History of Translation was Presented in a Wonderful Oxford Exhibit

It’s always interesting to see where a certain thing originates from and monitoring its path throughout history. It’s the same with translation. How did people communicate in the past, when they had fewer methods of translation compared to us? How did they manage to translate?

Well, all of the answers to these questions have been made public in February, when an exhibition at the University of Oxford’s Weston Library has been opened. The exhibition would examine how many stories in different genres would be delivered in all cultures in words. It would also cover the tools used in translating from a language to another, starting from the past and ending in the present, with the famous Google Translate.

If you are curious as to what the exhibit covered and how the world has gotten from certain translation methods to translation sites, we’re going to cover it below.

What Did the Exhibition Include?

At the entrance of the exhibit, an image of the Tower of Babel has been displayed. The picture is from the Turris Babel book from 1679. It’s very detailed, as well as fine-lined, showing the effort put into creating it.

There were many things included in the exhibit once you entered it, such as items put on display with a certain history behind them. For example, the Codex Mendoza was part of the exhibit. It’s a manuscript which is very valued by the Bodleian Library system, and it uses a mix between the Mexica language, as well as Mexica picture writing, Spanish and Nahuatl. Compiled back in 1541, the codex served as a roadmap back in the day, when then King of Spain Charles V acquired new territories.

Not to mention, there was also a bowl from 3,500 years ago which has been discovered by Sir Arthur Evans, an archeologist. The bowl was discovered on the island of Crete, at Knossos. What makes this bowl so special is the language written on it. It’s said to be the language the Minoans used, respectively Linear A. The language hasn’t been undeciphered as of yet, which makes it even more interesting.

There is a later form of the same language, called Linear B, which was, unlike its predecessor, deciphered in the 1950s. The languages are similar in some instances, but that isn’t enough to make it easier to understand Linear A, thus it cannot be understood, not yet at least.

If you’re a fan of Tolkien, then you would’ve been in awe at this exhibit. It included an unpublished notebook of the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s not an unknown matter that Tolkien was really fond of invented languages, as seen in the Lord of the Rings itself, with languages such as the one used by Elves. The notebook in the exhibit contains an attempt of the author at inventing an alphabet. Here he mixes his own language, called “Privata Kodo Skauta”, with Esperanto. It’s really interesting to see if you’re a fan of his work.

Another thing found at the exhibit were some old, early dictionaries, such as the “canting dictionary” from 1673, which would teach people about criminal slang. A seminal Latin-English dictionary was also included, dating from 1538.

But that’s not all: there was also a part which would show visitors how stories are told in different languages. For example, J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter franchise was displayed in various languages. Some of these included Ancient Greek, as well as Latin. The books were available in 75 languages. Through this, it’s easy to see how the boy who lived has become such a world sensation.

Did the Exhibit Only Look at the Past?

The exhibit goes towards the present-day too, taking a look at the easiness of translating from a language to another nowadays. It does show how difficult, yet creative it used to be to translate long documents into another language, whereas today we have Google Translate and other translation services to do the job.

Babel cares about translation from the past as well as how translation is leading our life today. The exhibit also talked about the future of our languages, and how we can warn future generations about dangers when we have no idea if our languages will still exist. Not to forget, the importance of a language within a culture’s identity was also explored.

Final Thoughts

The exhibit was a goldmine for whoever is passionate about languages and cares to find out how they developed over time, as well as how translation used to occur. Looking back at how previous generations used to translate documents, it really makes you wonder if future ones will use the same methods as we do, or they will develop something else. All in all, the exhibit was able to teach people many lessons.


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