The Challenges Of Translation

Abstract There are some particular problems in the translation process: problems of ambiguity, problems that originate from structural and lexical differences between languages and multiword units like idioms and collocations. Another problem would be the grammar because there are several constructions of grammar poorly understood, in the sense that it isn’t clear how they should be represented, or what rules should be used to describe them. The words that are really hard to translate are frequently the small, common words, whose precise meaning depends heavily on context. Besides, some words are untranslatable when one wishes to remain in the same grammatical category. The question of whether particular words are untranslatable is frequently debated. Exploring possible answers to questions such as “Can we translate a cultural reference?” or even “What is a cultural reference?” is a highly relevant issue for translation students. These are matters that have been addressed by academics and full time translators alike, and no final or definite solutions have been found to the problems generated by the uncertainties, just as there are no final or definitive definitions of the concept of culture itself. Every translation activity has one or more specific purposes and whichever they may be; the main aim of translation is to serve as a cross-cultural bilingual communication vehicle among peoples. In the past few decades, this activity has developed because of rising international trade, increased migration, globalization, the recognition of linguistic minorities, and the expansion of the mass media and technology. For this reason, the translator plays an important role as a bilingual or multi-lingual cross-cultural transmitter of culture and truths by attempting to interpret concepts and speech in a variety of texts as faithfully and accurately as possible. Most translation theorists agree that translation is understood as a transfer process from a foreign language—or a second language—to the mother tongue. However, market requirements are increasingly demanding that translators transfer texts to a target language that is not their mother tongue, but a foreign language. This is what Newmark calls ”service translation.” ”I shall assume that you, the reader, are learning to translate into your language of habitual use, since that is the only way you can translate naturally, accurately and with maximum effectiveness. In fact, however, most translators do translate out of their own language…” Newmark (1995b). This fact makes the translating process a harder task, sometimes resulting in a mediocre output that should undoubtedly be revised and post-edited before delivery to the client. Through experience I have learned that the consequences of wrong translations can be catastrophic—especially if done by laypersons—and mistakes made in the performance of this activity can obviously be irreparable. Just think of what could happen in cases of serious inadequacy in knowledge areas such as science, medicine, legal matters, or technology. There must be thousands of examples, but I find this anecdote worth mentioning here: Lily, a Chilean exile who had been granted refugee status in a non-Spanish-speaking country, was going to undergo surgery for the simple removal of a skin blemish from her face. Translation Problems: Problems with the source text:
• Text difficult to read or illegible text • Spelled incorrectly or printed incorrectly • Unfinished text • Badly written text Language problems:
• Idiom terms and neologisms • Unsolved acronyms and abbreviations • Proper name of people, organizations, and places. • Slang difficult to understand • Respect to punctuation conventions. It is quite clear that a poor translation can not only lead to hilarity or to minor confusion, but it can also be a matter of life and death. Hence the importance of training translators, not only in the acquisition and command of languages and translation strategies and procedures, but also in specific knowledge areas and, what is equally important, in professional ethics. If translating is a discourse operation interposing between language and thought (Delisle, 1980), we should accept that in the art or skill of translating we are inexorably going to come across assorted and numerous obstacles. Delisle (1981) illustrates what a subtle form of torture translation is: Translation is an arduous job that mortifies you, puts you in a state of despair at times, but also an enriching and indispensable work, that demands honesty and modesty. There are many thorns that can mortify us during the translation process, whatever the nature of the text we face, and translators should be aware of them. The first problem is related to reading and comprehension ability in the source language. Once the translator has coped with this obstacle, the most frequent translation difficulties are of a semantic and cultural nature (Tricás, 1995): ”Linguistic untranslatability” (cognates, i.e. true and false friends, calque, and other forms of interference; institutional and standardized terms, neologisms, aphorisms, etc.), and ”cultural untranslatability,” (idioms, sayings, proverbs, jokes, puns, etc.). One should adopt a very cautious attitude toward these words or expressions so as to avoid interference and/or language misuse (Kussmaul, 1995). Similarly, we quite often run into those painful ”not found” terms, for which not even the best dictionary, an expert in the topic or a native speaker of the source language can provide us with a solution to convey an accurate meaning. We should always bear in mind that one of the greatest virtues of a good translator is what I have called ”contextualized intuition,” i.e. the ability to find the nearest common sense interpretation of the ”not found” element within its context. Whatever the difficulty in the translation process, procedures must aim at the essence of the message and faithfulness to the meaning of the source language text being transferred to the target language text. In the words of Nida and Taber (1974): Translating consists of reproducing, in the target language, the nearest equivalent to the message in the source language, in the first place in the semantic aspect and, in the second place, in the stylistic aspect.
