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Where Can I Find an English/LatinTranslation of...

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Page from Laudario, manuscript

Page from the Laudario, Latin manuscript, 14th century.

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Question: Where Can I Find an English/LatinTranslation of...

Whether you want to translate a short English phrase into Latin or a Latin phrase into English, you can not just plug the words into a dictionary and expect an accurate result. You can't with most modern languages, but the lack of a one-to-one correspondence is even greater for Latin and English.

Answer:

If all you want to know is the essence of a Latin phrase, some of the so-called online translation tools for Latin may help. Perhaps you want to know what Marcus in silvam vocat means. The Latin-English translation program I tried translated it as 'Marcus upon woods vocat.' That is obviously not quite right because 'vocat' isn't an English word. It's not a great translation. Since I used that online tool, Google has added its own translator that worked efficiently, but heed the warnings in the comments in this blog thread: Ancient History in the News - Latin, by Google.

If you want a thorough, accurate translation, you will probably need to have a human do it for you, and you may have to pay a fee. Latin translation is a skill that takes a substantial investment in time and money, so translators deserve to be compensated for their efforts.

In case you're interested in developing the skill of translating Latin, there are Latin online courses and other self help methods for beginning Latin [see Latin CD], as well as Latin degree programs in colleges and universities. Between the two extremes, however, there are some useful tools on the Internet.

Parser

A parser, like The Latin Parser, tells you basic facts about a word. Depending on what information the parser spits out, you can determine which part of speech the word is and other essentials you need to know in order to translate.

You might use a parser if you realize that the Latin phrase you want to understand has 1 (or 2) unknowable word and a bunch of other words you can almost decipher. In the Marcus in silvam vocat example, Marcus looks enough like a name, that you needn't look it up. In looks like the English word of the same spelling, but what about silvam and vocat? If you don't even know what part of speech they are, a parser will help, since it's job is to tell you its person, number, tense, mood, etc., if it's a verb, and its number, case, and gender, if it's a noun. If you do know the words in question are accusative singular and 3d singular, present active indicative, you probably also know that the noun silvam translates as 'forest/wood' and the verb vocat as 'calls'. At any rate, a parser and or dictionary can help with little bits of Latin like this.

Don't use the parser to find the Latin for an English word. For that you need a dictionary.

Advice from the Forum
This Forum thread shows what you need to understand about the terms presented by a parser if you're going to do your own translation.
Assuming you have a vague familiarity with Latin, a parser will tell you the possible forms of a given word. This will help if you can't remember the endings of the paradigms, but understand their purposes. Quick Latin includes a dictionary.

Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid

This program does not require that you download. You can use it for exploring -- trying to figure things out on your own, since you can insert endings (a list of which is on the page) or stems.

VISL Pre-analyzed Latin sentences

This program from Syddansk University seems an extremely useful program for people teaching themselves Latin, but it only deals with pre-selected sentences. It doesn't translate the Latin into English at all, but shows the relationships among words by means of tree diagrams. If you have ever tried diagramming a convoluted Latin sentence, you will understand what an imposing task this is. By means of a tree you can see how the words relate to each other; that is, you can tell that one word is part of a phrase begun by another word -- like a preposition leading a prepositional phrase. The pre-selected sentences are from standard Latin authors, so you may find the help you need.

Translation Service

If you need more than a quick approximation of a phrase of Latin, and can't do it yourself, you'll need help. There are professional, fee charging services, like Applied Language Solutions' Latin Translation Service - English to Latin Translation. I've never used them, so I can't tell you how good they are.

A correspondent balked at the price asked for one of these services, since parts were in Greek and he didn't want those translated. It might be impossible to understand the Latin well enough without translating the Greek. Another complication was the script. I think that the price amounted to about $100/page, which didn't seem too high to me. However...
There are now Latin Translators, with prices spelled out up front. Both claim the lowest prices, so check. A quick look suggests they're both right -- depending on the number of words and direction of Latin language translation:

Latin Tips

How Do I Write A Couple of Words in Latin? FAQ

Also see these articles on words and word derivations:
  • Latin Words in English I
    English has lots of words of Latin origin. Some of these words are changed to make them more like other English words -- mostly by changing the ending (e.g., 'office' from the Latin officium), but other Latin words are kept intact in English. Of these words, there are some that remain unfamiliar and are generally italicized to show that they are foreign, but there are others that are used with nothing to set them apart as imported from Latin. You may not even be aware that they are from Latin. Here are some such words and abbreviations.
  • Latin Words in English II
    (See preceding.)
  • Latin Color Words, Latin Death Words, Latin Marriage Words, Harry Potter Latin, Latin Numbers
  • Latin Religious Words in English
    If you want to say that the prospects are bleak, you could say "it doesn't augur well." Augur is used as a verb in this English sentence, with no particular religious connotation. In ancient Rome, an augur was a religious figure who observed natural phenomena, like the presence and location to left or right of birds, to determine whether the prospects were good or bad for a proposed venture. Find out about more such words.

Latin FAQ Index

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