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A brief history of translation during times of conflict

Translators at War

Translators are often the forgotten vital intelligence asset in wartime. Their role has developed considerably in the twentieth and early twenty-first century, becoming increasingly important in a globalised world that faces the challenges of terrorism and complex international relations. Today we need their skills more than ever, but the origins of translators in warfare go back further than most people imagine.

The Stone Age

The story of the human species is a story of war and conquest. From the very earliest movement of people from Africa, human beings have made war to establish new territory and gain social dominance. Since that time humans have made use of soldiers and sailors who spoke the language of their enemies, hoping to gain an insight into their opponents’ tactics and the lie of the land (or sea), and in the process gain the advantage in battle.

The Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs

One notable use of native translators in history was during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. It began in 1519 when conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico with Spanish forces. Faced with more than one local language to navigate, the clever Cortés decided to make use of the translation skills of a local woman, Malintzin, to help him make alliances with other groups hostile to the Aztecs. She quickly learned Spanish and translated between this, Chontal Maya, and Náhuatl. Malintzin also taught Cortés about Aztec culture and helped him defeat the Aztec forces. She even warned him of a planned assassination attempt. Eventually she became Cortés’s personal interpreter and mother of his son. Read more

International Peace Day: How to Say “Peace” in 35 Languages

Did you know that 21 September 2016 is the International Day of Peace? The United Nations has observed this holiday since 1982. I daresay we need it now more than ever. Here’s how people are marking the occasion, and how you can join in.

How the UN Celebrates International Day of Peace

The UN celebrates World Peace Day by ringing the Peace Bell at its New York headquarters. The Peace Bell is a bell made up of melted-down coins that were donated from around the world, from every contintent except Africa. It was given to the United Nations as a gift from Japan in 1954. Japanese characters on its side spell out Long live absolute world peace 世界絶対平和萬歳.

Also, each year’s World Peace Day celebrations have a theme.  The activities for the year are centered around the theme. For 2016, the focus is on achieving peace through the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  According to the UN’s Peace Day website:

Sustainability addresses the fundamental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Modern challenges of poverty, hunger, diminishing natural resources, water scarcity, social inequality, environmental degradation, diseases, corruption, racism and xenophobia, among others, pose challenges for peace and create fertile grounds for conflict. Sustainable development contributes decisively to dissipation and elimination of these causes of conflict and provides the foundation for a lasting peace. Peace, meanwhile, reinforces the conditions for sustainable development and liberates the resources needed for societies to develop and prosper.

Meanwhile, according to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon:

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

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