Translation has always allowed communication between different linguistic communities andthe dissemination of new information.
Importance of translation
Before arriving at speech and writing, the first men developed communication by signs, sounds and mimics. This development took place in different places, in different times, between more or less distant groups. This favored the birth of language families (languages with the same roots) which are divided into about thirteen main groups: (1)
- Niger–Congo (1,542 languages) (21.7%)
- Austronesian (1,257 languages) (17.7%)
- Trans–New Guinea (482 languages) (6.8%)
- Sino-Tibetan (455 languages) (6.4%)
- Indo-European (448 languages) (6.3%)
- Australian [dubious] (381 languages) (5.4%)
- Afro-Asiatic (377 languages) (5.3%)
- Nilo-Saharan [dubious] (206 languages) (2.9%)
- Oto-Manguean (178 languages) (2.5%)
- Austroasiatic (167 languages) (2.3%)
- Tai–Kadai (91 languages) (1.3%)
- Dravidian (86 languages) (1.2%)
- Tupian (76 languages) (1.1%)
When people started to move around, they realized that they could not always communicate with others as they wished. So the need for interpreters arose, and with the advent of writing the need for translators.
There are many ways to translate from one language to another. The easiest way seems to be to translate one word for another and see what happens. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Who hasn’t tried to translate a text using an automatic translator on the Internet? Those who have, can confirm that the result is not always understandable. No matter how well programmed a machine is, it will never be able to convey the facets and emotions of a text written by a person. The human factor is missing, hence the need for a translator.
Languages are of strategic importance to people and the planet and play a vital role in development. They are a guarantee of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, (2) and a means of achieving quality education for all, strengthening cooperation, building inclusive knowledge societies, preserving cultural heritage and mobilizing political will to apply the benefits of science and technology for sustainable development.
Every year in September, translation is celebrated around the world on World Translation Day. (3) Many people may wonder why translation is so important that it has a day dedicated to it. It was in 2017 that the UN General Assembly designated September 30 as International Translation Day. September 30 marks the death of St. Jerome, a translator of the Bible who was recognized as the patron saint of translators.
St. Jerome (4) was a monk, born in Stridon, a community that at the time was part of northeast Italy. His ancestors were Illyrians, so Jerome’s mother tongue was an Illyrian dialect. He continued his studies in philosophy in Rome where he learned Latin. Later, during his travels and in the course of his life, he became proficient in Greek and Hebrew. He is best known for his translation of the Greek version of the Bible into Latin and his partial translation of the Gospel from Hebrew into Greek.
In addition to being a means of communication, translation plays an important role in overcoming language barriers. It is a way to communicate with others in different languages within the same company.
Translation allows us to highlight the differences in lexical structure and syntactic structure between two languages and thus contributes to the learning of the foreign language.
The difficulties inherent in translation are numerous, they can concern, for example, grammar, culture or context… This requirement makes it difficult to translate from a large number of different languages, because a culture is acquired over the long term.
Even if we don’t always notice it in our daily lives, translation is a very important part of our society. Its main function is to make a document or knowledge available to as many people as possible, especially to those who do not understand the language of the original document.
Translation is duly present in everyday life. Although we pay little attention to it, we are confronted with translation every day. This is the case, for example, when assembling a piece of furniture. In this case, it is important to have an instruction manual available in the language you use. This allows you to assemble it quickly and correctly while taking advantage of all the information and advice given by the manufacturer. It could indeed be frustrating to buy a piece of furniture and not be able to assemble it because you don’t understand the assembly instructions.
Translation is very important in the entertainment world. (5) Whether it’s literature, movies, television or even video games. Translation is very important; it makes a work accessible to everyone. For example, if you can watch so many series and movies, it is primarily because they have been translated. You can then enjoy the translation in the form of subtitles or voice-overs.
Language translation is essential in today’s globalized world. People are more connected than ever, and the medium of text plays a critical role. From the United Nations General Assembly to the translation of medical reports, language plays a critical role. Translation conveys language in a readable medium that retains the original meaning. The importance of translation is more critical than ever.
Translation allows people to learn about other cultures. Thoughts, meanings, and ideas can be shared through translation. We come to understand the principles, traditions, and values of other cultures and their accumulated wisdom. Translation opens the door to a vast amount of knowledge that would otherwise remain embedded and isolated from the rest of the world.
What is translation?
In order to understand a speech, it is therefore necessary to know the language in which it is expressed. Pedagogues know that a child who does not know his own language well has difficulty understanding the subjects he is taught. The same is true for bilingual communication. The translator, who is responsible for transferring a speech from a source language to a target language, must know these languages. Generally, the target language is the translator’s mother tongue, the one in which he or she normally expresses himself or herself most easily. (6)
Translation consists of transposing a written text from one language to another, conveying the message as faithfully as possible. The translator generally translates from a 2nd or 3rd language into his mother tongue. They are curious by nature, have a broad cultural background, a flexible mind, a very good knowledge of their working languages and writing skills. The discipline differs from interpretation, which consists of orally reformulating a message from one language to another during speeches, meetings, conferences and debates, or before courts of law or administrative tribunals.
Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday define translation in the following terms: (7)
“Translation is a phenomenon that has a huge effect on everyday life.”
The difficulties inherent in translation are numerous; they may concern, for example, grammar, culture or context. Most languages originate from a common ancestral language, but they do not share the same recent roots, which means that their structures can vary greatly from one to another, making the grammatical structures impossible to transcribe into other related languages without a major lexicon modification. Differences in culture and social, historical or geographic context are significant aspects of translation. Indeed, could expressions like “fish-and-chips“, “the Big Apple“, or “the city that never sleeps“, when translated, be understood by a person with a different language and culture?
The level of difficulty of some translations requires a conscientious translator to have a great command of the two languages from which he is working, but also a thorough knowledge of both cultures. This requirement makes it difficult to translate from a large number of different languages, as a culture is learned over the long term. However, this problem has been largely solved by the development of the Internet, a research tool giving the translator speed and certainty, allowing him to avoid interpretation errors.
Translation today presents a number of resolutely topical challenges, shaped by globalization and the evolution of new technologies.
