Being Jesuitical About Translation Subjects

I recently found out about, a multilingualDrupal-based,  prayer website run by the Irish Jesuits (or to be more correct, the religious order of the Society of Jesus). Currently in redesign (the site that is, not the order), it has millions of visitors every year, with over three quarters of a million visitors recorded during Lent in 2011 alone. It’s one of the most successful Irish-run multilingual websites that I can think of, going about its other-worldly business in a quiet way (as I suppose it’s intended to).

Sacred Space: Multilingual Prayer website run by the Irish Jesuits.

This got me thinking. Translation of religious texts (notably the Bible) has been a mainstay of translation activity for centuries, as well as being a textbook case in message globalization. Multilingual translations of religious text provide quality corpus for machine translation (MT) development. Anyone who has that dreaded phrase “lost in translation” as a Google Alert will have been driven crazy in the last year about the number of times the new  translation of the Roman Catholic Church missal turned up (I have to say, having read and used the translation, that I can understand some of the angst, and the debate continues).  I also fondly remember exchanges I had as Gaeilge with linguists of the Church  of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at various localization conferences around the world.

Yet, we rarely hear any organized discussion about religious, spiritual, or other matters of faith when it comes to translation. When was this topic last featured at an industry conference or in a magazine article? And, why is that? Risk of offending the audience? Presenter discomfort? Inappropriate for public discussion? Considered irrelevant? What?

If you think faith translation doesn’t matter, then think again as organized religions of all sorts increase their presence worldwide, in Africa, Asia, South America, and so on, and as millions of people turn to spirituality and other belief systems in these hard economic, soulless, technocratic times. It’s really a global growth area.

Don’t people, globally, have needs for spiritual information in their own language as much as they do for information about health or economic development? So, what’s the translation process? What tools are used? How much is this religious translation business worth? What are the quality standards? Come on, there’s even an MT system called Moses.

Done squirming? Find the comments.


Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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