Translators always risk inappropriate spill-over of source-language idiom and usage into the target-language translation. On the other hand, spill-overs have imported useful source-language calques and loanwords that have enriched the target languages. Indeed, translators have helped substantially to shape the languages into which they have translated.
Due to the demands of business documentation consequent to the Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-18th century, some translation specialties have become formalized, with dedicated schools and professional associations.
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 based on these Latin sources.
Strictly speaking, the concept of metaphrase — of “word-for-word translation” — is an imperfect concept, because a given word in a given language often carries more than one meaning; and because a similar given meaning may often be represented in a given language by more than one word. Nevertheless, “metaphrase” and “paraphrase” may be useful as ideal concepts that mark the extremes in the spectrum of possible approaches to translation.
Discussions of the theory and practice of translation reach back into antiquity and show remarkable continuities. The ancient Greeks distinguished between metaphrase (literal translation) and paraphrase. This distinction was adopted by English poet and translatorJohn Dryden (1631–1700), who described translation as the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, “counterparts,” or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language:
When [words] appear . . . literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since… what is beautiful in one [language] is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author’s words: ’tis enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense.
Dryden cautioned, however, against the license of “imitation”, i.e., of adapted translation: “When a painter copies from the life… he has no privilege to alter features and lineaments…”
This general formulation of the central concept of translation — equivalence — is as adequate as any that has been proposed since Cicero and Horace, who, in 1st-century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translating “word for word” (verbum pro verbo).
Despite occasional theoretical diversity, the actual practice of translation has hardly changed since antiquity. Except for some extreme metaphrasers in the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, and adapters in various periods (especially pre-Classical Rome, and the 18th century), translators have generally shown prudent flexibility in seeking equivalents — “literal” where possible, paraphrastic where necessary — for the original meaning and other crucial “values” (e.g., style, verse form, concordance with musical accompaniment or, in films, with speech articulatory movements) as determined from context.
When a target language has lacked terms that are found in a source language, translators have borrowed those terms, thereby enriching the target language. Thanks in great measure to the exchange of calques and loanwords between languages, and to their importation from other languages, there are few concepts that are “untranslatable” among the modern European languages.
Generally, the greater the contact and exchange that have existed between two languages, or between those languages and a third one, the greater is the ratio of metaphrase to paraphrase that may be used in translating among them. However, due to shifts in ecological niches of words, a common etymology is sometimes misleading as a guide to current meaning in one or the other language. For example, the English actual should not be confused with the cognate French actuel (“present”, “current”), the Polish aktualny (“present”, “current”), or the Russian актуальный (“urgent”, “topical”).
The translator’s role as a bridge for “carrying across” values between cultures has been discussed at least since Terence, the 2nd-century-BCE Roman adapter of Greek comedies. The translator’s role is, however, by no means a passive, mechanical one, and so has also been compared to that of an artist. The main ground seems to be the concept of parallel creation found in critics such as Cicero. Dryden observed that “Translation is a type of drawing after life…” Comparison of the translator with a musician or actor goes back at least to Samuel Johnson’s remark about Alexander Pope playing Homer on a flageolet, while Homer himself used a bassoon.
If translation be an art, it is no easy one. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon wrote that if a translation is to be true, the translator must know both languages, as well as the science that he is to translate; and finding that few translators did, he wanted to do away with translation and translators altogether.
The translator of the Bible into German, Martin Luther, is credited with being the first European to posit that one translates satisfactorily only toward his own language. L.G. Kelly states that since Johann Gottfried Herder in the 18th century, “it has been axiomatic” that one translates only toward his own language.
[T]ranslation . . . is in fact an art both estimable and very difficult, and therefore is not the labor and portion of common minds; [it] should be [practiced] by those who are themselves capable of being actors, when they see greater use in translating the works of others than in their own works, and hold higher than their own glory the service that they render their country.
One of the first recorded instances of translation in the West was the rendering of the Old Testament into Greek in the 3rd century BCE. The translation is known as the “Septuagint“, a name that refers to the seventy translators (seventy-two, in some versions) who were commissioned to translate the Bible at Alexandria, Egypt. Each translator worked in solitary confinement in his own cell, and according to legend all seventy versions proved identical. The Septuagint became the source text for later translations into many languages, including Latin, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian.
A famous mistranslation of the Bible is the rendering of the Hebrew word קֶרֶן (keren), which has several meanings, as “horn” in a context where it actually means “beam of light”. As a result, for centuries artists have depicted Moses the Lawgiver with horns growing out of his forehead; an example is Michelangelo‘s famous sculpture. Some Christians with anti-Semitic feelings have used such depictions to spread hatred of the Jews, claiming that they were devils with horns.