In today’s booming job market, studying translation opens the doors to numerous employment opportunities (8) provided one gets the necessary training:
- Training that is based on current labor market needs;
- Solid preparation for the practice of the profession of generalist translator;
- An introduction to other types of specialized translation through a wide range of optional courses: legal, scientific, commercial, medical, pharmacological, computer, literary, etc. and;
- A special emphasis on practical learning and training exercises, etc.
Generally, the translation of a document, whatever its nature, goes through three distinct stages:
- Comprehension: the translator reads the text with care, looking for expressions, notions and references which may be unknown to him or about which he has doubts, until the meaning of the text becomes clear to him and leaves no room for wrong interpretation;
- The creation of meaning: The translator mentally – and often unconsciously – records the text or paragraphs as units of meaning, thus deviating from the sentences and words that made up the original text, and;
- Writing a new text: once the message contained in the original text is fully understood, the translator can, by breaking away from the words themselves, begin to write a new version of the document in another language, by applying to preserve the effects contained in the original text.
Definition and types of translations
Generally speaking, translation can be defined as the transposition of a text into a language other than that used to write the original text. We often speak of “source text” or “original text/proto-text” and “target text “or”translation/meta-text”. Translation in itself involves interpreting the meaning of a text and subsequently producing a new text, equivalent to the original text but in another language. It is, in fact, a written transposition of concepts from one language to another.
The translator’s objective is to transfer the text from the source language to the target language so that both the meaning and style of writing remain the same. Because of the differences between languages, it is often difficult to preserve both characters. The translator is therefore forced to make various decisions, depending on the nature of the text and the objectives of the translation. In general, it is possible to distinguish between the following types of translation: (9)
– Informative translation: the translation of texts of an informative nature, such as journalism and news;
– Literary translation: the translation of literary texts, such as prose, poetry, etc.;
– Scientific translation: the translation of medical or scientific texts;
– Technical translation: the translation of texts of a technical nature, such as engineering, automotive or computer science texts.
– Legal translation: the translation of legal texts. Not to be confused with sworn translation;
– Financial translation: the translation of texts relating to finance, and
– Sworn translation: the official translation of documents, diplomas, etc., whose legal validity must be established. This type of translation can only be done by sworn translators.
Therefore, it is essential that we understand what type of translation we are dealing with. It is obvious that the translation of a technical manual will leave less room for the personal interpretation of the translator than the translation of a literary text. The art of translation includes not only knowledge of a language, but also knowledge of a wide range of cultural and intellectual aspects that are part of the daily life of people who speak that language natively. From gastronomy to literature, from the educational system to religion or history, all of this knowledge is indispensable to the translator’s knowledge of a language.
Translation must take into account all these characteristics and cultural norms that govern the life of the two cultures involved in the translation process. This detailed knowledge of the cultures and traditions of the two countries involved is necessary to produce a good translation, thus preserving the main meaning of the text without forgetting the target audience. In this sense, translators are authors; writers who do not write from scratch, but from a text written in one language and which they must transpose into another while adapting it.
For Emily Temple: (10)
“Translation is a curious craft. You must capture the voice of an author writing in one language and bear it into another, yet leave faint trace that the transfer ever took place. (…Charlotte Mandell calls this transformation “Something Else but Still the Same.”) Though spared the anguish of writer’s block, the translator nonetheless has to confront the white page and fill it. The fear: being so immersed in the source text, adhering so closely to the source language, that the resulting prose is affected and awkward—or worse, unreadable. Yet immersion is inevitable. In fact, it’s required.“
And she goes on to say, quite rightly that “Like the ghostwriter, the translator must slip on a second skin “:
“Like the ghostwriter, the translator must slip on a second skin. Sometimes this transition is gentle, unobtrusive, without violence. But sometimes the settling in is abrupt, loud, and even disagreeable. For me, “plunge deep” tactics that go beyond the mechanics of translation help: coaxing out references to reconstruct the author’s cultural touchstones (books, film, music); reading passages aloud, first in the original and then in translation, until hoarseness sets in; animating the author’s story through my senses, using my nose, my ears, my eyes, and my fingers; devouring every clue to imprint the range of the author’s voice (humor, anger, grief, detachment) on my translation. “
The translator must not limit himself to transferring only the lexical and syntactical aspects; in fact, creating a group of words, even if well-constructed syntactically, is not enough. It will be difficult to understand and will not have that “extra something” that good translators know how to bring to the text. One could say that translation is “saying almost the same thing”. All of this is aimed at achieving a specific objective: “to say almost the same thing” so that the reader understands, as clearly and effectively as possible, what the original text was trying to express. The reader does not know the original text and does not have to know it, but it is important that he understands the text before him or her. The goal is to achieve effective communication. (11)
To translate is to betray? To translate is to kill?
If we are to believe the famous Italian adage “traduttore, traditore” (translator, traitor), reality is sometimes very difficult to transpose from one language to another.
Poor translations will often aggravate existing conflicts. President Truman, for example, is said to have decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan because of a mistranslation of a comment made by the Japanese Prime Minister.
It was a “simple” translation error that cost Japan two atomic bombs before its surrender in 1945. The ambiguity of the word, “mokusatsu“, led to a misinterpretation, propelling the country’s fate.
Mokusatsu, composed of the two kanji “moku” (silence) and “satsu” (to kill), would literally translate as “to kill in silence”. This is what the Japanese authorities would have answered to the Americans when the latter offered them a way out by surrendering unconditionally. Only for the Japanese military, there was no question of surrendering. But Shigenori Togo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, tried to gain time to find out the position of the Russians in order to obtain mediation to ensure the future of the Empire if the latter capitulated. Thus Togo managed to obtain a compromise and to calm down the military. (12)
To satisfy the press, a report must be written, and it is in this same report that the word “mokusatsu” is written. This word has to be translated into English, but several meanings emerge from it, giving the translators a hard time. For example, this ambiguous word can be translated as “disregarding“, “treating with contempt“, but also as “without comment“, as suggested by the Japanese Foreign Minister. However, it will be translated as “to treat with contempt“, and is spread all over the world press.
The United States took it as a mark of contempt, a new affront that only convinced them even more that the Japanese would rather die than surrender; even with a halfway honorable way out. And even if the Japanese realized this translation error, it is now too late.
Ten days later, we know what happens next: the first atomic bomb falls on Hiroshima, then three days later on Nagasaki. One might think that the Japanese had shot themselves in the foot, but what weight does a little word have compared to history?
