Translations can be a reception history witness for the popularity of an author. They teach us something about both the source and target languages. Their numbers in a particular language let us know how important that language is or how few of its speakers care to read in a foreign tongue. They sometimes preserve works written in languages which subsequently disappear. Historically, cultural renaissances are often preceded by periods of prolific translation. Finally, they do enhance intercultural understanding.|
When were the first translations made? Many would claim that this point came after alphabetic writing began to reflect pronunciation and conceptual differences in language. Some of the most famous early translations we have are sacred texts: the Septuagint, the Peshitta, the Vulgate, Buddhist Sanskrit sutras and the Kharosthi Fragments. These were certainly not the first, since earlier ones are cited in dated texts. We have some evidence that there were translators and interpreters in the Zhou Dynasty (China - 1,100BC-256BC).
While it is impossible to frame a single functional definition of translation, characterizing all translations as explanation, reformulation, equivalence, synonymous discourse or recreation in another language, we do know that there are tens of thousands of translations of whole works published each year, and it is an enormous challenge to track them down.
How do we determine if a work exists in translation? Until now, results of this task have been spotty at best. However, the Andy Holt Virtual Library provides on this page a comprehensive way to allow patrons to satisfy their translation curiosity, enabling them to identify, and in some cases consult online the translations they seek. The searches still require patience and can be challenging, depending on the demands of the researcher and the orientation of the resource.