There is a separate tradition of translation in South Asia and East Asia (primarily modern India and China), especially connected with the rendering of religious texts — particularly Buddhist texts — and with the governance of the Chinese empire. Classical Indian translation is characterized by loose adaptation, rather than the closer translation more commonly found in Europe, and Chinese translation theory identifies various criteria and limitations in translation.
In the East Asia Sinosphere (sphere of Chinese cultural influence), more important than translation per se has been the use and reading of Chinese texts, which also had substantial influence on the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages, with substantial borrowings of vocabulary and writing system. Notable is Japanese Kanbun, which is a system of glossing Chinese texts for Japanese speakers.
Fidelity (or faithfulness) and transparency, dual ideals in translation, are often at odds. A 17th-century French critic coined the phrase “les belles infidèles” to suggest that translations, like women, can be either faithful or beautiful, but not both.
Faithfulness is the extent to which a translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without distortion.
Transparency is the extent to which a translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to its grammar, syntax and idiom.
A translation that meets the first criterion is said to be “faithful”; a translation that meets the second, “idiomatic“. The two qualities are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
The criteria for judging the fidelity of a translation vary according to the subject, type and use of the text, its literary qualities, its social or historical context, etc.
Nevertheless, in certain contexts a translator may consciously seek to produce a literal translation. Translators of literary, religious or historic texts often adhere as closely as possible to the source text, stretching the limits of the target language to produce an unidiomatic text. A translator may adopt expressions from the source language in order to provide “local color”.
In recent decades, prominent advocates of such “non-transparent” translation have included the French scholar Antoine Berman, who identified twelve deforming tendencies inherent in most prose translations, and the American theorist Lawrence Venuti, who has called upon translators to apply “foreignizing” translation strategies instead of domesticating ones.
Many non-transparent-translation theories draw on concepts from German Romanticism, the most obvious influence being the German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his seminal lecture “On the Different Methods of Translation” (1813) he distinguished between translation methods that move “the writer toward [the reader]“, i.e., transparency, and those that move the “reader toward [the author]“, i.e., an extreme fidelity to the foreignness of the source text. Schleiermacher favored the latter approach; he was motivated, however, not so much by a desire to embrace the foreign, as by a nationalist desire to oppose France’s cultural domination and to promote German literature.
Current Western translation practice is dominated by the dual concepts of “fidelity” and “transparency”. This has not always been the case, however; there have been periods, especially in pre-Classical Rome and in the 18th century, when many translators stepped beyond the bounds of translation proper into the realm of adaptation.
The question of fidelity vs. transparency has also been formulated in terms of, respectively, “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence”. The latter two expressions are associated with the translator Eugene Nida and were originally coined to describe ways of translating the Bible, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation.
“Dynamic equivalence” (or “functional equivalence”) conveys the essential thought expressed in a source text — if necessary, at the expense of literality, original sememe and word order, the source text’s active vs. passive voice, etc.
By contrast, “formal equivalence” (sought via “literal” translation) attempts to render the text literally, or “word for word” (the latter expression being itself a word-for-word rendering of the classical Latinverbum pro verbo) — if necessary, at the expense of features natural to the target language.
There is, however, no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. On the contrary, they represent a spectrum of translation approaches. Each is used at various times and in various contexts by the same translator, and at various points within the same text — sometimes simultaneously. Competent translation entails the judicious blending of dynamic and formal equivalents.
Common pitfalls in translation, especially when practiced by inexperienced translators, involve false equivalents such as “false friends” and false cognates.
In the context of a machine translation, a back-translation is also called a “round-trip translation.”
Comparison of a back-translation with the original text is sometimes used as a quality check on the original translation. But while useful as an approximate check, it is far from infallible.
Quality control: Mark Twain, back-translator
Mark Twain provided humorously telling evidence for this when he issued his own back-translation of a French translation of his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“; he published his back-translation in a single 1903 volume together with his English-language original, the French translation, and a “Private History of the ‘Jumping Frog’ Story”, the latter including a synopsized adaptation that Twain said had appeared, unattributed to him, in a Professor Sidgwick’s Greek Prose Composition (p. 116) under the title, “The Athenian and the Frog”, which for a time had been taken for an independent ancient Greek precursor to Twain’s “Jumping Frog” story.
