Saturday, May 31, 2014

Translation: Etymology

June 20, 2013

Perhaps an inquiry into the roots of "translation" will help me think about how to prepare for my upcoming keynote speech. I say "roots," for there are two parts to the word "translate":
Middle English translaten, from Old French translater, from Latin trānslātus, past participle of trānsferre, to transfer : trāns-, trans- + lātus, brought
I have this from the Free Dictionary, which credits The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, copyright ©2000, by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved). I know what "brought" means, but what about "trans-"? Let's revisit the Free Dictionary:
trans- 1. a prefix meaning "across," "through," occurring orig. in loanwords from Latin, used in particular to form verbs denoting movement or conveyance from place to place (transfer; transmit; transplant) or complete change (transform; transmute), or to form adjectives meaning "crossing," "on the other side of," or "going beyond" the place named (transmontane; transnational; trans-Siberian).
The word "translation" is a noun formed, I assume, from "translate," for with respect to the meaning of translating from one language to another, the verb predates the noun in English by about 40 years:
a. 1300 Cursor M. 232, Þis ilk bok it es translate / In to Inglis tong to rede. (OED, Vol. 2, 1971, 265c)

[Translation: {T}his same book is translated / into the English tongue to read.]
The noun form isn't found until about 1340, as previously noted. I therefore infer that the noun form in English derives from the verb, so the "trans-" of "translation" means "across" or "through" (not "crossing," "on the other side of," or "going beyond"). The verb "translate" thus literally means "to be brought across," so the noun "translation" therefore means "something brought across."

A somewhat fuzzy etymology, as the image above suggests . . .



At 11:26 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Not so fuzzy. You're coming across fine.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Except that I'm not sure that "translation" derives from the English "translate," or if both are taken over from French.

Jeffery Hodges

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