In this regard, Virginia Virino writes: (13)
“The National Security Agency in the US declassified a document which points to what is likely to be the worst translation mistake in history. Or, at least, it involves the mistranslation with the most serious consequences in history. Although you can never know what would happened without this error, it is very likely that the sad fate of Hiroshima has been the result of a huge error in Japanese into English translation. “
Types of translation
Despite the emergence of computer-assisted translation tools, human translation has never been so much in demand and the fields of application so varied. What are the different types of translation and their uses?
1. Literary translation, discreet but demanding
Literary translation is a meticulous discipline that deals with fiction, essays and humanities-related content. A literary translator spends more time on the substance of a source text, on its terminological and stylistic consistency, in order to recreate the voice of its original author in the target language. More than just a literary enthusiast, he strives to bring out the style, subtleties and rhythm of a work.
On the subject of literary translation Richard Brooks writes: (14)
“Literary translation is of huge importance. It helps to shape our understanding of the world around us in many ways. Reading Homer and Sophocles as part of a classical education in school helps to build an understanding of history, politics, philosophy and so much more. Meanwhile, reading contemporary translations provides fascinating insights into life in other cultures and other countries. In a fast-paced world so rife with misunderstanding and confusion, such efforts to share knowledge and experiences across cultural boundaries should be applauded. “
2. Specialized, precise and varied translation
Intended for a well-defined public and with a shorter lifespan than literary translations, specialized translations require precise and extensive knowledge in a particular professional sector.
Technical translation is aimed at fields such as industry, engineering or mechanics. It includes, among other things, instructions for use, diagrams, processes, patents, product sheets, expert reports, procedure manuals, standards and protocols, and specifications.
Based on knowledge of economics and finance, financial translation involves the analysis and understanding of business plans, balance sheets, income statements, cash flow plans and budgets, stock offerings, business reports, transactions, etc.
The legal translation of documents requires a solid experience in law and legislation in order to deal with writs of summons, judgments, international contracts, civil and administrative status documents, statutes, general assemblies or swearing-in.
Scientific translation is a wide-ranging field that requires real research and verification of content such as publications, journals, magazines, reports, study reports or research projects.
In medical and pharmaceutical translation, professional translators have even less room for error. They are therefore faced with specific and complex texts requiring significant technical knowledge. These include review reports, manuals, articles, procedures, marketing authorizations (MA), package inserts and packaging.
Computer and web translation involves all the components of a website or software. The translator therefore works in compliance with the formats, codes and uses of the web. It includes user manuals, web pages, catalogs and product updates, computer files, computer graphics, etc.
Intended to promote a company or a service internationally, sales and marketing translation is designed to be convincing. This is why the tone, the expressions used and the analysis of the needs and expectations of the target audience remain essential. This is particularly true for communication materials, studies, packaging and internal publications.
In order to accompany travelers in a country where their native language is not necessarily spoken, tourism translation focuses on temporal, cultural and linguistic aspects. Travel guides, documentations or presentation brochures, in order to remain relevant, these documents are subject to frequent modifications.
Areas of translation
Sales and marketing translation has one objective: to seduce and convince in order to sell. It aims to convey an offer, a promise, a positioning, a tone, a style and a brand identity, while guaranteeing perfect adaptation to the culture associated with the target language. (15)
Which media are concerned by commercial and marketing translation?
The following are regularly translated to target the various markets and audiences of companies with international activities: communication materials, market studies, packaging, newsletters, internal or external magazines, computer graphics, subtitling and voice-over of videos, motion design, etc.
A good translation of a website must be a faithful rendering of the content and form in the target language. However, its quality can be recognized above all by its ability to meet SEO (Search Engine Optimization) requirements, which allows the site to be positioned in the Google search engine on targeted searches and queries. In concrete terms, translation must transpose into the target language the lexical repository defined by the keyword strategy of the original language.
Translators have to be familiar with the jargon and lexical references of the field of activity as well as the codes and editorial practices of the Web, but above all they must be able to analyze and define the language elements in the target language.
Which media are concerned by Web translation?
Web translation concerns: showcase websites, e-commerce sites, Corporate sites (and their CTA action buttons, so essential!), extranet or intranet type sites, messages from digital or social selling campaigns, applications for smartphones and tablets, software, etc.
Technical or scientific translation
Technical or scientific translation (17) requires mastery, expertise and experience in the field of activity. A good technical or scientific translation is based on a thorough knowledge of the language elements of the field in question: vocabulary, terminology and semantics.
The sectors concerned are: aeronautics/aerospace, automotive, architecture and construction, nuclear, telecommunications, sustainable development, medical, pharmaceutical, etc.
The main challenge of legal translation is to anticipate and avoid legal problems with all documents that can be used in court in the event of litigation. This is why legal translation requires expertise in law and legislation as well as an excellent command of the subtleties of the legal systems of the countries where the legal document will apply.
A sworn translator is a certified translator, a ministerial officer authorized by the courts to translate official documents for individuals and professionals. By affixing his or her seal, the sworn translator certifies that the translated document is faithful to the original, which gives it legal value.
The official documents that require a sworn translation are, for example: identity cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, family registers, driver’s licenses, criminal records, diplomas, bank statements, tax returns, insurance certificates, car registration documents, medical certificates,
Other documents, related to business and commercial law, require the intervention of a legal translator for the translation of: contracts for the transfer of companies, mergers and acquisitions, dismemberment, commercial leases, company statutes, commercial contracts, calls for tenders, minutes of meetings, minutes of general meetings, summonses, formal notices, expert reports…but also standards and regulations, patents, or even general terms and conditions of sale (GTCS).
In addition to the financial jargon and language elements specific to the company or its sector of activity, translators specialized in financial and stock market translations are professionals who are constantly on the lookout for financial and economic news, thus enabling them to be perfectly anchored in reality. (18)
All financial and stock market translations are subject to a duty of discretion and confidentiality.
The financial translation is concerned by such documents as: balance sheets, income statements, business plans, operating notes, cash flow plans, management reports, CSR reports, securities issues, etc.
Literary translation requires, in addition to a perfect literary and cultural mastery of the source and target languages, a talent for writing and great dedication. The challenge of literary translation? To be faithful to the author’s style, rhythm, phrasing and tone of writing, but also to reproduce the universe created by the author while allowing for a few deviations that ensure cultural understanding in the target language. Translators specialized in literary translation are kind of “ghost writers” for the language versions of writings. (19)
The documents covered by literary translation are all texts that require a creative approach: books, articles, stories, essays, etc.
