What is (and always has been) the purpose of translation?

If we really want to understand the ultimate objective of all translations, first we have to look to the past. In the end, translating is one of the oldest professions in the world.

The myth of the Tower of Babel is an icon in the world of translation. It’s a chapter in the book of Genesis that tells of how, at the beginning of time, all people shared the same language. As a result, they could easily work together and therefore create wonders such as the Tower of Babel, whose top should reach unto heaven. God saw what they were doing and decided to make a change. He made them speak many different tongues so that they couldn’t encroach on His territory. According to the myth, that is the origin of the diversity of languages and, therefore, of translation. Or should we say the need for translation?

 “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. Yahweh said, “So they are all a single people with a single language! This is but the start of their undertakings! Then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 

[Genesis, 11][1]

Even though this myth doesn’t have any historical basis, it is highly illustrative of the purpose of translation.

According to the myth of the Tower of Babel, the diversity of languages clearly represents a barrier: if we all spoke the same language, we could more easily collaborate. While we know that linguistic richness is positive for an endless number of reasons, we can’t overlook the fact that we need to communicate and collaborate with each other if we want to reach our objectives.

And it is precisely in that need where we find the purpose of every translation. We translators seek to overcome the obstacle of a lack of understanding, thereby facilitating collaboration and helping to achieve objectives.

That has been our function since the birth of language and of all tongues.

At Siens, we are one of the many cogs in this great mechanism that facilitates comprehension between people. And as a part of that mechanism, we would also like others to understand us. We’re launching this blog so that professionals who are unrelated to the field of translation can understand how we work and how our linguistic world functions. And at the same time, we’d like for it to serve as a way for our colleagues in the profession to expand or delve into their knowledge of the sector.

Just as we bring readers closer to the original text through our translations, and vice versa, through our publications we’d like to bring you closer to us, and us closer to you. We’re convinced that is the best way to work together.

[1] The Shøyen Collection (08/May/2017). ‘Tower of Babel: Truth or Myth?’ (online article). The Shøyen Collection. <> [consultation date: 09/Jan./2020]