The history of International Translation Day
[This is an edited version of a paper given by Liese
Katschinka, former Secretary-General of the
International Federation of Translators (FIT), at a
conference in Italy in November 1997]Source: Internet.
St Jerome’s Day, as International Translation Day is
commonly known, is celebrated on 30 September. This
article looks at how this day came about and what
types of themes it has considered over the years.
St Jerome, the bible translator, has always been
considered to be the patron saint of translators and
interpreters throughout the world. For a long time,
the days and weeks (and sometimes months) around 30
September have therefore been used by translators and
interpreters (and their associations) to celebrate the
occasion. Ever since FIT (International Federation of
Translators) was established in 1953, St Jerome’s Day
celebrations have been encouraged and promoted by the
FIT Council and Executive Committee in an ad hoc
fashion. It was not until 1991 that the Public
Relations Committee of FIT launched the idea of an
International Translation Day.
The FIT Council took up the idea and decided to
suggest to FIT member associations that they join
forces and show their solidarity on St Jerome’s Day in
an effort to promote the translation profession in
their own countries (not necessarily only in Christian
countries). This would be an opportunity to display
pride in a profession that is becoming increasingly
essential as borders are tumbling worldwide.
A press release was issued and distributed to FIT
member associations, suggesting several activities to
celebrate the occasion, such as awarding diplomas to
young translators, bringing new translators into
professional associations, presenting awards and
announcing activities for the following year. It was
also suggested that the media should be involved in
the celebrations of International Translation Day, so
that public awareness of the many facets of our often
misunderstood profession could be increased.
Since 1991, the FIT Secretariat has collected reports
by FIT member associations on the different ways they
have celebrated International Translation Day. My
paper is therefore a short summary of these reports,
as well as a brief account of the evolution of
International Translation Day celebrations throughout
No official motto was announced for International
Translation Day 1991. The motto of the Brighton FIT
Congress was then also chosen for the celebrations in
1992 – “Translation – the vital link” (La traduction -
au cur de la traduction).
The slogan for 1993 was “Translation, a pervasive
presence” (La traduction, realité omniprésente). That
year, the press release contained some valuable
information for consumers, including the following:
Imagine how difficult it would be to assemble
furniture or bicycles, or to use video recorders, that
you bought in a kit if the instructions were not
translated (and everybody knows what problems badly
translated assembly instructions can cause).
People with allergies to specific products would be at
a risk if the ingredients on product labels were not
Well-translated labels, instructions and marketing
material can enhance a company’s image, while faulty
translations will certainly do a company’s reputation
The press release that FIT issued on the occasion of
International Translation Day 1993 also gave some
interesting statistical figures, which must have been
difficult to compile. Let me give you a few examples:
Did you know that the Bible has been translated into
310 languages, and some text passages of the Bible
into as many as 1 597 languages? I am sure that the
International Bible Society – a FIT associate member -
could give us some interesting details on the
different languages (and the text passages).
Did you know that the works of Lenin have been
translated more often than Shakespeare’s dramas (321
compared to 93), and that Jules Verne was published in
more languages than Karl Marx (238 against 103)?
And did you know that Asterix and Tintin have both
been translated into 41 languages or dialects?
At least, those were the figures back in 1993.
The motto for International Translation Day 1994 was
“The many facets of translation” (Les multiples
visages de la traduction), with Jean F Joly, the FIT
President, defining scientific and technical
translators, media translators, terminologists,
conference interpreters, community interpreters, court
interpreters, sign-language interpreters and
“translatologists” in his press release on the
“Translation, a key to development” (La traduction,
facteur de développement) was the theme for 1995, and
“Translators and Copyright” (Traduction et droits
d’auteur) for 1996. The latter theme was adopted
because that year UNESCO launched the idea of an
International Copyright Day, and the FIT Executive
Committee felt that translators (in particular
sci-tech and media translators) were not paying enough
attention to their rights. In addition, the
information highway was creating new copyright issues
of which translators should be aware.
The theme for 1997, finally, was “Translating in the
Right Direction” (Traduire dans le bon sens). The idea
came from the Finnish FIT member association. There,
colleagues thought that with all their many
translation assignments into languages other than
Finnish (in relation to Finland’s entry into the EU),
colleagues were losing sight of the fact that the best
translation/interpretation is done into one’s mother
tongue. I hope that with this statement I have given
you plenty of material for discussion. Should one or
should one not translate only into one’s mother
tongue? What are the advantages, what are the
drawbacks? Etc., etc.!
The theme selected for 1998 is “Good Translation
Practices” (Le professionalisme en traduction). The
subject matter is highly appropriate, since quality
assurance is on everybody’s mind and needs to be
considered by translators as well. FIT is contributing
to a possible solution on the EU’s European
In 1995, the FIT Executive Committee realized that it
would help member associations to prepare their
International Translation Day celebrations if a theme
was announced (and announced early). For this reason
the themes are generally announced about a year in
advance, giving member associations plenty of time to
translate and publish the press release sent out by
the FIT Secretariat and organize their own
celebrations and publicity.
What types of activities are organized by FIT member
associations for International Translation Day?
Basically, we see three types of activities:
Public relations focusing on the general public: Press
conferences, interviews with the press, radio and
television. Occasionally, several associations in one
country even pool their resources to run
advertisements in the daily press on September 30.
Public relations focusing on the translators: Diplomas
or prizes to honour distinguished representatives of
the profession are the most common type of activity.
In the Czech Republic, the FIT member association JTP
came up with the idea of a Best Dictionary Prize,
which has been very useful in promoting the exchange
of glossaries, terminology lists, etc. that was so
very important in the wake of the Velvet Revolution.
In the meantime, the idea has been “copied” by Norway.
After all, there is a greater need to encourage the
publication of dictionaries in the “languages of
Public relations focusing on the translators’
associations: Further training events by translators’
associations for their members (and as means to
recruit new members), as well as joint (academic and
social) activities by the different translators’
associations in one country can be mentioned here by
way of example.
It is encouraging to see that International
Translation Day has developed into a genuine event in
our profession. All over the world, translators take
the opportunity to think with pride of their work and
their achievements. From year to year, more
associations in a growing number of countries report
on their activities. Let us hope that the snowball
effect will continue!
The themes for International Translation Day for the
previous years are as follows:
1998: Good translation practices
1999: Translation – Transition
2000: Technology serving the needs of translation
2001: Translation and ethics
2002: Translators as agents of social change
2003: Translators’ rights
2004: Translation, underpinning multilingualism and
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