή (phrade, understanding).
Of course this is just a simplified overview; tracing back the history of words takes you along endless threads, paths and crossroads in a fascinating journey where you’re assured you’ll learn a lot. Hope you enjoyed taking a glance at it!

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