By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
Several days ago an observation was made to me concerning the hallmark of a good translation not being to never sound or read as a translation, or its need to sound and read as if it had been written originally in the target language. Apparently, then, a translation should sound and read like it is a translation, because that is what it is after all, a translation.
Well, Donnamarie and I could not disagree more.
A translation is the rendering of a spoken or written text that originates in one language into a correct representation of that same spoken or written text into another language. Ideally, the transition from one language to the other will be seamless and flawless, and the fact that the piece originated in a different language from the one in which it was originally rendered will not be evident.
Professional translators can get side-tracked from the import of their work. They can stop seeing the forest from the trees. The forest is the correct transmission of words and ideas from one linguistic system to another. The trees represent the act of transmission and translation.
It is never acceptable that a translated spoken or written text be identifiable as a translation. If it is so identifiable, the translation is a sub-standard effort.
There are very many words, technical phrases and advanced concepts that are not directly translatable. The lack of the possibility of a direct translation does not mean that those words, phrases and/or concepts cannot be rendered in another language.
How one renders those difficult words, technical phrases and concepts is another matter. It is most important to keep in mind one’s target audience(s). On the one hand, the target audience could be the most technologically advanced minds in their field. On the other hand, the target audience might be uneducated people in desperate need of the expertise of those advanced minds. To assume that one translation will serve both target audiences is an assumption that is destined to fail.
The idea that “one size fits all” in the field of translation is erroneous. The term “target audience” is not just a bit of professional jargon. Different sectors of society have differing levels of comprehension. A technical translation that must serve both high educated professionals and un-educated lay-persons cannot be rendered as a single translation. While the professionals can understand a translation that is given at a level that a lay-person might understand, that “dumbed-down” version will not serve the professional’s needs. A document that will serve that professional’s needs will most likely be incomprehensible to a lay-person. A two-step approach is required.
There has been some discussion as to whether or not translations should be identifiable as translations, or if they should be so seamlessly rendered into another language that it is not possible to discern that the item was written in a different language.
This is a spurious discussion. While translation has not yet risen to the level of a “science,” it has attained the level of an “art.” The art of translation succeeds then when the piece that has been translated is rendered flawlessly from one language to another. There should be no “accent,” no residual terminology that identifies the piece as one that has been translated.
It is true that there are many words, phrases and concepts that cannot be translated. When these questions and problems arise, it is correct to discuss the fact of translation in a translated document. These instances are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is that translated documents should be a bridge that crosses a language barrier. It should not be necessary to state that one is starting over the bridge, that one has reached the middle, and that one has crossed to the other side. With a proper translation, one should be able to cross from one side of the linguistic divide to the other without caveats or progress reports.
The art of translation is a quirky and difficult field. It is not enough to know languages well enough to be able to transmit information between those languages. It is also necessary to be educated in technology, history, cultural background, current political situation and a great deal more if one hopes to be able to translate between languages at a high level.
Translations that sound like translations cannot do the job. They stop short of the goal of a full and complete presentation of words and ideas given in one language that are accessible to speakers of another language. Translations that sound like translations apologize for themselves, for their lack of expertise, and should be an embarrassment to any translator of quality.
A correct and valid translation accurately transmits information and ideas from one language to another not simply by the rendering of a known word in one language to another known word in a different one. Correct translations cannot be performed by the simple use of a translating dictionary or be obtained through loose terms on the web.
A correct translation requires that the translator has wide background knowledge of both languages in question, and of the cultures, standards, morals, political realities and much more. When this background knowledge and expertise is present, the words and meanings in one language flow unimpeded into the comprehension of those on the receiving end of the translation.
An expert translator doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that a word-for-word rendering of one document in one language into another document in another language equates to a correct understanding of the original document. Inexpert translators often make the mistake of thinking that word-for-word rendering is enough. Expert translators know that words are not enough: understanding and comprehension of translations are the point and, no matter how correct the word-for-word process might be, it is meaningless if the end-user doesn’t understand the meaning.
A sound farewell for now,
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Authors: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.