7 Times Translation Changed History

How important is translation in history? History is made when different cultures collide, and the art of translation has played a key behind-the-scenes role in shaping historical events. In fact, here are seven examples of translations that changed the course of history:

#1 The Vulgate Bible

horned MosesThe Bible has been translated hundreds of times as Christianity spread across the globe. The historical consequences are immeasurable. The Bible has inspired wars, conquest and crusades, as well as acts of charity and courage. Probably the most important Biblical translation dates back to 382 AD. In that year, the Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Old and New Testaments into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The resulting work became known as the Vulgate. For a thousand years, it was the only version of the Bible that most Christians ever encountered. Read more

Translation services in Chinese

Chinese Language Information

The Chinese language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. More than 1.3 billion of people speak Chinese with the majority of the Chinese speaking population concentrated only in a small number of countries: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The written Chinese language characters are not just pictographs (which make up less than 5%), but they are highly stylised and carry much abstract meaning. The total number of the characters is not known accurately, 50,000+ is a good approximation. Read more

Nordic Languages

Nordic Languages

The Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic languages are collectively known as the Nordic languages. Since they are all descended from Old Norse, these languages have a lot in common.

In fact, someone who speaks one language can often understand someone who speaks another Nordic language, although it may take a bit of effort to do so. The Nordic languages, also known as North Germanic languages, are spoken today by about 20 million speakers.

Naturally, they are spoken primarily in the Nordic countries. However, there are also small populations in Canada and the US that speak Nordic dialects.


Old Norse

Old Norse was the mother tongue of the Vikings, who carried it to Iceland and to various other settlements during the Viking Age. Old Norse evolved around the 8th century AD from an older language called proto-Norse. Although there were two distinct Old Norse dialects, Old East Norse and Old West Norse, the differences between the two dialects were minor and a speaker of one dialect would have no trouble understanding speakers of the other.

In the late 8th century, the Vikings burst out from Scandinavia to terrorise England, Ireland and Scotland as raiders and pirates. This explosion of activity was probably mainly due to population pressure in the Scandinavian countries at the time. Whatever the motivation, the Vikings and their longboats soon became a source of fear for coastal residents and sailors in surrounding countries.

The Vikings and their Longboats

When most people picture the Vikings, they picture huge savages in horned helmets destroying entire villages for fun and profit. Naturally, the truth is little more complex than that. Also, several of the myths surrounding the Vikings are simply incorrect. For example, Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. They wore conical metal helmets that might have had designs hammered into them, but never had horns attached. Also, they weren’t necessarily savages. At least, they probably were not any more savage than other Europeans alive the same time.

The Vikings lived during an especially violent period in European history. Warfare was much more commonplace than it is now, and although Vikings certainly did there share of dirty deeds, they weren’t the only savages around. In his campaigns to Christianise the Saxons, for example, Charlemagne had 4,500 Saxon prisoners killed in one day in response to a rebellion. Charlemagne is often described as ‘wise’ and ‘kind’ by historians, so it seems that the pagan Vikings may have been the victims of a historical double standard. Vikings were not merely uneducated heathen thugs. They had an amazing culture with a rich set of myths and folklore, a love of poetry, and their own system of writing.

In their longboats, they were also incredible sailors and intrepid explorers. Icelanders speak a Nordic language today because the Vikings discovered and colonised it. They also discovered Greenland and maintained a settlement there for many years. Leif Ericsson, a Viking living in Greenland, was the first European to discover the New World, approximately 498 years before Columbus. In L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada, visitors can inspect the remains of a Viking settlement, quite possibly ‘Vinland’ as described in Eric’s Saga, although the exact location of Vinland is still a matter of bitter scholarly dispute.

Additionally, Vikings were a literate society. Like other Germanic peoples, they used the runic alphabet as a system of writing until they were Christianised, when they adopted the Latin alphabet. The Scandinavian version of the Runic alphabet is named Futhark, after the first 6 letters of the alphabet. Runes had a variety of uses: they may have been used for magic and in rituals, they were used to memorialise people and events on runestones, and at least in the latter part of the Viking Age they were also used for everyday purposes such as labeling personal items. Of course, not everyone could write, but it was an important skill for upper-class Norseman and mastering the runes increased ones prestige.

