Sunday, December 26, 2021

On substance, form and proper translation


[Two diamond structures*]

The most important issue for purchasers of translation should be product quality. While price impacts budget allocation, the effectiveness of the translation affects the practical use of the text. The challenge, especially when dealing with an unfamiliar language, is assessing that quality. I suggest posting two questions on any translation product, specifically on content and form. The correct answer on both questions provides a strong indication of high quality.

To clarify the meaning of content and form, all documents contain a message consisting of larger ideas and specific details. The translation must accurately reflect those elements both in terms of the concept and the relative importance of the details. If the word choice misleads or confuses the reader, the translation is not effective. However, the form of the document and sentence syntax needs to reflect that message as it is understood by the reader of the target language. For example, the rate of usage of passive or short sentences varies from language to language and creates different impressions. While short, direct sentences is generally considered acceptable communitive language in English, especially in marketing and technical texts, such sentences are considered choppy and lower register in Arabic or French. Thus, in most cases, the syntax of the translation may and even should differ from that of the original text. This difference is acceptable as long as the content and style are in line with each other.

Adding to the challenge of accurate translation is the natural difference in vocabulary among languages. Concepts do not have a 1:1 ratio in terms of translation. In some cases, while one language may have on word, another language has two or more or even none. A prime example is the concept to wear for which English has the single verb while Hebrew has more than seven different words, depending on the item to be worn. In some cases, words may be more or less inclusive. An example in the Hebrew-English combination is the Hebrew word יעיל [ya’il] can be translated into effective or efficient in English. Thus, the translator may have to add words to transmit the same idea or may be able to eliminate them without harming the content.

Of course, depending on the type of translation, the freedom of expression granted to the translator varies. For court transcripts and some medical documents, precision is of the highest priority with even the smallest differences in meaning and form having significance in some cases. By contrast, in many literary translations, the linguist has the privilege and duty of finding a natural way to transmit the writer’s intention. Two examples are changing poetry to prose if it is impossible to recreate both the meaning and rhythm of the original and localizing content, such as the change in the order of the diseases  in 3 Men in a boat to keep the list in alphabetical order. In most cases, the translator not only has the option but often the obligation to adjust the form to the content.

Thus, when receiving the final translation in an unknown and foreign language, it is vital to receive an assessment of its effectiveness. To do so, the first step is to ask one or more native speakers of the target language what the document is trying to say, with emphasis on the main points. If the message is essentially identical to that of the source document, the next step is to ask if the form, i.e., language and structure, interferes with that message because it is somehow incongruous, including due to overly literal translation or faithfulness to the original sentence structure. If the answer is negative, it means that translator professionally transmitted the message. Any dissonance indicates that the translation can be improved and may be ineffective. In this manner, the concept of a “good” translation is specified and qualified.

It is clear that paying for an ineffective translation is a poor choice, regardless of the budget. The customer can and should assess the quality of translated document by asking two questions, one about the message and the other about the form, from potential members of the target audience or native speaker of that language. A clearly positive result should inspire confidence in the document and the translator.

* Captions help the blind gain full access to the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3196968">Jarkko Mänty</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3196968">Pixabay</a>

No comments:

Post a Comment