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Thread: Do you believe that a "good translation" should be literal or "interpreted"?

 
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    Senior Member exxcéntrica's Avatar
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    Default Do you believe that a "good translation" should be literal or "interpreted"?

    This matter has been brought to my attention and as we are all professionals here I think it should be interesting to discuss this matter.

    Do you feel that, in general, it is best to try to get the "feel" or context of the writer's intent which sometimes requires that you make an educated guess of what they are saying or do you feel it best to just translate as best you can without presuming anything?

    Clearly, in the case of idiomatic expressions that do not translate you have to try to explain what you think the writer meant. Do you extend that to other areas such as omitted words (where you think the writer just inadvertantly left a word or two out), slang, poorly formed sentences and other unclear words or phrases?

    saludos de España!
    Los hombres son superiores a las mujeres porque Alá les otorgó la primacia sobre ellas. Portanto, dió a los varones el doble de lo que dió a las mujeres. Los maridos que sufrieran desobediencia de sus mujeres pueden castigarlas: abandonarlas en sus lechos, e incluso golpearlas.
    No se legó al hombre mayor calamidad que la mujer."


    El Corán (libro sagrado de los musulmanes, recitado por Alá a Maomé en el siglo VI)


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    What a difficult subject you've placed on the table.
    I think that we, as translators, are first and foremost professional readers, that is, people trained to read, interpret and understand texts beyond any other individual's comprehension. If not, how could we be capable of communicating what is said in one language to another language? Some experts even consider that the very act of reading, even in one's own language, conveys the act of translating, that is, of interpreting the writer's intentions and ideas.

    According to this, I think the translator is compelled to understand perfectly well the text to be translated, and then, and only then, convert it into the goal language. Sometimes we face obscure passages, or seemingly erroneous phrases, but it is our duty to investigate what those paragraphs mean (that's why we organize these forums, isn't it?) so that we can offer our goal reader the correct meaning of the text in his own language. This latter idea deals with another edge of the subject: that of the author's style. But I think I'll talk about this latter, once I read some other forum users' opinions.

    Saludos

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    Senior Member exxcéntrica's Avatar
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    I agree with you completely, Carlos.

    I think the aim of a goo translator should first be the understanding of the text, and only then the translation. Especially if we are talking about a colloquial text, like mails, personal letters.....
    Los hombres son superiores a las mujeres porque Alá les otorgó la primacia sobre ellas. Portanto, dió a los varones el doble de lo que dió a las mujeres. Los maridos que sufrieran desobediencia de sus mujeres pueden castigarlas: abandonarlas en sus lechos, e incluso golpearlas.
    No se legó al hombre mayor calamidad que la mujer."


    El Corán (libro sagrado de los musulmanes, recitado por Alá a Maomé en el siglo VI)


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    Senior Member Hebe's Avatar
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    Excellent topic Exx !!

    I think it all depends on the text you are working on.
    In the case of legal documents, the best policy is to be as faithful as possible. In fact, I would even say that a literal (accurate) translation is a must in this case (because of the legal implications) : However even in such cases, one must always keeping in mind the natural trends of the target language; after all the main goal is to convey the message across in a way that it can be understood by those who rely on the translation.

    Yet, translation of poetry and texts filled with similes and other literary figures simply cannot be literal, because the beauty of the written composition (one of the most essential objectives of the writer) would be inevitably lost. Same goes for slangs: If someone says in Spanish “Lo atraparon con las manos en la masa” (a colloquial expression in my country) and I produce a literal translation; nobody in the English speaking world will understand what the person meant to say; whereas if I choose an expression which conveys the same meaning (such as “he was caught red handed”); I will get the message across more efficiently.
    This is my personal viewpoint; I’ll be looking forward to reading comments from other colleagues.
    Best regards
    Last edited by Hebe; 04-16-2008 at 04:01 PM.


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    Hebe wrote:

    I think it all depends on the text you are working on.
    In the case of legal documents, the best policy is to be as faithful as possible. In fact, I would even say that a literal (accurate) translation is a must in this case (because of the legal implications) : However even in such cases, one must always keeping in mind the natural trends of the target language; after all the main goal is to convey the message across in a way that it can be understood by those who rely on the translation.


    CarlosRoberto wrote:

    Sometimes we face obscure passages, or seemingly erroneous phrases, but it is our duty to investigate what those paragraphs mean (that's why we organize these forums, isn't it?) so that we can offer our goal reader the correct meaning of the text in his own language.

    I am in complete agreement!! The objective of a translation is to give proper meaning to the document so that the reader understands as much as possible what the writer is trying to convey.

    A totally literal translation means that you have simply transformed the document from one language to another without any effort to help the reader understand it...sort of like saying, "Here it is, you figure it out!"
    vicente

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    Senior Member mem286's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hebe
    Excellent topic Exx !!

    I think it all depends on the text you are working on.
    In the case of legal documents, the best policy is to be as faithful as possible. In fact, I would even say that a literal (accurate) translation is a must in this case (because of the legal implications) : However even in such cases, one must always keeping in mind the natural trends of the target language; after all the main goal is to convey the message across in a way that it can be understood by those who rely on the translation.