To a great extent, the quality of translation will depend on the quality of the translator, i.e. on her/his knowledge, skills, training, cultural background, expertise, and even mood! Newmark (1995b) distinguishes some essential characteristics that any good translator should have: • Reading comprehension ability in a foreign language • Knowledge of the subject • Sensitivity to language (both mother tongue and foreign language) • Competence to write the target language dexterously, clearly, economically and resourcefully
In addition, Mercedes Tricás refers to intuition, or common sense as the most common of all senses; in other words, making use of that sixth sense, a combination of intelligence, sensitivity and intuition. This phenomenon works very well if handled cautiously: …the transfer process is a difficult and complex approach mechanism, one in which one must make use of all one’s intellectual capacity, intuition and skill (Tricás, 1995).
Apart from the previously mentioned aspects, it is relevant to emphasize the necessity for sound linguistic knowledge of both the SL and the TL, an essential condition, yet not the only one, to begin swimming up the streams of professional translation. However, neither knowing languages nor being efficiently bilingual is enough to become a translator. For more than twenty years, translation theorists have been pointing this out, and yet many people believe and claim that knowing two or more languages is identical to knowing how to translate properly. We must banish this idea. Delisle (1980) states it clearly: Linguistic competence is a necessary condition, but not yet sufficient for the professional practice of translation.
In addition to reading comprehension ability, the knowledge of specialized subjects derived from specialized training and a wide cultural background, and the global vision of cross-cultural and interlingual communication, it is a must to learn how to handle the strategic and tactical tools for a good translating performance. Hence the importance of a didactic translation approaches: A methodology that allows the development of an effective and efficient transfer process from one language to another. As is widely known by those committed to the field, translation as a formal professional activity with a theoretical background is relatively new. Thus, a number of terms have recently been coined for the subject called Translation Theory (”Translatology” in Canada, ”Traductología” in Spain, ”Translation Studies” in Belgium and the Netherlands). This discipline being so new little has been done in terms of academic training in higher education in Chile to devise didactic methods and procedures to teach or learn how to translate. I quite agree with William Weaver, the translator of The name of the Rose, who claims that ”Translation is something you learn only by doing.” Nonetheless, we teachers may facilitate our own task and that of our students if we take advantage of the appropriate tools and strategies. Cognition sciences have provided us with simple but very useful ideas about meaningful learning, i.e. a positive approach to learning that comes from the relationship between previous knowledge and new knowledge.1 This cognitive approach perfectly applies to the transfer process of ideas from one language to another, which obviously implies a lot more than the simple reproduction model. In the preparatory phase of a translation, cognition, in the form of self-consciousness and self-confidence, plays a very important role, inasmuch as this period implies conscious mental activities, where translating problems are detected and analyzed, and information and knowledge are accumulated (Kussmaul, 1995). From the psychological and social point of view, the translator, whose profile should be that of an intellectual worker with professional training characteristics such as the above-mentioned, will be more successful if her/his social-affective development is given more emphasis, for s/he may be better prepared for cooperative work, and s/he may reach a higher tolerance level, showing respect, self-criticism and sensitivity. The Global Approach With regard to the principal approaches to a translation text, the most renowned translation theorists (Delisle, Newmark, Nida, Nord, Kussmaul) are in agreement on the following aspects: Firstly, there is comprehension and interpretation of texts which implies the management of the approach principles to various types of texts, considering the textual, referential, cohesion and naturalness levels. This competence includes reading comprehension and message interpretation (encoding and decoding). Secondly, re-wording is also important. It means the application of the various strategies for the restitution process of the message (re-coding) by choosing the appropriate method(s), techniques and procedures. Among the most frequently used procedures for the restoration of ideas contained in a translation unit, a translator may resort to transfer, cultural or functional equivalent, synonymy, transposition, modulation, compensation, reduction and expansion or amplification (See Newmark, P., 1995: A Textbook of Translation). These skills constitute the essence of translating competence and should most strongly emphasize in the training prospective translators. For this purpose, it is also indispensable to make effective use of different types of documentation: Parallel