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Kaotic Korner - Translation Basics

+ posted by Kaoz in Staff Blogs on Apr 24, 2016 07:17
How is it going, this is Kaoz with another edition of Kaotic Korner. Today I want to give you a very basic overview over different translation strategies. For this purpose, we are primarily going to look at "word-for-word translations", "literal translations" and "free translations", so let's jump right in.

Word-for-word translations
We will start off with the most straight-forward type. Translating word-for-word is exactly what it sounds like: you substitute every word in your source text with a different one from the target language without touching anything else. So for instance you could have a translation like this:

Source: Je te pardonne.
Translation: I you forgive.

As you can probably imagine, this can go very wrong very quickly. I only used a simple three word sentence and it's already messed up. Imagine doing that with more complex structures and you probably won't have an easy time understanding what's being said anymore. Nevertheless, until a few centuries ago this was actually how the bible was translated. Then Martin Luther came along and took a very different approach - he went out and observed how the people he wanted to read his translation talked among each other and kept that in mind in his version, with the goal to make it easy to understand for them.

Literal translations
Literal translations are still very close to the source text, in fact the focus of the translation is still transferring pretty much every word from one language to the other. However, in this case, the grammatical structure of the target language is considered and the text adjusted accordingly. Most translators starting out will probably stick to translating this way and it's still common in certain fields.

You could also say that literal translations focus on "formal equivalence", which means the translation is source text oriented and the main focus lies on words and grammar.

Free translations
I just said that literal translations aim for formal equivalence - free translations on the other hand try to establish so-called "contextual equivalence." Whereas formal equivalence is source text oriented, contextual equivalence is target text oriented instead. This means that the most important part is to convey the text's message in the target language, the words used to achieve this are of secondary importance.

Translating today
There's certainly some discussion about which of literal and free translation is superior, but as far as I'm aware, professional standards tend towards free translations. The aim is for the translation not to read as a translation, but as a text that could've been written like that if it had originated in the target language. The purpose is to evoke the same emotional response in your new audience as the original text did in the original audience. This means you have to take into account factors like different cultural backgrounds, social norms etc.

Of course using literal translations can still be a valid strategy. For instance, if you can't figure out the intent of the author (or maybe I should say "a possible intent") and can't ask them for clarification either, sticking to the source text as closely as possible is a good idea.

That's it for today from my side, I will leave you with an article posted on JAT (Japan Association of Translators) on the topic of meaning-centric translation:

Be sure to check it out, it's very informative in my opinion and maybe helps you understand why certain things are translated the way they are.

With that, I hope to see you all next time.

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