What does a good translator need?
Translation is an act of communication, but this does not mean that it is carried out in the most efficient way. To achieve a good result, the reader must have the same linguistic and extra-linguistic background as the translator. This really depends on the translator’s work. (20)
Each translator has his own resources, sources, experience and personal methods. Every translator is different. In any case, although everyone has their own style, their own rhythm, and follows their own patterns and processes, each translator always goes through a phase of understanding the text before being able to translate it. In other words, the translator reads the text, understands it, and then translates each unit of meaning into another unit of meaning in the target language. (21)
The translation process is not a simple task and requires more work than simply transferring words from one language to another. It requires a perfect knowledge of the source and target languages, an excellent general culture and a good command of the subject matter of the translation. In addition to these requirements, there are texts that are so complex to interpret that they sometimes lead the translator to make, sometimes, serious mistakes.
Often, the meaning of sentences is so closely linked to the cultural context in which they are written that it is practically impossible to produce an equivalent translation that preserves the same meaning as in the source text.
What should the translator do under these circumstances? Is it better to translate literally so as not to betray the idea of the author of the text, but at the risk of damaging the quality of the translation? Or is it better to find a close alternative solution that makes sense in the target language, even if the translated version slightly changes the idea contained in the original text?
Like many translators, the answer to this important questions is to say that the ultimate goal is to convey the same idea as the original text. In order to achieve this goal, it is important to translate with the recipients of the translation in mind, i.e. readers whose target language is their mother tongue. Of course, it is also essential that the translator has a good command of his specialty or, in other words, of the subject matter of the text.
It is obvious that we cannot be both translators and professionals in all subjects at the same time, which is why we need the support of a variety of professionals when we translate. We must bear in mind that, in the majority of cases, the client is the professional who is best able to provide translators with all the information they need. However, we must not forget that the person requesting a translation and the author of the text are not always the same person.
The translator must try to go beyond the original terms; to reconstruct a meaning that the author has sometimes only partially managed to convey.
The translator is daily confronted with terms or expressions that are difficult to translate. Sometimes the difficulty lies in the impossibility of finding a suitable translation; often there are too many translation possibilities and we do not know which one to choose. It is extremely important to have a source that can confirm the accuracy of the translation of the term in question. In general, those who know how to search are able to find the confirmation they need in a previously translated document or on the Internet.
In other words, the translator’s job involves gradually getting closer to a text that would be the most accurate picture of a particular text in the target language of the source language. Some words have a very clear translation, while others require more work and reflection.
Personally, when I have to translate a text, I prefer to read it first of all in a global way in order to understand the subject matter. Then I can begin to analyze in more detail the aspects that could present difficulties. That is to say: words, sentences and expressions whose meaning or translation is not obvious and which I decide to highlight for that reason. Once the analysis phase is over, I begin my research on a term, especially if it is unfamiliar or technical.
I use different tools that I can find online, such as glossaries, articles, similar texts, previous translations: anything that can give me a more precise idea of how I could do the translation. Finally, I make a first draft of the new text.
The tools available in Word are very useful. For example, in my case, I highlight in red the words or sentences where the translation is not completely satisfactory. Furthermore, I underline or skip to the line to separate the possible translations of a noun, adjective or verb, so that I can later choose the one that seems to be the most suitable. In this way, during my second reading of the text, I have a way to progress and improve my work. I try to translate the whole text so as not to lose sight of the subject matter, trying not to get too lost in the details.
Once I have finished the first draft, I read the text sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, to make it as stylistically appropriate as possible, trying to retain the best solutions to make the translation as natural as possible for the reader. At this stage, it is important that I work with both versions, the original and the translation, in front of me. Only at the final stage, where I try to forget the original, so I put the original aside so that I can carefully correct the translation, putting myself in the position of the reader who does not know the original text and who must understand the text as it is presented to him or her. I think this is the best way to ensure that the text is as natural as possible, just as an original text would be.
The translator’s task therefore involves transferring concepts from a source language to the target language using the same expressions that a native speaker would use in the same communication situation. In any case, when references, events, circumstances or simply objects from the source language do not exist in the target language, it is impossible to respect this principle. In reality, it is sometimes impossible to translate while preserving a relationship between the words in the source and target text; that is, the possibility of replacing one word in the source text with another word in the target text.
In this sense, many questions arise as to whether it is better to translate with close respect to the source language or whether priority should be given to the target language and thus move further away from the original text.
In the first case, the translator’s priority is to be as faithful as possible to the form of the original text. The translator must reproduce all the stylistic elements of the original text and use the same tone and register. He must keep cultural elements intact and, in some cases, force the target language to adopt the form imposed by the source text. Above all, the translator must not betray the language used by the author and, if possible, convey the meaning of his message.
In the second case, on the other hand, it is necessary to give priority to the precision of the message to the detriment of the style, if necessary. In order to convey the message of the source text, the translator must substitute cultural elements present in the source text with cultural elements more familiar to readers of the target language, even if they are not completely equivalent. The most important thing is the meaning of the message that the author intends to convey. The translator must convey this message to the readers of the target language in a natural way. Fidelity to the language, register and tone used by the author of the original text becomes secondary. These two views are totally antagonistic, although it is possible to find less radical intermediate positions.
Translation is not an exact science; therefore, every time a translator undertakes a job, he or she must first identify with the author in order to understand the message the author intends to convey, and then identify with the potential reader and use language that allows the potential reader to easily understand that message. In order to accomplish this task, the translator must avoid being too rigid; on the contrary, he must keep an open mind, remain flexible and use common sense.
Thus, when faced with a legal or technical text, the translator must stay as close as possible to the meaning of the original text. Literary translation allows the translator to move further away from the exact meaning of the original text in order to preserve its style and form. There are therefore situations in which it is necessary to add explanatory notes, such as puns, words that exist in the source language but not in the target language, or proverbs or concepts typical of the source culture and language that have no equivalent in the target language.
