Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Myth #2: There are two types of translation

Myth #2: Translation can be easily split into two or three “kinds” or philosophies

After the myth that translation is all about words, the second most commonly heard translation myth is that it can be divided into two or three simple “philosophies” or “types.” Whether these types are called “free and literal” or “formal and functional equivalence” or “domestication and foreignisation,” the whole argument eventually leads to the same place.The end result is that people assume that translators have to choose between sticking to the words of the original or trying to express its ideas, with one side or the other always being seen as better.

The truth is that translation is far too complicated to be reduced to a small number of types. As Bible translators will tell you, differences between languages make it impossible to write an entirely literal translation of anything without committing massive grammatical faults. Similarly, as legal translators might tell you, it is often dangerous to completely forget about the wording of the original as writers always pick certain phrasings for certain reasons. There is therefore no such thing as a literal translation and almost no such thing as a free translation.

In an attempt to allow for this fact, some translation theorists have come up with the idea of “dynamic equivalence” to describe a translation which attempts to find a balance between the two opposite ways of translating. Yet even this is flawed. After all, to a great extent, all translations must use “dynamic equivalence” for the reasons we have already seen.

Now, I do believe that these attempts to simplify translation into a small number of types were done for a good reason. In a world where translations are seen as products, people want to know what kind of product they are buying. They might want to know about the relationship between the translation and the original. They might be interested to know how easy to read the translation will be. They might want to find out how they can use the translation.

The problem is that by splitting translation into types, we could be guilty of false advertising. What would happen if people bought a “literal” translation only to find it wasn’t always literal? What if someone ordered a “functional equivalent” translation only to find out that, horror of horrors, the translator stayed close to the original phrasing in places?

If we are to be honest with the people who buy and read translations, we really have to throw out such over-simplistic terms and try to start again. Maybe the best way to explain the product is to think like advertisers and describe its purpose. Maybe, rather than trying to divide translation into neat categories, we need to spend more time listening to the people who ask for the translations in the first place and trying to give them the “product” they want that can do the things they want it to do. That way we can never be guilty of false advertising and we get to keep people happy at the same time. It’s simple really.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Translation Myths pt.1.2

Myth #1: Translation is all about Words pt.2

Welcome back to Myth #1 of our translation myths. In part 1, we found that languages have different ways to express the same meaning. In the last part we used the set phrase “what is your name” in French and English to demonstrate this point.

While some people may be convinced by this, many others feel that outside of such phrases and maybe a few idioms, you should always stick to the wording of the original. Let’s try another example to see if this works. Here is a sentence that can be translated several ways

I don’t like that man – Je ne l’aime pas, cet homme-là.
Moi, je n’aime pas cet homme.
Je n’aime pas cet homme.

How would a translator know which one to pick? All three French phrases have the same meaning as the English phrase. Which one is correct?

The truth is that any of the three may be right. In spoken language, the choice of phrase would be fairly easy.

You see, in English, we often emphasise something by saying it slightly louder or with slightly more force. So if I said “I don’t like that man,” the emphasis is on me. Perhaps I might say this if someone else does like him. If I said “I don’t like that man,” the emphasis is on that particular man rather than a man I do like. Of course, I can also just say “I don’t like that man” with no particular emphasis.

In French, they tend to emphasise things by changing the wording of the phrase. In our first example, the stress would be on that particular man, much like if you said “I don’t like that man” in English. The second phrase emphasises the person speaking, just like “I don’t like that man” in English and the last phrase is the same as using no particular emphasis in English.

If translation were all about words, we would only need one way to express this English meaning in French yet, as we have seen, there are at least three choices, depending on which part of the sentence you want to emphasise. Since translation isn’t about meaning, translators need to take care choosing the correct way of translating a phrase, taking into account many different factors. It is not simply a case of looking each word up in a dictionary and writing down the first translation of it you find.

It is clear then that since languages have so many different ways to express similar meanings, there is no way that we can assume that using dictionary equivalents of the same words will necessarily mean that we create the same meaning. We also have to abandon the idea that translation is all about words. If it were then learning a language would simply mean memorising a bilingual dictionary and, as we all know, that is simply not the case. Translation is all about meaning not words.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Translation Myths pt.1.1

Myth #1: Translation is all about words pt. 1

The first translation myth we will look at is possibly the most common. Most people, when they think of translation, will think that translators take the WORDS from one language and turn them into WORDS in another. Following this logic, all a translator really needs is a good dictionary and they can translate pretty much anything. Learning translation then is really all about learning the words and grammar of both languages and making one fit the other.