    Yet, translation of poetry and texts filled with similes and other literary figures simply cannot be literal, because the beauty of the written composition (one of the most essential objectives of the writer) would be inevitably lost. Same goes for slangs: If someone says in Spanish “Lo atraparon con las manos en la masa” (a colloquial expression in my country) and I produce a literal translation; nobody in the English speaking world will understand what the person meant to say; whereas if I choose an expression which conveys the same meaning (such as “he was caught red handed”); I will get the message across more efficiently.
    This is my personal viewpoint; I’ll be looking forward to reading comments from other colleagues.
    Best regards
    What else can be said that hasn't been already said by my dear friend Hebe? I completely agree with you... Legal or technical translations are more accurate, that's true.... I love literary translation... sometimes they are a real challenge for the translator, because you have to express exactly the same the author wants to transmit to the reader, trying to find beautiful words or idioms in your own language... don't you think?

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    Senior Member Hebe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mem286
    .... I love literary translation... sometimes they are a real challenge for the translator, because you have to express exactly the same the author wants to transmit to the reader, trying to find beautiful words or idioms in your own language... don't you think?
    That’s an absolute true my friend; beautifully stated too .. Bravo Merce !!!


    Truly, my dear young friends, you are a chosen generation. I hope you will never forget it.
    Gordon B. Hinckley

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    Senior Member lauracipolla's Avatar
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    Dear Colleagues,

    I've read with great interest all and every comment in this thread. Very interesting indeed. In my opinion it's not a case of "adhering" to one way of translating or the other. As already stated, some translations need literality because of their subject/content, and some others demand some "recreation" from us (though writers as we all are, we are always at risk of "creating" a new piece that somehow resembles the original...)

    In the cases of non-scientific/non-legal/non-technical works, i.e., when some freedom is permitted and even necessary, I wonder, however, Is our task to "EXPLAIN" what the author meant to say? We're supposed to TRANSLATE, i.e., give readers the chance to understand a text in a language they don't speak... It's already a big responsibility: We need to know both languages well, to make sure we're SAYING THE SAME, in the words of the target language (not in OUR words, though!) But, EXPLAIN the text? (When WE -you and I- read something in a language we understand, WHO EXPLAINS IT TO US?) If the original text is dark, unclear, ambiguous... why should we change that and make it clear for the readers?

    What do you think? ;-)
    Laura

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    Quote Originally Posted by lauracipolla
    If the original text is dark, unclear, ambiguous... why should we change that and make it clear for the readers?
    Absolutely true, Laura. It is not our task (nor our duty) to explain the text in one language to the reader in another language, even more so because sometimes those ambiguities are part of the author's style and not real errors. Nevertheless, each language has its own spirit, its own passwords known only to those which has it as their native language.

    Some years ago I worked several months in Guatemala, and then something happened to me that might explain better my point. In that time there was a Mexican TV show conducted by Paco Stanley (a very funny guy) which had an ample audience in that country. Even though all my colleagues there laughed at Stanley's jokes, they didn't understand one word the conductor used very often: "mandilón". Any Mexican understands at once the extensive joke that only word conveys, but to my Guatemalan friends its meaning escaped their comprehension. "Mandilón" is the husband who wears the "mandil" (apron) instead of his wife. In a country famous for its "machos", the word "mandilón" acquires a meaning more profound than in other, more "civilized" countries. Thus, when I explained the meaning of this word to my friends there, their eyes sparkled with laughter: Guatemalans are very "machos" too.

    So, you see, translation is not only a matter of transferring one thing from one language to another: I think it has to do with interpreting, but also sometimes with explaining the text, when it deals with these kind of very local matters.

    Saludos
    Last edited by CarlosRoberto; 04-17-2008 at 12:28 AM.

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    Moderator SandraT's Avatar
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    Interesting thread indeed and specially reading all the opinions which at the end bring us together since we share mostly all of them.
    I have also something to add, very much based in my own experience.
    My former boss was from X but he knew English and a little bit of Spanish which made him think he could translate. He gives me a plain text about a country profile to translate (Eng-Sp) and when he read the result, he asked me why I changed the original so much!!!???
    He did not want me to say "el país tiene una extensión territorial de...", instead, he wanted me to say "el país tiene un largo de..." and "ejecutar un instrumento"??? No way, it had to be "tocar un instrumento" because "ejecutar" means to kill. (I worked as an Intl. Sales Rep for 8 years for a record label.) In this case, "tocar un instrumento" is not wrong but if you can use a more formal word for that...The examples would be endless and you would be more and more surprised!
    And very well, I had to change the whole text and make it look so ridiculous that I was glad I did not have to put my name at the end!!! Just to please him! This is something we must take into account too...the customer. I hope though, that there are not many people like this and the truth is that this has been an only one experience.

    Apart from that, I think that if we feel that the reader will not understand a certain word because it's too regional, we either look for the most approximate translation or leave it like that and then add a foot note. But I would not go on an explanation and changing the original. We are translators, not editors.

    And yes, we have to investigate, get to know what we are going to translate, but we do not have to add the result of our investigation to the text. So, once we understand, we translate into the target language using our knowledge in a way that the reader will understand too without going too far from the original. Otherwise, it will be our own text, not a translation of the original.

    I also love literary texts cause I love to be creative and this type of texts give us certain freedom to translate. The technical ones are a different story. As Hebe said the best policy is to be as faithful as possible. One little change in a word can change the whole meaning of the text.
    This could be dangerous in a political text. I had to translate a letter from a high official once and there was this word which I could not understand within the context and I spent a while trying to figure it out. I even asked for other colleagues opinion. Just that word could change the meaning of the entire letter...and you can't just go beat around the bushes with that, many things at stake!

    So, we always have to adjust to the situation, the type of text, the context, the regional aspects, etc.
    Last edited by SandraT; 04-18-2008 at 10:16 AM.
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