Ancient Runes

According to the Eddas, a cycle of mythological Norse poems, the runes were discovered by the god Odin at a great personal cost. He hung for 9 days on a tree without food or water, pierced with a spear, and at the end of the nine days the runes were revealed to him. This myth demonstrates how important literacy was to the ancient Norse. There are two stories that describe how the runes were passed on to humans. In one version of the story, the god Rig or Heimdall fathered 3 sons, with each son representing one of the three classes in Norse society (slaves, freemen, and lords). The runes were taught to the noble son and passed down to his descendents. In another myth, a human stole Odin’s rune staff, learned the runes and taught them to other people.

The ancient Norse also loved poetry, considering it too to be a gift from Odin. Norse poetry encompassed a variety of different forms, ranging from epic sagas to shorter verses suitable for runestones. Poetry could cover a range of topics, including episodes from Norse mythology, the deeds of heroes, and the deeds and accomplishments of ordinary Norsemen who did extraordinary things. Many of the long epic poems, known as sagas, were collected and preserved in Iceland.

As time went on, the different dialects of old Norse became more and more distinct from each other, eventually forming 6 different languages: Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Norn, an extinct language that was once spoken in Norse-occupied regions of Orkney and Shetland. Of the surviving languages, Icelandic is actually closest to Old Norse. In fact, when written down the two languages are almost identical, and Icelanders can read Old Norse manuscripts without much difficulty. However, the way the language is pronounced has changed dramatically over time in Iceland as well.

The Nordic Council

Today, the Nordic countries are bound not only by a common linguistic heritage.

They also cooperate as part of the Nordic council. In 1987, the Nordic Council enacted the Nordic Language Convention, which gives citizens of Nordic countries the opportunity to use their own native language in certain circumstances while they are in other Nordic countries. Situations where the Language Convention applies include hospital visits, interactions with authorities such as tax offices, social security offices, the police and in the court system.

London’s First Deaf Church to Close

It’s the end of an era as London’s first church built specifically for deaf worshipers will be closing soon, the BBC reports.

St Saviour’s Church opened for services on Oxford street in 1873. 50 years later, it relocated to Acton. According to the London Deaf Church website,  the place where the original church once stood is now a Selfridge’s.

The old building was specially designed to make it as easy as possible for deaf worshipers to get the most out of services, with a layout that allowed everyone in the room to watch the preacher sign.  Historian Mike Gulliver explained the details of the design to the BBC:

“There was no rood screen, or choir, or organ,” says Gulliver. “It was built more in the style of a non-Anglican, non-conformist church.” There were also twin pulpits, one for a signing preacher and one to accommodate an interpreter for hearing visitors.

While most hearing Anglican churches face east, St Saviour’s Oxford Street faced north. This was for light reasons, says Gulliver. It was thought that a steady stream of light throughout the day was better for deaf people’s communication.

The downstairs level of the original church was a social club, a gathering place for the deaf community. It was decorated with artwork made by church members.

Now, however, many of the older parishioners are gone and the younger generation have chosen other places to worship, either renting space for sign language services at other churches or by using a BSL interpreter. Services for the deaf are only held at St Saviour’s once a month;  the old church is now up for sale.

According to Bristol University’s Dr. William John Lyons, St Saviour’s Church represented a tremendous victory for the London Deaf community:

“With the right to worship effectively standing for other rights—to education, to work, to citizenship and membership of society—St Saviour’s stood for nearly fifty years as a symbolic hub for the recognition of the London Deaf community. “

On one hand, it’ll be sad to see it go. On the other hand, it seems like it’s served its purpose as deaf people now have more options — and that’s probably a good thing.

St. Georges Day

St. George is the patron saint of England. The 23rd April was named as St. George’s day in 1222, he has always been incredibly popular character although perhaps has been slightly forgotten over the years. He is patron saint not only of England but also of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to Saint Mark).

