Here we are in the middle of 2017 living in a world of 7,000 languages. According to the BBC, over 90% of these languages are used by fewer than 100,000 people. Less than 200 languages are used by 1 million people and there are 46 languages as of this writing that are used by only 1 person. There are over 2000 languages used throughout Asia while in Europe there are only 250. Sometimes terrain and geography can isolate cultures which over time can result in different developed languages. Papua, New Guinea because of it’s difficult, mountainous regions has over 830 different languages.
The oldest and most translated book not surprisingly is the bible. The complete Bible has been translated into 636 languages to date, but there has never been an accurate translation of the most influential book in history. Why? There are several reasons. First of all, the original Bible material was scribed in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. The problem is that the Hebrew alphabet is part pictographic and part true alphabetical. What makes ancient Hebrew so problematic is that not only are the characters pictographs, but when placed next to each other they become increasingly complex ideographs. Their meanings becoming considerably more abstract as the number of characters combine to form words and then sentences. What was gathered by the Masoretes, the Jewish scribes and scholars who worked for 400 years between the 6th century and the 10th century was original material without vowels. In the Hebrew alphabet, vowels are not so much separate characters but marks placed near the character to form a different letter sound, and the use of vowels (or none at all) can give the letters and words very different meanings. So the original biblical texts had to be subjectively interpreted and their ultimate meaning was actually a “, est educated guess” product from many people in different parts of Israel and Babylon over hundreds of years. Did you ever try to play a game called “telephone”? Imagine a game of telephone with many many participants over hundreds of years and in several countries. I think you see where this is going.
But even modern influential works are mistranslated. According to Rudolf Ekstein, a Viennese born psychoanalyst who trained under and worked with Sigmund Freud said many times that Freud’s work was never translated properly from German into other languages, especially English. He said that Freud had a very keen and dry sense of humor which came across in his original lectures and written works. The original translarors of Freud’s works didn’t understand his sophisticated and even ethnic sense of humor and it had a profound effect on the ways his works have been and are to this day being taught.