Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE) into Southwest Asian languages of the second millennium BCE.

The word translation derives from the Latin "translatio" (which itself comes from "trans" and "fero", together meaning "to carry across" or "to bring across"). The modern Romance languages use words for translation derived from that source and from the alternative Latin "traduco" ("to lead across"). The Germanic (except Dutch) and Slavic languages likewise use calques of these Latin sources. TRANSDUCO is the verb for the Latin word TRANFERRE.

The Ancient Greek term for translation, μετάφρασις (metaphrasis, "a speaking across"), has supplied English with metaphrase (a "literal," or "word-for-word," translation) - as contrasted with paraphrase ("a saying in other words", from παράφρασις, paraphrasis). Metaphrase corresponds, in one of the more recent terminologies, to "formal equivalence"; and paraphrase, to "dynamic equivalence".