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How to Read beyond the Lines when Translating

How to Read beyond the Lines when Translating

How to Read beyond the Lines when Translating

Technology and the information revolution have opened a vast world of knowledge to all of us. Translators must develop work habits and methods that allow them to make the best use of search tools and other resources. Looking for extra-textual information is an essential component of translation, albeit one often overlooked or taken for granted.

Translation mistakes or poor renditions happen often, translators and revisers could avoid them if the translator had looked for additional information. Translators often deal with highly specialized, unfamiliar, or heavily negotiated documents without being involved in the process that generated them.  They need to complement their substantive information with further research to deliver a reliable translation.

 

What are the basic assumptions?

The most basic assumption in translation—whether or not translators consciously think about it — is that all human discourse contains a message (or intended meaning) and that somehow it is possible for a person with the right tools to grasp that message, to extract it from the container that is the source language, and transfer it into a new container which is the target language. Whether it is possible to understand the message in all its nuances and complexity (comprehension). Can we separate the meaning from its linguistic envelope (deverbalization) without losing at least part of its integrity? Can we find equivalences in the target language to convey the message in a beneficial manner (reformulation)? We can spend years trying to answer these questions.

However, we engage translating, which implies that we believe there is something in a text, some essence of meaning that can a translator transfer, and that different languages offer ways to transfer meaning, even though imperfectly.

Aside from this basic assumption we hold to be universal, it is important to underscore the following additional assumptions about the act of translating.

 

  1. Approach a document as an integrity. A sentence for the translation is unlikely to contain all the information needed to extract meaning from it for translation. This is why it is necessary for the translator to contextualize different segments of the same text to better comprehend the meaning.
  2. A document is always part of a storyline. Being aware of the full story is the best way to arrive at a correct understanding of the message. Since this is not always possible from the translator’s standpoint, seeking extra-textual information, as an integral part of the translation process, becomes the translator’s best guide. It sheds light on the evolution of the topic, resolves any ambiguities, and helps us understand patterns, including patterns of word usage.
  3. Cognitive complements are essential to the plainness of a text. Translators need to mobilize their general culture and resort to other external sources of knowledge to understand the text, including its implicit and explicit elements.
  4. A literal approach can never produce a good translation. Literal translation fails to transfer meaning because it produces awkward and unintelligible forms in the target language. By resorting to extra-linguistic knowledge, translators will feel more at ease with the subject and ideas, which will enable them to reformulate these ideas in a more idiomatic and accessible way. When we don’t understand, we automatically take refuge in the literal approach. Instead of trying to make the picture less blurry, we sink even more into the fog.

 

What Do We Do When We Translate?

Basically, we understand the meaning and then reformulate it in the target language. Put that way, translation may sound like a piece of cake. However, the process itself is much more complex. It involves grasping the message—separating meaning from words, getting as close as possible to what the author intended to say, and even the emotions he or she wanted to convey. This is deverbalization.

This means the translator knows there is no complete meaning in the utterance and he needs to perform an additional research.

Without summoning extra-linguistic knowledge, translators will remain at the surface of the text, while they need to thrust their noses deeper into the multi-layered and subtle allusions or references. By training themselves to be cognitively alert and methodically skeptical, translators will definitely enhance the quality of the output. The greatest risk translators face is to lose their alertness—to grab the first meaning that comes to mind and hold on to it with too much confidence.

 

Does the Translator Need to be a Subject Matter Expert?

Translators often deal with unfamiliar topics that fall outside their field of expertise. This has led people to take the view that only subject matter experts are good enough to translate a text.

The translator should show skills that go beyond the mere mastery of two languages. Nowadays, a translator must be well-read and curious about the world, be a tireless researcher willing to learn about any topic and be perseverant enough to dig deeper into the text to understand what it means. Contemporaneously, a translator must always be ready to question his or her own assumptions.

 

Common Obstacles to Understanding

Despite the variety of documents, topics, and circumstances, the vast majority of comprehension difficulties in translation fall under one of two categories:

 

  1. Novelty

Novelty is when the translator encounters a topic or a concept new to them. Novelty can arise from the translator’s lack of familiarity with the topic or from the fact that the concept itself is a new coinage in the source language.

When faced with novelty, the translator should read beyond the lines to understand the new concept through all means (e.g., by consulting dictionaries and encyclopedias, search engines, including images and videos when available, asking experts, reading other documents on the same topic, and examining relevant bilingual texts if available).

Such external sources can even allow the translator to find out the exact title of an event, the accurate pronunciation of entities, and the names and the gender of participants referred to in the text.

 

  1. Ambiguity

Technology and the information revolution have opened a vast world of knowledge to all of us. Translators must develop work habits and methods that allow them to make the best use of search tools and other resources. Looking for extra-textual information is an essential component of translation, albeit one often overlooked or taken for granted.

Translation mistakes or poor renditions happen often, translators and revisers could avoid them if the translator had looked for additional information. Translators often deal with highly specialized, unfamiliar, or heavily negotiated documents without being involved in the process that generated them.  They need to complement their substantive information with further research to deliver a reliable translation.

You would be interested Another Perspective: a Translation is Not

 

 

References:

www.gadda.ed.ac.uk

www.chathamhouse.org

trans-int.org

www.atanet.org


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