texts, monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, encyclopedias, term data base, informants, and other sources. And thirdly, translation theorists give great importance to the assessment of the result, i.e. evidencing the capacity to confront the translated text with the original text, being able to assess earnings and losses and showing self-correction capacity. It is the accurate revision of the output that will definitely result in a final translation of higher quality. The Specific Approaches According to most translation theorists, the specific approaches to text translation tend to be similar. On the one hand, it is necessary to use one or more translating approaches or models. On the other, there is always a way of approaching an SL text, whether the translator chooses the author-centered traditional model, the text-centered structuralistic model or the cognitive reader-centered model. Depending on their training, translators will adopt one model or another, but many will tend to tend to an eclectic integration of the three approaches. Translators should be aware of the fact that incorrect comprehension of a text considerably decreases the quality of the translation. We must, therefore, use reading comprehension strategies for translation (underlining words, detecting translation difficulties, contextualizing lexical items—never isolating them -, adapting, analyzing, and so on.) Finding solutions to dilemmas is a constant in the work of the translator. This includes translating problems such as linguistic or cultural ”untranslatability,” being able to manage losses and gains, solutions to lexical ambiguity, etc., through various mechanisms such as compensation, loans, explanatory notes, adaptation, equivalence, paraphrasing, analogies, etc. Translators should also be aware that meaning is not only conveyed by words. Hence adequate decoding and re-coding of nomenclatures, figures, tables and charts; standardized terms, acronyms, metonyms, homonyms, etc. is a matter that must be properly considered. A good translator should define some essential starting-points for the approximation to a text to be translated, such as the author of the text, the aim of the text, the readership, and the standard to be used, for which it is important to identify and categorize the author, the message, the kind of discourse, the translator and the readership. Another important aspect is the pre-editing of the original text to detect eventual source text defects, on the one hand, and the post-editing of the translated text to verify the use of the most adequate syntactic, semantic and graphitic levels (recognition of the reviser’s role), on the other hand. Among formal matters, translators should be aware of and control the sound effect and cadence of the translated text (”translating with the ear”) to avoid cacophonous combinations and calque on the source language. Regarding the use of translation procedures and strategies, translators must constantly make choices, in each paragraph, sentence or translation unit, so as to decide which of them is the most useful for the transfer of the ideas in the text being translated. It means adapting the most suitable strategies and techniques to the requirements of the text rather than adopting a certain technique and using it for ever. Why is translation always needed, eventually? As sacred writings become antique (beyond a couple hundred years), they become less and less intelligible. This is a natural consequence of historical change in languages. All languages undergo gradual change in vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and idioms. Religious groups must deal with this somehow. They can either: 1. GRADUALLY MODERNIZE THE TEXT ITSELF. On a periodic schedule, perhaps, change the language incrementally to a form that has increased intelligibility. This is logically possible, although no religion seems to do this deliberately (although it surely takes place automatically and unavoidably in an orally transmitted literature). Why is incremental text modification decried by religious authorities? Probably because of the appeal of sticking with the traditional, “official’’ text as long as possible. Still, in 20 century US, new English translations of the Bible are written on a regular basis these days. Maybe the Bible will never slip out of date again! 2. PERMIT NO CHANGE. Allow no revisions of the text. Instead either (A) train a group of professionals (eg, monks or priests) who continue to read and understand the now-ancient language and interpret it for modern laypersons, or (B) train most or all followers of the religion to read the ancient language competently.
The Catholic church followed Plan A from about 400 CE until about 1900CE. Monks and priests read and interpreted the Latin text for believers. Islam and Judaism have largely followed Plan B, where believers typically learn either Classical Arabic or Ancient Hebrew (The Bar-Mitzvah ceremony is, in part, a public demonstration of competence in Hebrew for young male Jews). Hinduism and Buddhism also followed Plan A where a priesthood of Brahmins (for the Hindus) and monks (for the Buddhists) read and interpret the sacred scriptures for untrained lay people. 3. TRANSLATE SACRED TEXTS INTO THE CURRENT IDIOM — from a source language (the language of the original text) to a target language (the language being translated to) of the community of believers. But this immediately raises several further questions.