When a historic document survives only in translation, the original having been lost, researchers sometimes undertake back-translation in an effort to reconstruct the original text. An example involves the novel The Saragossa Manuscript by the Polish aristocrat Jan Potocki(1761–1815), who wrote the novel in French and anonymously published fragments in 1804 and 1813–14. Portions of the original French-language manuscript were subsequently lost; however, the missing fragments survived in a Polish translation that was made by Edmund Chojecki in 1847 from a complete French copy, now lost. French-language versions of the complete Saragossa Manuscript have since been produced, based on extant French-language fragments and on French-language versions that have been back-translated from Chojecki’s Polish version.
Similarly, when historians suspect that a document is actually a translation from another language, back-translation into that hypothetical original language can provide supporting evidence by showing that such characteristics as idioms, puns, peculiar grammatical structures, etc., are in fact derived from the original language.
For example, the known text of the Till Eulenspiegel folk tales is in High German but contains puns that work only when back-translated to Low German. This seems clear evidence that these tales (or at least large portions of them) were originally written in Low German and translated into High German by an over-metaphrastic translator.
Similarly, supporters of Aramaic primacy — of the view that the ChristianNew Testament or its sources were originally written in the Aramaic language — seek to prove their case by showing that difficult passages in the existing Greek text of the New Testament make much better sense when back-translated to Aramaic: that, for example, some incomprehensible references are in fact Aramaic puns that do not work in Greek.
The first important translation in the West was that of the Septuagint, a collection of Jewish Scriptures translated into Koine Greek in Alexandria between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The dispersed Jews had forgotten their ancestral language and needed Greek versions (translations) of their Scriptures.
In Asia, the spread of Buddhism led to large-scale ongoing translation efforts spanning well over a thousand years. The Tangut Empire was especially efficient in such efforts; exploiting the then newly invented block printing, and with the full support of the government (contemporary sources describe the Emperor and his mother personally contributing to the translation effort, alongside sages of various nationalities), the Tanguts took mere decades to translate volumes that had taken the Chinese centuries to render.
Large-scale efforts at translation were undertaken by the Arabs. Having conquered the Greek world, they made Arabic versions of its philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, some translations of these Arabic versions were made into Latin, chiefly at Córdoba in Spain. Such Latin translations of Greek and original Arab works of scholarship and science helped advance the development of European Scholasticism.
Non-scholarly literature, however, continued to rely on adaptation. France‘s Pléiade, England‘s Tudor poets, and the Elizabethan translators adapted themes by Horace, Ovid, Petrarch and modern Latin writers, forming a new poetic style on those models. The English poets and translators sought to supply a new public, created by the rise of a middle class and the development of printing, with works such as the original authors would have written, had they been writing in England in that day.
The Elizabethan period of translation saw considerable progress beyond mere paraphrase toward an ideal of stylistic equivalence, but even to the end of this period, which actually reached to the middle of the 17th century, there was no concern for verbalaccuracy.
In the second half of the 17th century, the poet John Dryden sought to make Virgil speak “in words such as he would probably have written if he were living and an Englishman”. Dryden, however, discerned no need to emulate the Roman poet’s subtlety and concision. Similarly, Homer suffered from Alexander Pope‘s endeavor to reduce the Greek poet’s “wild paradise” to order.
Throughout the 18th century, the watchword of translators was ease of reading. Whatever they did not understand in a text, or thought might bore readers, they omitted. They cheerfully assumed that their own style of expression was the best, and that texts should be made to conform to it in translation. For scholarship they cared no more than had their predecessors, and they did not shrink from making translations from translations in third languages, or from languages that they hardly knew, or—as in the case of James Macpherson‘s “translations” of Ossian—from texts that were actually of the “translator’s” own composition.
The 19th century brought new standards of accuracy and style. In regard to accuracy, observes J.M. Cohen, the policy became “the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text”, except for any bawdy passages and the addition of copious explanatoryfootnotes. In regard to style, the Victorians‘ aim, achieved through far-reaching metaphrase (literality) or pseudo-metaphrase, was to constantly remind readers that they were reading a foreign classic. An exception was the outstanding translation in this period, Edward FitzGerald‘s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), which achieved its Oriental flavor largely by using Persian names and discreet Biblical echoes and actually drew little of its material from the Persian original.
In advance of the 20th century, a new pattern was set in 1871 by Benjamin Jowett, who translated Plato into simple, straightforward language. Jowett’s example was not followed, however, until well into the new century, when accuracy rather than style became the principal criterion.
In 1974 the American poet James Merrill wrote a poem, “Lost in Translation“, which in part explores this idea. The question was also discussed in Douglas Hofstadter‘s 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot; he argues that a good translation of a poem must convey as much as possible of not only its literal meaning but also its form and structure (meter, rhyme or alliteration scheme, etc.).