St. George is best known for slaying a dragon to save a fair maiden although there is no concrete evidence so it is believed that it is a myth, a story told to illustrate St. George’s greatness. There is however evidence that St George was a true martyr who suffered greatly in Lydda before the time of Constaintine. He was an officer in the Roman army; he gave all his possessions away to the poor at the start of the persecution and then confessed to his Christian faith. He refused to sacrifice to the gods and because of this he suffered horrific torture lasting for around 7 years until he was eventually beheaded.

It is a little unclear as to how St. George became patron saint of England. He has been recognised here from around the eight century.

In 1348, King Edward III introduced the battle cry “St. George for England” and later founded the Order of the Garter, with St. George as its patron. He’s popularly identified with England and English ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry – but actually he wasn’t English at all. He’s also patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers, and he helps those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis. In recent years he has been adopted as patron saint of Scouts as well.

It is traditional to wear a red rose in your button hole on St. Georges Day in England. The celebration of St. Georges Day has become more popular in recent years with many promotions and parades going on throughout England.

Welsh Language History

History of the Welsh Language

Modern Welsh dates back to the sixth century. It is very closely related to Cornish and Breton. However, its history goes even further back to 600 years BC, when the early languages of Europe and Central Asia influenced the Celtic languages spoken across the European continent.

Most European languages, including Welsh, evolved from a language that we now call Indo-European, which in turn developed into nine language groups, one of which was Celtic. The Celtic language also had its own family of languages, some of which died out over the centuries. Those that survived migrated from mainland Europe to the western islands of Britain and Ireland. Welsh may not be spoken as much as English, but it is actually the oldest language in Britain.

The passing of the 1536 and 1542 Acts of Union brought a significant change to the official use of Welsh. The purpose of the Acts of Union was to integrate Wales with England. Therefore, English became the official language of business in Wales. During this time it was not possible for any Welsh speaker to hold office in Wales without becoming fluent in English. Although the language was not officially banned, it lost all status because of these restrictions. Over the next four centuries, the use of the Welsh language in Wales steadily declined. The language would not be used as an official language again until the passing of the 1942 Welsh Courts Act, which permitted limited use of the language in the courts.

One of the most famous Welsh literary works is the Mabinogi, a string of tales first transcribed at some point between 1050 and 1170. However, it is believed that the tales are much older. In fact, the Mabinogi may have inspired some of the Arthurian legends. Over a period of centuries, these stories were passed down through the generations by the Cyfarwydd, or storyteller.

Although the Welsh language is native to Wales, people speak it all over the world. It is spoken by a minority in England and the Welsh immigrant colony in Chubut Valley in Argentine Patagonia.


A greeting in Welsh was one of the 55 languages included on the Voyager Golden Record. The Voyager Golden Record is a phonograph record which contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of human life and culture on Earth. It was launched into space in 1977. In 2008 the Voyager space crafts became the 3rd and 4th artefacts to go beyond our solar system.

Each greeting on the phonograph is a unique message. The Welsh greeting is “Iechyd da i chwi nawr ac yn oes oesoedd” which translates into English as “Good health to you now and forever”.

The 1993 Welsh Language Act is to-date the most significant Act passed in regard to the Welsh Language. This Act was the first to state that public sector organisations must treat the Welsh and English languages equally, and it was the result of decades of pressure from Welsh language activists.

The teaching of Welsh is now compulsory in all schools in Wales up to the age of 16. This has helped to stabilize and even reverse the decline of the language.


In popular culture, Wales has recently witnessed some of its important expats promote the use of the Welsh language by speaking it on television. The most recent example is that of Glyn Wise and Imogen Thomas. Their conversations in Welsh on Big Brother 6 sparked a nationwide debate about the Welsh language.

welsh_challengeTelevision channel S4C broadcasts exclusively in Welsh during peak hours and the main evening television news provided by the BBC in Welsh is available for download. In addition, the BBC broadcasts a Welsh language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru on a daily basis.

The BBC also recognises how important the Welsh language is in the United Kingdom and they have set up a project called The Big Welsh Challenge, which takes five celebrities and challenges them to learn Welsh in 12 months with the help of five famous faces. The aim of The Big Welsh Challenge is to encourage others to learn and understand Welsh and its importance in our society.