A. Which version of the ancient text should be relied on? For example, there are literally hundreds versions of the Greek bible that survived the ages. There are also many versions of the Hebrew bible that survived until about 800 CE when a Jewish canon was agreed on. These differ in many respects – in inserted `clarifications,’ accidental errors and some deliberate revisions to support specific theological positions. Disagreements arise, of course, as to which version is really the `right’ one or the `best’ one. But this is the easy problem.
B. How `literal’ should the translation be? Since the sacred texts are taken to be the actual words of God or to be divinely inspired, “free translation’’ (or `dynamic translation’ as it is sometimes known today) are often received as heretical reinterpretations of sacred text.
Is Literal Translation Possible? NO! For 3 Main Reasons: 1. Because a single word in one language often has meanings that require several words in another language For example, the Greek word angelos could mean either `divine messengers’ or `Jesus’ disciples’. The English word `wall’ could be translated into German as Wand (inside wall, partition) or as Mauer (exterior wall). Word for word translation is out of the question. 2. Because grammatical particles (like articles, verb tenses, case markers, singular/dual/plural, etc) do not exist in every language leading to multiple ambiguities (from the perspective of a target language like English). For example, a Russian sentence literally translated as `Boy threw ball.’ needs two articles in an English translation, either or the for boy and for ball. Only the context of the sentence could tell us which to use for the English translation. Not using ANY articles at all produces nearly unintelligible English. The Japanese sentence rendered literally as `Remove front wheel’ could mean either `Remove a front wheel’ or `Remove both front wheels’. Which is the correct translation depends on the context. 3. Because idioms that have obvious meaning in one language and culture may be completely confusing to speakers from another language and culture.
For example, the Hebrew phrase translated literally as `the stalled ox’ or `the ox that was in the stall’ is normally translated in English bibles non-literally as `the fatted calf’ (in the King James Bible, or as `fattened calf’ in modern English translations). This free translation is appropriate since keeping an animal in a stall and overfeeding it is how a herder fattens an animal for slaughter, and since Hebrew used the same word for adult and immature cattle but only calves were fattened in their culture. This idiom was as obvious to the ancient Hebrews as it is to us that `keep your eyes peeled’ means `stay alert’ (not `do not allow your eyes to blink’) and `stay on top of it’ means `pay attention to it’ (not `sit physically on it’). But `the stalled ox’ is not readily interpretable in English, so even the King James translators (who generally tried to be literal) employed something more idiomatic in English. The bible contains thousands of similar examples.
What Kind of Translation?
The goal of `strict literal translation’ is apparently quite impossible: Every translation is an interpretation. To translate, it is quite impossible to do so one word at a time. The translation of any word depends on other words and the apparent intent of the speaker or writer given the context. But to understand a sentence in its context IS to interpret it. Thus any translator must first try to understand as clearly as possible the writer’s intent, and then compose text in the target language that expresses that intent as clearly as possible. Otherwise, you end up with text in the target language that is quite unintelligible. Perhaps it is `accurate’ in some sense, but if no one understands the meaning correctly, then how useful is it? References Bassnett, S. (1991). Translation Studies. London: Routledge.
Inchaurralde, C. (2003). “Marked communication and cultural knowledge in lexis”, in C. Zelinsky- Wibbelt (ed.) Text, Context, Concepts. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter: 179-196.
Le Robert and Collins. Dictionnaire français-anglais, anglais-français (2006). Glasgow, Paris: Harper
Collins & Le Robert. Morvan, D. (ed.) (2005). Dictionnaire Culturel en Langue Française. Paris: Le Robert. Newmark, P. (1991). About Translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Newmark, P. (1998). A Textbook of Translation. London: Prentice Hall. Nida, E. (2001). Contexts in Translating. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Niemeier, S. (2004). “Linguistic and cultural relativity reconsidered for the FL classroom”, in M. Achard and S. Niemeier (eds.) Cognitive Linguistics, SL Acquisition and FL Teaching. Berlin:Mouton de Gruyter: 95-118. Wierzbicka, A. (1997). Understanding Cultures through their Key Words. Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress. Wierzbicka, A. (2008). “A conceptual basis for intercultural pragmatics and world-wide understanding”,in M. Pütz and J. Neff-van Aertselaer (eds.) Developing Contrastive Pragmatics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter: 3-4

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