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What Every Translator Should Know ?

The nature and importance of translation

    Translation is ultimately a human activity which enables human beings to exchange ideas and thoughts regardless of the different tongues used. Al Wassety (2001) views the phenomenon of translation as a legitimate offspring of the phenomenon of language, since originally, when humans spread over the earth, their languages differed and they needed a means through which people speaking a certain language (tongue) would interact with others who spoke a different language.

Translation is, in Enani's (1997) view, a modern science at the interface of philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and sociology. Literary translation in particular is relevant to all these sciences, audio-visual arts, as well as cultural and intellectual studies.

There are eight types of translation

1- word-for-word translation,

2- literal translation

3-faithful translation

4-semantic translation,

5-adaptive translation

6-free translation

7- idiomatic translation

8-communicative translation.

                  Translation is, in Chabban's words (1984:5), "a finicky job," as it has not yet been reduced to strict scientific rules, and it allows for the differences that are known to exist between different personalities. Translation is a heavily subjective art, especially when it deals with matters outside the realm of science where precisely defined concepts are more often expressed by certain generally accepted terms.

                  In the final analysis, translation is a science, an art, and a skill. It is a science in the sense that it necessitates complete knowledge of the structure and make-up of the two languages concerned. It is an art since it requires artistic talent to reconstruct the original text in the form of a product that is presentable to the reader who is not supposed to be familiar with the original. It is also a skill because it entails the ability to smooth over any difficulty in the translation, and the ability to provide the translation of something that has no equal in the target language.

In translation, the richness of vocabulary, depth of culture, and vision of the translator could certainly have very conspicuous effects on his/her work. Another translator might produce a reasonably acceptable version of the same text, which, however, may very well reflect a completely different background, culture, sensitivity, and temperament. Such differences cannot, in Chabban's view (1984), detract from the merit of either translator. This is simply because translation is decidedly a more difficult job than creation.

 Translation problems

          Translation problems can be divided into linguistic problems and cultural problems: the linguistic problems include grammatical differences, lexical ambiguity and meaning ambiguity; the cultural problems refer to different situational features. This classification coincides with that of El Zeini when she identified six main problems in translating from Arabic to English and vice versa; these are lexicon, morphology, syntax, textual differences, rhetorical differences, and pragmatic factors.

Another level of difficulty in translation work is what As-sayyd (1995) found when she conducted a study to compare and assess some problems in translating the fair names of Allah in the Qu'ran. She pointed out that some of the major problems of translation are over-translation, under-translation, and untranslatability.

              Culture constitutes another major problem that faces translators. A bad model of translated pieces of literature may give misconceptions about the original. That is why Fionty (2001) thought that poorly translated texts distort the original in its tone and cultural references, while Zidan (1994) wondered about the possible role of the target culture content as a motivating variable in enhancing or hindering the attainment of linguistic, communicative and, more importantly, cultural objectives of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) education. Hassan (1997) emphasized this notion when he pointed out the importance of paying attention to the translation of irony in the source language context. He clarified that this will not only transfer the features of the language translated but also its cultural characteristics.
 The translator's work

          These problems, and others, direct our attention to the work and the character of translators, how they attack a text so as to translate, and the processes they follow to arrive at the final product of a well-translated text in the target language.

                 Enani (1994:5) defines the translator as "a writer who formulates ideas in words addressed to readers. The only difference between him and the original writer is that these ideas are the latter's". Another difference is that the work of the translator is even more difficult than that of the artist. The artist is supposed to produce directly his/her ideas and emotions in his/her own language however intricate and complicated his/her thoughts are. The translator's responsibility is much greater, for s/he has to relive the experiences of a different person. Chabban (1984) believes that, however accurately the translator may delve into the inner depths of the writer's mind, some formidable linguistic and other difficulties may still prevent the two texts from being fully equivalent. Therefore we do not only perceive the differences between a certain text and its translation, but also between different translations of the same text

  • On the procedural level, El Shafey (1985:95) states: "A translator first analyzes the message, breaking it down into its simplest and structurally clearest elements, transfers it at this level into the target language in the form which is most appropriate for the intended audience. A translator instinctively concludes that it is best to transfer the "kernel level" in one language to the corresponding "kernel level" in the "receptor language."

Translators are advised to use the following strategies in the analysis stage:

  • Identify beginnings and endings of ideas in the text and the relationships between these ideas.
  • Identify the "best" meaning that fits into the context;
  • Identify the structure in the Target Language that "best" represents the original;
  • Identify transitions between ideas and the "best" connectors in the target language that represent the original.
     Composing skills
  • At this point, the mental construction resulting from interpretation seeks an outer expression.
  • Osimo (2002) suggests that, in this expression stage, there are two substages. One is aimed at expression, the other at cohesion. The translator, having finished his/her interpretative work, has two needs: first, to externalize the set of impressions caused by the text and translate into speech elements the impressions the mind produced by contact with the prototext; and second, to make this product coherent within itself, i.e., transform the set of speech elements into a text (the metatext).
  •  He describes the passage from mental content to written text in these terms:
  • pinpointing elements useful for discrimination of the content to be expressed from similar contents;
  • pinpointing redundant elements;
  • choice of words (lexicalization) and attention to their cohesion (inner links);
  • choice of grammatical structure(s); linear order of words; parts of speech; sentence complexity;
  • prepositions and other function words, and final form.
  • As a novice translator, or a student translator, you are invited to make use of the following basic strategies:
  • Use correct word order as used in the target language.
  • Use correct sentence structures as used in the target language.
  • transmit the ideas of the text in clear sentences in the target language.
  • Rephrase certain sentences to convey the overall meaning translated;
  • Make changes to the text as a whole to give it a sense of the original without distorting the original ideas.
  • Try one or more of the following strategies when facing problems of untranslateability.
  • Syntactic strategies:
  • Shift word order.  Change clause/sentence structure. Add or change cohesion.
     Semantic strategies: Use superordinates. Alter the level of abstraction.
  • Redistribute the information over more or fewer elements.
     Pragmatic strategies: Naturalize or exoticize. Alter the level of explicitness. Add or omit information.


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