Many major corporate organisations have followed the Government’s lead and realised the importance of providing their product or service information in both Welsh and English.

facts about ancient egypt

8 Interesting Facts About Ancient Egypt Revealed by Translation

Translation helps us understand people from other cultures, even if they vanished thousands of years ago. For example, consider the ancient Egyptians. Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone allowed ancient Egyptian writing to be translated in 1820, all that we knew of them came from the writings of historians from other cultures. However, these accounts were often inaccurate.

Fortunately for us, writing was a vital part of ancient Egyptian culture. Once scholars were able to read what they left behind, they learned a surprising amount about how the ancient Egyptians lived.

Here are 8 interesting facts about ancient Egypt we learned from translation:

Why Scribes Really Ran the Ancient Egyptian Worldgd-eg-louxor-126

Writing was an essential skill in ancient Egyptian society.  To keep the empire running smoothly, they needed to write everything down, from the sacred (funeral texts, magic spells) to the mundane (contracts, legal documents). And yet, only about 1% of the population was literate.

Because of this, scribes became a privileged intellectual class. Their services were always in high demand. Sometimes, scribes even led large building and infrastructure projects. To quote one ancient text,  The Satire of the Trades,  

See, there is no office free from supervisors, except the scribe’s. He is the supervisor!”

Read more

Indo-European Languages

Indo-European Languages

The Tie that Binds East and West

Anyone who has studied languages knows that different languages can be surprisingly similar.

For example, Spanish and Italian look very much alike on paper-if you know one of the languages, you can almost intuit the meaning of a sentence written in the other language. It’s not surprising to be able to see relationships between the languages of two countries that are close together geographically, but did you know that Spanish and Italian are also related to some of the languages spoken in India?

Strange but true-although we tend to think of European culture as being totally unrelated to Indian culture, there actually is strong connection.



Sanskrit, a language spoken in ancient India, is part of the Indo-European language family. As the name suggests, this family includes Sanskrit and its descendants along with most languages spoken in Europe, Southwest Asia and central Asia. All in all, the Indo-European language family includes approximately 3 billion people speaking several hundred different languages. Each of these languages stems from a common, long-vanished ancestor called Proto-Indo-European.

How can we show that such a diverse group of languages and cultures are related? The first written evidence connecting them is from 1585, when Italian Filippo Sassetti wrote a letter home describing some of the similarities between Sanskrit and Italian.

The first public, scholarly mention of a common source for both European languages and Sanskrit was made during a speech by Sir William Jones in 1796, who advised the Asiatick Society:

“ Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. ”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000.

Common Roots

Over time, linguists have uncovered many words in different Indo-European languages that share common roots. For example, numbers are similar in most Indo-European languages:

  • English: one, two, three
  • Latin: unus, duo, tres
  • Hindi: ek, do, tin

Do you see the similarities?

Words that relate to families are also similar in most Indo-European languages. For example:

English: father, mother, sister, brother

French: père, mère, sœur, frère

Sanskrit: pitar, matar, svasar, bhratar

Although there is no way to be sure exactly what Proto-Indo-European sounded like, scholars have been able to put together a partial dictionary of the long-dead language.

How is that possible, when the only people to speak it have been dead for thousands of years? By studying the similarities between the same words in different languages, linguists have reconstructed many words from Proto-Indo-European. In the example above, the Indo-European root words are believed to be pater, mater, swesor and bhrater.

Even more amazing, the study of language can be tied together with archaeological and cultural evidence to tell us a surprising amount of information about the Indo-European people.

For example, we know that Proto-Indo-European language speakers were alive during the Bronze Age and before the Iron Age, since there is a common Indo-European word for bronze but not for iron.

From reconstructing the language, scholars also know that the Indo-Europeans had domestic animals such as cows and horses, and that they lived in a patriarchal society. No one is hundred percent sure which country they came from, but it appears to have been cold enough for snow, because the word for snow has a common root in almost all Indo-European languages.

Isn’t it amazing what language can tell us about a culture?