Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Artifacts of Design: Biblia Ployglotta & Google Translate One of the main facets of design is universal function. Something may be designed to serve a function, but to have that function be operational in multiple environments, serving a purpose for a variety of individuals, is a true accomplishment. The first Polyglot Bible, printed by Christophe Plantin, is an example of this universal function. In 14th century Europe, language was a barrier that halted the progressive movement of the working class. Despite the fact that only 1,100 copies were printed and the distribution of these volumes were likely held within regal and religious confines, the creation of this epic marks a milestone in the Renaissance era. In this time during Europe, religion was a banner that nearly everyone could unite under, and the creation of a Bible that nearly any person could read was momentous Today, there is a device that was created with a similar motive in mind. It is called Google Translate. Google Translate is a web-based device created by Google that can translate single words, sentences, documents, and webpages. It does this by searching for patterns within a document based on patterns within millions of other documents. Our world today is a tremendous mix of cultures, nationalities, religions, and world views. Google Translate gives anyone with a computer the ability to understand someone else's feelings, to partake in international business, or to read another country's constitution. It unifies communication without the necessity of a universal language, keeping the qualities of a specific culture intact while allowing for cross-cultural communication. Therefore, Christophe Plantin's Polyglot Bible is to the Renaissance Era as Google Translate is to contemporary times. The Renaissance Era is defined as a period in Europe of immense cultural expression. The recent advent of the letterpress and moveable type heralded an era of book design of unprecedented importance. The increasing impact of print on cultural expressions created a larger role for graphic design to shape and spread knowledge. The creation of Plantin's Biblia Polyglotta is a prime example of this. The book is printed in eight volumes. The first four volumes contain the Old Testament, each left page having two columns with the original Hebrew beside the Latin translation and each right page has same text in Greek with its own Latin translation. Beneath these columns on the left is the Aramaic version, with a Latin translation of this on the right. The fifth volume contains the New Testament in both Greek and Syriac, each along side their respective Latin translation, as well as a translation of the Syriac into Hebrew. The sixth volume has the complete Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek, with the Latin translation printed between the lines. Finally, the seventh and eighth volumes are dictionaries of Hebrew to Latin, Greek to Latin, Syriac to Aramaic, and grammatical rules of each language. The page layout is
concise, clean and simple. Each translation is clear and annotated in each language. The translation of non-Romantic languages required the design of non-Roman type, which helped keep the cultural values behind these languages intact. The Biblia Polyglotta is not only a masterpiece of Renaissance design but a stepping stone towards cultural progression. In the modern technological era, creating a multi-translated version of a common text for the purpose of universal readability would be seen as a somewhat asinine as there are far too few common texts to be written in far too many common languages. However, the creation of a device that can translate every text into almost every common language would be monumental. Google Translate is exactly that, creating a simple interface to understand dozens of different languages. Google Translate has three different modules for translation. The first is for simple translations of words and sentences. One simply enters the text into the lefthand box, selects the language to convert it to, and clicks translate. The second module is for the translation of text documents. One simply uploads the file, selects the language, and Translate creates a new document in the chosen language. Lastly, Translate has a module for converting entire webpages to a different language. There are different ways of doing this. One is found using Google's web browser, Chrome. Upon loading a domain that is in a language other than the default language selected for your browser, a drop-down option menu appears at the top of the screen asking if the user would like to translate the page. Click translate, and the page immediately changes to your language of
choice. In other browsers, one may download a toolbar from Google that performs the same action. The user interface of Google Translate is simple and easy to understand. It is universally available and applicable. Translate can convert 58 different languages. In the first module, one may also translate words spoken into a microphone of a computer. Google Translate can also recognize words typed phonetically into the text box and translate this as well. This device has astounding capabilities for the purpose of international understanding and communication.
Both the Biblia Polyglotta and Google Translate achieve the same purpose, and that is to unify people of different tongues. They operate under they idea that all people should be allowed equal access to information regardless of their culture and language. In their design, each is simple and concrete, yet specific to many different users and expansive in their possibilities. The Biblia Polyglotta, though created on a much smaller scale, made way for cultural progression during a time when many people did not have access to literature and because of this lack of literacy were barred from upward social movement. By creating a document that everyone was familiar with and everyone could understand, it broke these barriers down. Google Translate simply takes the idea and puts it on a grander scale. It translates more languages and more documents in an interface that is accessible to more people. Though people may not always see eye to eye on everything, it's ideas like these that help bridge the gaps between our differences.