Although the translator’s main objective is to render perfect translations, he sometimes makes mistakes. In my opinion, there are two kinds of mistakes:
- On the one hand, there are those that are very well hidden and do not compromise the text. For example, the use of words that do not seem very natural but are not incorrect in the target language; a semantic structure that remains understandable but is unnatural to a native reader; or errors that can only be discovered after detailed analysis but are not visible during a quick reading.
- On the other hand, there are serious errors that compromise the meaning of the text, and grammatical errors.
I think it is difficult to establish a list of objective criteria that would allow us to assess whether a translation is more or less good. It’s not so much a question of making a perfect translation; several translators can each produce a good translation, but each of them may be totally different from the others. We can therefore say that one of the criteria would be fidelity, first of all to what is expressed by the author, but also to the respect of the reader and what he or she expects from a translated text. Another method could be to look at all types of errors and assess their seriousness.
A text can therefore generate an infinite number of translations, and the fact that one translation is very different from another does not imply that one is good and the other is not. Of course, some translations are good, others are average or terrible, which implies that certain criteria must be respected.
A translation must include all the paragraphs and sentences of the original document; otherwise, the translation would be incomplete because it would not contain all the ideas that the author was originally trying to convey. Translation must not alter any of the original concepts. There must be no spelling or grammar mistakes.
Translation should be as fluid as possible, while remaining as close as possible to the original syntax. This allows for a pleasant reading, a better understanding of the text and, at the same time, to achieve the final goal of the translation: to convey the original idea.
As for the difference between a good translator and one who is not so good, it is not easy to draw the exact outline. A good translator does not always produce perfect translations, and a less good translator will never produce very good translations.
It can be said that a translator, in order to be considered good, must understand that a text must be translated as meticulously as possible and that a new text must be written in as much detail as possible, allowing the target reader to understand the message and meaning without any possible misunderstanding or doubt. (22)
A good translation will be clear, will not lead to any misunderstandings and will not be noticed as a translation; the text will be natural.
Word-for-word or “tracing” often leads to disaster in translation, since there are variations from one language to another. Therefore, there are several solutions to adopt, which correspond “roughly” to the following categories or techniques
A process involving a change of point of view in order to avoid the use of a word or expression that does not fit well in the target language. It also allows to take into account differences in expression between the two languages: from the abstract to the concrete, from the part to the whole, from the affirmation to the negation.
This process consists of making a change of point of view from one language to the other: it’s the half empty / half full glass problem.
*It is sometimes optional, but recommended:
– Quite clever & c’est pas bête du tout
-You are aware that & vous n’êtes pas sans savoir
-They lost their lives & ils ont trouvé la mort
– Ne quittez pas & hold the line
– Peu profond & shallow
– Le voyageur ne tarde pas à découvrir & the traveler soon discovers …
* It is sometimes mandatory:
– I miss you & tu me manques
– Bureau des objets trouvés & lost property office
– Complet & no vacancies
We can distinguish several “classes” of modulations:
• Metaphorical modulation: the metaphor in an expression varies from one language to another. E.g.: il pleut des cordes & it’s raining cats and dogs.
• Metonymic modulation: the change of point of view is spatial or temporal. E.g.:
– On se retrouve devant la mairie & let’s meet outside the town hall.
– Une semaine sur deux & every other week (but 2 in 3 women, 9 points out of ten)
• Inversion, negation of the opposite. E.g.:
– Don’t be mean & sois gentil!
– Rather boring & pas très intéressant
– It’s cheap & pas cher
• Grammatical modulation: we can consider that a transposition is a change in grammar.
* Animism in English, which consists of attributing to inanimate objects human faculties, (a kind of personification therefore). Passive voice allows to avoid the problem in English:
– Ce livre m’a enchanté & I was delighted by the book
– Cette idée l’obsédait & He was obsessed by this idea
2. Transposition, or “re-categorization”
This process consists in making a change of grammatical category between the language of origin and the target language. They are often obligatory or strongly recommended.
* Noun Verb and vice versa. The most frequent, because French prefers nouns and English verbs.
– A son retour & when he came back
– Avant la rentrée & before school started
– Pelouse interdite & keep off the grass
– C’est la première fois que vous venez? & is this your first visit?
– A vendre & for sale
– Avec douceur & gently, softly
– Avec regret & regretfully
– Avec gentillesse & kindly
– Quel âge as-tu? & how old are you?
– C’est à quelle distance? & how far is it?
– Britain’s prime minister & le premier ministre britannique
– Attempted murder & temptative de meurtre
– His suspicion had no foundation & ses soupçons n’étaient pas fondés
– How big a fish? & un poisson de quelle taille
– Medical students & des étudiants en médecine
– People are suspicious & les gens se méfient
– Vendu avec notice & comes with instructions
* Compound words
– Une auberge sur le bord de la route & a roadside inn
– Un homme à l’air innocent & an innocent-looking man
* Localized transposition: the change relates to a term within a group, but this group does not change its nature. E.g.:
– Peut-être souhaitez-vous améliorer votre confort? & Perhaps you would like to travel more comfortably.
* The crossover: it is in a way a double transposition + a syntactic permutation (syntax reminder = order, arrangement of words in the sentence, branch of linguistics). Here are the most frequent cases:
With displacement verbs:
– Il est entré dans la pièce en courant & he ran into the room
– Il a traversé la rivière à la nage & he swam across the river
– Don’t worry, it will wash out & ça partira au lavage
3. Adding and deleting
a- Extending consists of lengthening or adding words to obtain the meaning longed for. It is characteristic of French, which is less condensed than English. (the underlined words in the sentence of start indicate that the word is accented when spoken. We opt here for a split structure, which serves to highlight an element).
– To my surprise & à ma grande surprise
– Passengers to Paris & les passagers à destination de Paris
– I must examine my options & je dois examiner les solutions qui s’offrent à moi
– He went outside for some milk & il est sorti pour aller chercher du lait
– Un vrai arnaqueur! & he was a real swindler!
* Supplementation is sometimes mandatory:
– je suis docteur & I’m a doctor
– Wow! Brazil is big & Wow! C’est grand, le Brésil
– Paul wrote the letter & C’est Paul qui a écrit la lettre
– I agree that they didn’t bring any solution & je suis d’accord pour dire qu’ils n’ont apporté aucune solution
*Incrementalization: this is a sub-category of expansion that concerns additions whose goal is to make more obvious a cultural reference that could escape the reader.