In 2008, Taiwanese linguist Grace Hui Chin Lin suggests communication strategies can be applied by oral translators to translate poetry. Translators with cultural backgrounds can oral translate poetry of their nations. For example, poetry of Tung dynasty can be introduced to people outside of Chinese communities by oral translation strategies. Also, several communication strategies for facilitating communicative limitations are applicable as oral translation strategies for interpreting poetries.
Translation of a text that is sung in vocal music for the purpose of singing in another language — sometimes called “singing translation” — is closely linked to translation of poetry because most vocal music, at least in the Western tradition, is set toverse, especially verse in regular patterns with rhyme. (Since the late 19th century, musical setting of prose and free verse has also been practiced in some art music, though popular music tends to remain conservative in its retention of stanzaic forms with or without refrains.) A rudimentary example of translating poetry for singing is church hymns, such as the German chorales translated into English by Catherine Winkworth.
Translation of sung texts is generally much more restrictive than translation of poetry, because in the former there is little or no freedom to choose between a versified translation and a translation that dispenses with verse structure. One might modify or omit rhyme in a singing translation, but the assignment of syllables to specific notes in the original musical setting places great challenges on the translator. There is the option in prose sung texts, less so in verse, of adding or deleting a syllable here and there by subdividing or combining notes, respectively, but even with prose the process is almost like strict verse translation because of the need to stick as closely as possible to the original prosody of the sung melodic line.
Other considerations in writing a singing translation include repetition of words and phrases, the placement of rests and/or punctuation, the quality of vowels sung on high notes, and rhythmic features of the vocal line that may be more natural to the original language than to the target language. A sung translation may be considerably or completely different from the original, thus resulting in a contrafactum.
Translations of sung texts — whether of the above type meant to be sung or of a more or less literal type meant to be read — are also used as aids to audiences, singers and conductors, when a work is being sung in a language not known to them. The most familiar types are translations presented as subtitles or surtitles projected during opera performances, those inserted into concert programs, and those that accompany commercial audio CDs of vocal music. In addition, professional and amateur singers often sing works in languages they do not know (or do not know well), and translations are then used to enable them to understand the meaning of the words they are singing.
It is commonly assumed that any bilingual individual is able to produce satisfactory or even high-quality document translations simply because he is a fluent speaker of a second language. However, this is often not the case. Because of the very nature of the different skills that each possesses, bilinguals and translators are not equally prepared to perform document translations. The ability, skill and even the basic mental processes required for bilingualism are fundamentally different from those required for translation.Bilingual individuals are able to take their own thoughts and ideas and express them orally in two different languages, their native language and a second language, sometimes well enough to pass for native speakers in their second language.
Translators must be able to read, understand and retain somebody else’s ideas, then render them accurately, completely and without exclusion, in a way that conveys the original meaning effectively and without distortion in another language.
In other words, translators must be excellent readers in a source language, for example, in English as their second language, and excellent writers in a target language, for example, in Spanish as their native language.
Among translators, it is generally accepted that the best translations are produced by persons who are translating from their second language into their native language, as it is rare for someone who has learned a second language to have total fluency in that language.
“In the translation industry, it is considered ‘standard procedure’ to translate only from an individual’s second language, into their native language; never the other way around. For example, a native Spanish speaker should always translate English documents into Spanish; however, this fundamental rule is often ignored by amateur translators, and surprisingly, is often accepted without question by translation buyers.”
Translation has served as a writing school for many prominent writers. Translators, including monks who spread Buddhist texts in East Asia and the early modern European translators of the Bible, in the course of their work have shaped the very languages into which they have translated. They have acted as bridges for conveying knowledge between cultures. Along with ideas, they have imported from the source languages, into their own languages, loanwords and calques of grammatical structures, idioms and vocabulary.
Such accreditation often has no legal effect, its value lying in the esteem that the translation organization enjoys as an independent authority on competent translation. However, in many countries, courts of law will not admit into evidence a translation by other than a certified translator.
Localization, LLC Translation Services is a full service translation company providing comprehensive translation, localization and multimedia services in over 50 languages. With offices in Cleveland, OH and Chicago, IL we at Localization, LLC are much honored to be able to serve the clients in Cleveland, Chicago as well as companies in San-Francisco, Boston, London, Moscow and Paris to name a few. Our goal is to provide affordable translation services and stay committed to quality, customer service and detailed process. We strive to make ourselves available to our clients 24/7 making sure that they are well-informed of every step of the project progress from cost estimation to its completion. We offer translation and other language services in the following language combinations*