The recent discussion over fans (and my own) qualms about the Vertical translation/editing of Gundam the Origin has spurred me to dive back into a linguistic presentation I gave my senior year of college. Oddly (and ironically) enough, I chose to give this presentation in my senior Japanese class, so talking about translation in a translation was quite a conundrum! I’ll summarize what I said in that presentation:
Translation consists of producing in the target language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message. First with respect to meaning and second with respect to style. A common misconception exists that translation is an automatic process and that there is a simple word-for-word correspondence between any two languages. Translation is more than replacing a word with its equivalent in another language. Sentences and ideas must be manipulated to flow with the same coherence as those in the source document so that the translation reads as though it originated in the target language.
So what goes on in terms of a translation strategy? Some argue that translating is a process with features such as the literal rendering of meaning, adherence to form, and emphasis on general accuracy. This is certainly true of what translators do most of the time, however there are times when translation requires much refinement and how it betrays a strongly prescriptive attitude.
To begin the translation process, one must first analyze the source language text. It starts from reading the source language text and understanding the linguistic and extra-linguistic elements of it. Language analysis has various levels: sentence levels (subject-verb agreement), clauses, phrases, words, etc. Understanding the levels is key to understanding the text.
Next is transfer meaning. A translator transfers the context, meaning and message of the source to the target language. As I mentioned before, translation is not a literal transfer of meaning from one text to another, a translator must strive to do more than render literal meaning. Rendering literal meaning, as some say, means that the spirit has been lost. However, this goes into the translators voice, which will be addressed later.
One of the final phases is restructuring. Restructuring is changing the transferring process to the suitable stylistic form of receptor language, whether it be reader or listener. It indicates that a translator must pay attention to kinds of language to determine a suitable language style.
The technical aspect, as I explained, is an analysis of the source language and target languages. judgments of semantic and syntactic approximations are made to follow an organizational procedure. There is a constant reevaluation of the translation as well as a communicative effectiveness. In other words, does the translation effectively convey in the target language what the source language said? With that, there are eight argumentative points that can be said about translation:
1. A translation must reproduce the words of the source language.
2. A translation must reproduce the meaning of the source language.
3. A translation should read like an original.
4. A translation should read like a translation.
5. A translation should retain the style of the source language.
6. A translation should mirror the style of the source language.
7. In a translation, a translator must never add or leave out anything.
8. In a translation, a translator may, if need be, add or leave out something.
Without delving into all of these separately, you can see the varying points people have regarding translation. The final two points listed above are the relative “hot button” issues that people have regarding translation. They fall under fidelity and transparency when talking about translation. I’ll discuss these two points and then backtrack to points three and four.
Fidelity and transparency are two qualities that have been regarded as ideals to be striven for in translation, particularly literary translation. These two ideals are often at odds. Fidelity refers to the extent that a translation accurately portrays the meaning of the source language. This also means that it does not add to nor subtract from it, does not intensify or weaken any part of it nor does it distort it. Transparency pertains to the extent to which a translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to the language’s grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions. A translation that meets the first criterion is said to be a “faithful translation”; a translation that meets the second criterion, an “idiomatic translation.” The two qualities are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Literal and free translation, on the other hand, are two basic skills of translation.
Literal translation refers to keeping the original message form, including construction of sentence, meaning of the original words, and metaphor of the original and so on. In other words, the translation would be fluent and easy to comprehend by target language readers. Literal translation is also known as “formal equivalence.”
Free translation refers to the meaning of the original, without paying attention to the details. The translation would also be more fluent and natural. Free translation need not pay attention to the form of the original, including construction of the original sentences, meaning of the original works, metaphor of the original and so on. However, free translation does not mean to delete or add content to the original and translators must consider the original carefully, know its stress, translate it naturally, and express the meaning of the original. Free translation is a skill which translators must know the culture of both source language and target language, and must have extensive knowledge.
Literal translation and free translation are two different ways in phrase translation. An excellent translation may combine these two kinds. Both content and style are separately linked in any text, and success in translation means dealing creatively with both of these aspects of communication.
All of this, ultimately, boils down to the translator’s voice. The first thing to realize is that translators have their own way that they approach translations and they each bring with them a completely different set of experiences and ideas which will affect their translation in the end. But it’s important to realize that just because translators will translate things differently does not necessarily make one more “right” or more “wrong” than any other translation. Once translators recognize that they have their own voice, they need to try and minimize the effect that voice has on the finished product. They shouldn’t sacrifice the integrity of the translation just because their voice comes through in the translation. Instead they should use their experiences to help them come up with the best translation possible.
Above all, the translator is portrayed as being both a reader and a writer of the source text, or as creating a new text that takes on a life of its own. Translation is seen as a creative and interpretive act. Once they minimalize their voice, their translation is said to be true to the original.
Overall, language is not a perfect medium, and it is not transparent. At some point in our lives everyone has to learn to translate. I say something to you. You do not understand. I must reword it, rework it–translate it, in a sense. Translation can be a simple thing when we understand what the translation is.
“If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.”
– Rene Magritte