– L’homme que j’ai vu & the man I saw
– La décision adoptée & the decision
It is sometimes mandatory:
– Come and see me & viens me voir
– He stood next to the door, with a stick in his hand & il se tenait près de la porte, un
baton à la main
A process of translating a message in its entirety (especially used for exclamations, frozen expressions or idiomatic expressions). The translator must understand the situation in the source language and must find the appropriate equivalent expression that is used in the same situation in the target language. This is a completely different message writing from one language to the other.
This process or phenomenon occurs when we absolutely cannot translate word to word because both languages use their own “code”. So this is the aspect most difficult in learning a language and translating. Concerning:
* Collocations: privileged association of words
The words get married and form an indissociable couple, the one leading automatically the other. The slightest change may cause discomfort when reading a translated text, which then lacks naturalness and authenticity. On the contrary, it is necessary for one to take advantage of this dynamic which links the words of a language according to relationships that are always the same.
Being aware of the existence of these collocations and knowing how to handle them with skill helps to translate a text better and to make it more authentic in the target language.
– Une faible lumière & a dim light, and not weak light
– Nuit noire & pitch dark, and not night dark
– Dire son innocence & clamer son innocence
– An upsurge of confidence & un regain de confiance
*Idiomatisms (or idioms, structures specific to a language)
– How do you do? & comment ça va?
– What’s up? & quoi de neuf?
* Also and especially it includes idioms, sentences and proverbs, and sayings, which are very common in the press, for example:
* 1st case (unfortunately rare): the equivalent is identical
– Prendre le taureau par les cornes & to take the bull by the horns
Sometimes the changes are tiny:
– Premier arrivé, premier servi & first come, first serve
– L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur & money can’t buy happiness
* 2nd case: there is an equivalent specific to the target language, but it is very different, so you have to avoid the layer trap. We sometimes speak here of “metaphorical modulation”.
– Métro, boulot, dodo & the rat race
– Il a été pris la main dans le sac & he was caught red-handed
– ça m’a coûté les yeux de la tête & it cost me an arm and a leg
– Quand les poules auront des dents & when pigs fly
– Tourner autour du pot & to beat around the bush
– Excuse my French & excusez ma vulgarité / si vous me passez l’expression
* 3rd case: no equivalent possible
A fool and his money are soon parted, avoid paraphrasing or word for word or explanatory, play on humor or something “that says itself”: aux imbéciles les poches vides.
* Adaptation: substituting another cultural reality for that of the source language:
– Carrefour & Asda
– Care Bears & les bizounours
– Il est en cinquième & he’s in year 8 (seventh grade – US)
– Quelle est votre pointure? du 43 & what size are you? size 9
– Un pain au chocolat & idem ou chocolate pastry
* The loan: it is “the zero degree of the translation”, because we use a word of other language “as is”. This word is often the only solution, it is relatively good integrated into the host language, and remains acceptable.
– Borrowings from English: t-shirt, shorts, dvd, steak, show business, parking (= car park in UK), cool etc. English loans are frequent, but at least 50% of English words come from French (invasion of 1066), same bacon, toast, challenge etc. – and the grammar comes from Germanic, because English is a Germanic language and not Latin like French.
– Borrowings from French: joie de vivre, déjà-vu, savoir-faire, je ne sais quoi, c’est la vie, coup d’état, oh là là, lingerie, aubergine, ménage à trois, voilà, comme ci comme ça.
It generally consists of translating an English preposition, pronoun or interrogative adverb by a verbal or nominal phrase in French. English is generally more abstract than French, which requires the use of this procedure more systematically.
– Off the motorway, problems arise for the motorist & lorsqu’il quitte l’autoroute…
– The wreck off Land’s End & l’épave au large de Land’s End
It is often useful and sometimes even essential to add a precision when translating in order to obtain the same effect as in the source language. Fleshing out also makes it possible to achieve a more authentic formulation than a simple literal translation.
-To sit to her meal & s’asseoir pour prendre son repas. The complete phrase should be: to sit and have her meal. The obligatory fleshing out gives back the implied verb in a very common expression.
The simplest method, consisting in not translating and leaving a word or an expression of the source language into the target language.
– For reasons of usage: the spectators said ‘encore’ & bravo
– Or lack of equivalent: let’s go to the pub & allons au pub
– Or to create a rhetorical effect (local color, humor etc.)
This is particularly useful when there is no equivalent term in the target language. It also allows you to clearly situate a text in its cultural context through the vocabulary used. Use with moderation!
- Weight Watchers
- Une rave
- Une after
- The Bibliothèque Nationale
- The gendarmes, etc.
The word-for-word translates the word or expression of the source language. It is a “copy” of the original, a loan that has been translated.
- The United States of America: Les États-Unis d’Amérique
- The Cold War: la Guerre Froide
- AIDS: SIDA
- World Health Organization: Organisation Mondiale de la Santé
See also some common expressions in Quebec such as:
- Fall in love & Tomber en amour
- Hot dogs & chiens chauds
- Used cars & chars usagés
all directly copied from English.
Some word-for-word usages from English are accepted in French:
- Ce n’est pas ma tasse de thé & It’s not my cup of tea
- Être dans le rouge & to be in the red
Others are considered wrong:
- There are no other alternatives & il n’y a pas d’autres alternatives.
The word-for-word translation should only be used with caution because it leads easily to misunderstandings or even nonsense, which are very serious mistakes in translation.
8. Literal translation
The process of translating the source language word-for-word, without making any changes in word order or grammatical structures, while remaining correct and idiomatic.
- Avaler la pilule & to swallow the pill
- Avoir un mot sur le bout de la langue & to have a word on the tip of the tongue
- Tirer à sa fin & to draw to an end
- Voir rouge & to see red
The obstacles to literal translation are numerous and it is not recommended in academic translation exercises. It works perfectly only very rarely!
Contemporary approaches to translation
There are six major streams of translation theory: sociological, communicational, hermeneutic, linguistic, literary and semiotic.
1. THE SOCIOLINGUISTIC APPROACH
Sociolinguistics examines language in its social context, starting with concrete language. It was formed in the 1960s in the United States and also deals with socio-cultural differences, language policies and the economics of translation.
