This Saturday marks the first official International Translation Day at the United Nations (UN). As one of the world’s largest employers of language professionals, the UN chose September 30 to celebrate the work of translators and interpreters around the world.
Why September 30?
According to the UN explanation, this day celebrates St. Jerome (pictured to the left), the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators.” He is most well-known for translating the Bible into Latin. He died on September 30, 420.
International Translation Day was adopted by the UN General Assembly, without a vote, on May 24, 2017 through draft resolution A/RES/71/288 which recognized “the role of professional translation in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development.”
Andrei Dapkiunas of Belarus, who presented the draft resolution, emphasized that it was “much broader and deeper than simply demonstrating respect for a profession closely linked to diplomacy and international affairs.” Instead, he insisted, “It was first and foremost about people, the invisible workers and unsung heroes of the linguistic profession.” He also added that “deeper respect for culture and language could help to forge greater unity and build bridges among civilizations and cultures.”
The International Federation of Translators (FIT) has already been celebrating International Translation Day on September 30 for a number of years. Each year, the organization decides on a theme and invites all of its member associations to join in celebrating that topic. This year’s theme is “Translation and Diversity,” as pictured in the specially commissioned poster below.
In an explanation of this theme choice, FIT writes: “Cultural diversity is closely tied to linguistic diversity. Losing your language means losing a part of your cultural identity… By promoting diversity of cultures and languages, we can hope to create a world full of possibilities for learning, growing and sharing a peaceful vision for humanity based on mutual understanding and respect.”
Past themes have included: Translation as Intercultural Communication; Beyond Linguistic Barriers; Language Rights: Essential to All Human Rights; and The Changing Face of Translation and Interpreting.
Other days of language celebration
This is not the first UN-sanctioned holiday focused on language. In 2010, the UN announced the launch of six “Language Days” that celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity within the six official languages of the United Nations. On these days, the UN sponsors cultural activities that showcase each language through its music, art, poetry, food, theatre and films. The days are:
- French Language Day – Celebrated on March 20, the founding date of La Francophonie – an international organization representing 84 French-speaking member states that “share the humanist values promoted by the French language.”
- Chinese Language Day – Celebrated on April 20, which is the Gregorian date associated with the Chinese calendar’s tribute to Cangjie – the inventor of Chinese characters.
- Spanish Language Day – Celebrated on April 23, in commemoration of the day the well-known Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (who wrote the 17th century classic Don Quixote) died.
- English Language Day – Celebrated on April 23, which is William Shakespeare’s birthday.
- Russian Language Day – Celebrated on June 6, the birthday of Aleksandr Pushkin – considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet.
- Arabic Language Day – Celebrated on December 18, in commemoration of the day in 1973 that Arabic became the sixth official language of the UN.
Take the quiz
The UN created a five-question online quiz to raise awareness for International Translation Day. Test your knowledge of translation here!