The sociolinguistic current explains that it is the social framework that defines what is translatable and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not (through mechanisms of selection, filtration or censorship). According to this perspective, the translator is irrevocably the product of a society: we always translate from a socio-cultural background that is our own. This trend is related to the so-called Tel Aviv school (see Annie Brisset, Even Zohar and Guideon Toury).
The sociolinguistic approach is the basis of the book “Les Fondements sociolinguistiques de la traduction” written by Maurice Pergnier. (24)
M. Pergnier studies the vagueness of the term “translation” which is described in 3 meanings of translation:
– The term designates a “result”-the translated text is a translation;
– The term designates an “operation” – the operation of mental reformulation is a translation, and;
– The term designates a “comparison” – the two objects compared are translations.
The refusal of the exclusive recourse to linguistics in the study of translation, by the School of Paris (25) (Seleskovitch and Lederer).
2. THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH
This is the so-called interpretative current. Researchers such as D. Seleskovitch and M. Lederer have developed the so-called “theory of meaning“, based mainly on the experiences of interpreting conferences. This perspective asserts that it is the meaning that must be translated, not the language. Language is only a vehicle for the message, and can even be an obstacle to understanding. This explains why it is always appropriate to de-verbalize (instead of transcribe) when translating.
The communicative approaches were born from the linguists’ focus on the function of human language (language is a code that serves to transmit information between individuals).
Communication is analyzed in terms of:
- “Encoding (the information that the speaker puts in his message), and
- “Decoding ” (the understanding of the receiver of this message).
This conception stipulates that the translator is a “decoder “of the original message and a “re-encoder “of the final message.
The translator must also compensate for the low level of predictability caused by the existence of unusual word order and unfamiliar expressions, the absence of notions of textual genres and objects of everyday life. (Nida, Toward a Science of Translating) (26)
3. THE HERMENEUTIC APPROACH
The hermeneutic approach is basically based on the work of George Steiner, (27) for whom all human communication is a translation. In his book After Babel, he explains that translation is not a science but an “exact art”: the authentic translator must be able to become a writer in order to grasp the “meaning” of the author of the original text.
Hermeneutics is a method of interpretation initiated by the German romantic authors. Friedrich Schleiermacher was one of the main proponents of this method. He believed that during the process of translation one should put oneself in the author’s shoes in order to feel and think like him.
- To understand is to translate (understanding requires interpretation. This interpretation is indispensable at all levels of the division of the text -up to the final choice of equivalences.)
- The translator must also interpret the author’s individual ideas in accordance with the historical context.
- The hermeneutical path proposed by Steiner consists of 4 stages:
a) “A surge of confidence “- the translator accepts the source text and “trusts” it;
b) “Aggression” – the translator attacks the text to extract the meaning he is interested in;
c) “Incorporation” – after having obtained the meaning, the translator produces assimilative translations that eliminate all signs of the foreign origin, and;
d) “Restitution ” – the translator restores the balance between the source text and the target text.
This path does not allow to achieve the perfect translation one must be satisfied with a good translation.
4. THE LINGUISTIC APPROACH
The relationship between linguistics and translation can be summarized in two main directions:
- The knowledge of linguistics can be applied to the practice of translation, and;
- Linguistic theory can be developed through practical translation.
Today it is clear that linguistics is concerned with languages while translation is concerned with translators and translations.
Linguists such as Vinay, Darbelnet, Austin, Vegliante and Mounin, linked to the currents of textual linguistics, structuralism and pragmatism and have worked on the translation process. Any translation (whether it is a marketing translation, a medical translation, a legal translation, or any other) must, according to this perspective, be considered from the fundamental units of the word, the syntagm and the sentence.
Linguistics plays a leading role in the development of translation science, and at the same time it has certain inconsistencies that create a gap between these two disciplines.
One of the first works to adopt a linguistic approach – Andrei Fedorov’s “Introduction to the Theory of Translation” (28) – postulates that
“the whole theory of translation must be incorporated into the whole of linguistic disciplines. “
The first real method of translation based on the contributions of linguistics was published by Vinay and Darbelnet in “Comparative Stylistics of French and English“. (29)
The functional approach – inspired by the work of British linguist J. R. Firth, who defined the context as a phenomenon that has a crucial importance and refers to the elements such as actants, action, space and time that must be taken into consideration to grasp the meaning of the message.
5. THE LITERARY APPROACH
According to the literary approach, translation should not be considered as a linguistic operation, but as a literary operation. There is an “energy” in language: this energy is conveyed by words, words that are the product of a culture’s experience. This charge is precisely what gives them their strength and, ultimately, their meaning: this is what the translator-writer must translate.
6. THE SEMIOTIC APPROACH
Semiotics is the science of signs and systems of meaning. According to this discipline, for meaning to exist, there must be a collaboration between three instances: a sign, an object and an interpreter. Thus, from a semiotic point of view, translation is thought of as a form of interpretation of texts with different encyclopedic content and a unique socio-cultural context.
The problem of “translatability” or possibility of translating. This problem is caused by differences between encyclopedic signs content and socio-cultural contexts. Some semioticians consider translation as impossible in relation to the structures and organizations of the various world.
The semiotic distinctions which the translator should take advantage of are:
- The distinction between the “text” (the verbal signs to translate), the “co-text” (the direct environment of signs) and the “context “(sociocultural background);
- The distinction between the “plot “(designates the elements of the story or fable) and the “ story” (the chronology of events) and the“speech “(how to organize the story and the events verbally), and;
- The distinction between the “genre” (designates the general category to which refers the text) the “type ” (the nature of the text) and the “prototype ” (the model which serves as an implicit reference to the text.)
For Umberto Eco, we translate “world to world “and the translator is not “a person who weighs words “but “a person who weighs souls. “
7. THE IDEOLOGICAL APPROACH
Ideology is a set of ideas oriented towards political action. Ideological approach deals with questions that concern ideologically motivated translation, a problem how to separate our worldview from ideology in order not to pollute translation and the debate on “fidelity “at the source which opposes literal translation to free translation
Berman has made a distinction between two translations:
- Ethnocentric which adopts the point of view of the target language, and;
- Hyper-textual which emphasizes the links between the texts of different cultures.
Penrod distinguishes two main ideological trends:
a) “naturalization “of the elements contained in the translation, and;
b) “exoticization “which preserves the original elements.
There are 3 different aspects of the ideological approaches:
a) censorship of translations:
According to Lefevere there are always censored works considered as daring in certain cultures because linguistic considerations are in conflict with ideological ones;
b) European colonialism:
According to Niranjana, translation reinforces the dominant representations of the colonized. Translation does not escape its time and follows the ideological evolution of its time, and;
c) Cultural imperialism:
According to Meschonnic, cultural imperialism tends to forget its own history and therefore to ignore the historical role of translation and borrowing in its own culture.
There was a severe criticism of certain Western theorists who tried to be objective and neutral in translation. in this manner translation masks are an ideological dimension
History of translation
In the opening lines of his book, Berman stated that:
“the constitution of a history of translation is the first task of a modern theory of translation” (Berman, 1984: 12). (30)
This reflection, thirty years later, can only appear prophetic: the study of translations is now charting new paths, in that it thinks and rethinks itself in the light of other disciplines and, more particularly, in that it aspires to become part of literary history.
In 1998, in a pioneering work, Anthony Pym outlined a series of paradigms for the History of Translations: not only did he reflect on this discipline from an epistemological point of view, but he also offered readers their first real “methodology” (Pym 1998). (31) The scientific urgency of this new field of research has changed the perspective of the international academic community, and the body of translated texts can now be considered not only as “literature” (to which the study of translations is too often limited) but also as an “intellectual heritage” that plays its role in the history of knowledge (Ballard 2013). (32)
Marie-Alice Belle introduces the work of Ballard entitled: Histoire de la traduction. Repères historiques et culturels in the following terms : (33)
“The objectives of the book are clearly stated in the foreword (p. 7). Explicitly following the recent movement to valorize the history of translation as a sub-discipline of translation studies, Ballard recalls the importance of the historical component in the training of translators and in the constitution of translation studies as a field of study in its own right. Thus, he declares, if thinking about translation seems to have been characterized for a long time by a certain theoretical “scattering”, with translators most often speaking only in their own name and without necessarily developing a “historical awareness” of their practice, it is up to the historian to identify the tendencies, the components and the stakes of translation as a linguistic practice, but also as a social, aesthetic, philosophical and ethical one. “
Several researches, theses, articles and even long-term undertakings have multiplied during the last years. It suffices to mention two major unifying projects as examples: the collection The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English directed by Stuart Gillespie and David Hopkins (Oxford University Press, 2006-2010) (34) and the collection Histoire des traductions en langue française directed by Yves Chevrel and Jean-Yves Masson (Verdier, 2012-2016). (35)
However, despite the richness of the scientific production, epistemological, theoretical and methodological questions seem to be too often suppressed in the works that have the ambition to realize a history of translations. The issues at stake in any translational method clearly influence the approach and the results of the research: it seems to us that more informed commentators and researchers would clearly benefit from such epistemological circumspection.
As Astrid Guillaume (2014) has argued, the starting point should be the target and source texts, but no longer work exclusively on texts, corpora and genres: the study of translations should aim at
“entire epochs […] on duration and contrasts, the history of mentalities in the making and the times that shape the mind or mark entire generations” (Guillaume 2014: 381-382). (36)
François Rastier has already emphasized in 2011 an interdisciplinary vision of historiography: (37)
“languages have too often been reduced to dictionaries and grammars, or even syntaxes. However, in addition to the system, we must take into account the corpus (working corpus and reference corpus), the archive (of the historical language), and the social practices in which linguistic activities take place” (Rastier 2011: 14).
Future histories of translations should therefore be confronted with theoretical devices that allow for the description of complex historical processes as well as for an account of the socio-cultural dimension. The historiographer of translations will therefore not be able to delay the dialogue, or even the confrontation, with notions that are foundational in historiographic methods and in literary criticism.
For example, the question of the constitution of a translational canon, the identification and study of different “translational traditions” (Venuti 2005) (38) in a diachronic perspective, but also the possibility of distinguishing “imaginaries of translation” (Raimondo 2016) (39) that allow us to model, on the one hand, the subjectivity of the translators (imaginary of the translators), and on the other hand, the various conceptions and representations of translation (imaginary of the translator) implied in the remediation and transmission of texts.
The history of translators cannot therefore do without the history of translation as a chronicle of the “culture of translation” (Burke 2007). (40) Finally, the history of translation opens up new perspectives regarding the status of translation, which has opened up not only to a “new comparative historicism” (Coldiron 2001: 98) (41) but also to a “comparative translation” (Tyulenev and Zheng 2017). (42)
Because of the duplication of sources and the difficulty of constituting corpora, because of the multiplication of textual references and para-textual data, and because of the numerous linguistic, inter-linguistic and trans-linguistic questions it raises, translation thus becomes a privileged field for rethinking the foundations of literary and historiographical approaches.
The task of the translation critic is made more difficult by the fact that the history of translations is confronted not only with the otherness of the author but also with that of the translator, within a dynamic of splitting horizons. The conscience of any historiographer oscillates vertiginously between the need for erudition and the necessary risk of narrative fiction, a gap that calls for heuristic caution. We therefore wish not only to trace the contours of a scholarly history, but also to consider the possibility of rewriting a new history, another history, even a “natural history of translation” (Le Blanc, forthcoming).
“Learning to speak means learning to translate” this statement by Octavio Paz (43) shows that the activity of translation is characteristic of man, as is the production of language. Translation has always allowed communication between different linguistic communities: the dissemination of new information (scientific, technical, literary…); the discovery of new literary genres (harangues, epics, comedy…) and the circulation of literary works (translated from Latin, Greek, vulgar European languages, other languages…) have contributed to the formation of taste and have made available to the greatest number of people knowledge reserved for cultural elites.
It is thanks to the translations of Avicenna and Averroes that the works of Aristotle circulated in the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It would undoubtedly be possible to sketch a history of ideas based on the movements of the translations made in different cultural contexts and at different times.
According to Jakobson (1959), (44) the meaning of a word is only its transposition into a sign (linguistic or not) that can replace it. Indeed, in his essay “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation” Roman Jakobson arrived at three forms of translation, a triadic division:
- Intra-lingual translation : Translation within a language which would involve explaining it in words of the same language
- Inter-lingual translation : Translation from one language into another or reinterpretation of the message in another linguistic code
- Inter-semiotic translation : Translation from one linguistic system to another which means the transference of meaning from a verbal to a non-verbal system or from one medium to another.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
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