So, why is this a myth? Well, here is one solid reason which should be obvious to anyone who has ever learned a second language.

Different languages use different ways to express the same meaning.

If you have ever tried to learn another language, you will have probably started with some set phrases so that you can ask someone’s name, find out where they are from, how they are and so forth. These set phrases are commonly taken to express similar meanings. Let’s take a common example that you might find in a French phrase book.

What is your name? – Comment vous-appelez vous?

Now, if you go up to a French person and say that phrase to them, the likelihood is that they will respond to you by giving you their name. Yet, the French word for “name” does not appear anywhere in that sentence. In fact, of the four words in the French phrase, only one would be found by looking up one of the English words in a dictionary.

If translation were all about words, this would be a bad translation, yet this translation is accepted and used all the time. If you ask a French teacher to translate “what is your name?” into French, you will be given the exact French sentence we find above.

So why has this French phrase become accepted as a good translation of “what is your name?” The answer is simple: translation is about meaning, not words. In this case, the meaning of “what is your name?” is best expressed using the French phrase which, if literally translated would be something like “what do you call yourself?” Put another way, the effect of asking an English person “What is your name?” is equivalent to the effect of asking a French person “Comment vous-appelez vous?”

This equivalence of effect is often what translators aim for. Understanding how this works and how to find out the meaning of what is said is a key skill for translators. Next tiem, we will look at this in more detail.

Friday, 4 December 2009

More Posts Coming Soon

Sorry for not posting a lot recently. This has mostly been due to work commitments. The "Future of Interpreting in Church" series is going to go on the back burner for now and instead, the next few posts will examine some common translation myths. More on Monday.


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Future of Interpreting in Church pt.1

I have recently discovered the "Unprofessional Translation" blog. In this blog, the writer examines a lot of different places where those who are not professionally trained carry out translation or interpreting. For me, the most interest part of this blog has been his sensitive discussion of interpreting in church.

He concludes, like many others, that church interpreting is widespread and is often done by talented amateurs rather than professionals. On this point, there can be little argument. While a quick google search is likely to turn up some interpreters who are paid for church work, the vast majority of these seem to be sign language interpreters. Spoken language interpreters, it would seem, are much less likely to be paid. Similarly, while course for sign language interpreting in church seem to be available from one or two US Universities, nothing similar is available for spoken language interpreters.

I might talk about pay later, but let's deal with training for now.

Personally, I feel that we really do need specific training for church interpreters. Along with the blog above, research by Alev Balci and my own work in the ITI Bulletin has pointed out that church interpreters work under entirely different constraints than those working in other settings. So, while training on performance and stage presence might be completely unnecessary for interpreters working at a political conference, it is a must for church interpreters. Similarly, theology is useless for work in court interpreting but is desperately needed in interpreting.

It is essential that spoken language church interpreting follow the lead set by its sign language cousin. We really do need more research, we really do need more courses. What form these might take is open for debate but, with church interpreting reported on all continents (except Antarctica), perhaps web-based delivery holds the most promise.

To Be Continued

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

It's all in your head

"It's all in your head," have you ever heard someone say that? It's the kind of phrase that seems to have the power to annoy and educate in equal measure. On the one hand, nothing is more annoying than someone trying to tell you that your problem is not that serious. On the other hand, we all know that often we can make things out to be worse than they really are.

The truth is that a lot of the things that happen to us in life start out as thoughts in our head. Who hasn't imagined having an argument with someone before they even see them? Who has never worried about money to pay bills or buy clothes?

The problem is that, while all that might seem natural, worry has never been good for us. In Matthew 6, Jesus asks a few questions that should give us pause. Here are verses 25 to 30 from the New Living Translation.

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

Why do we have so little faith? Why do we worry more naturally than we pray?

The real issue is trust. Do we trust God to look after us? Do we trust Him when He tells us not to worry? Do we know just how damaging worry is?

So, this week, no matter what goes on, ask yourself these questions: is my worry doing me any good? Do I have such a close relationship with God that I can trust Him to look after my needs?

Your mind is important - use it wisely.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Blessings of Thankfulness

Yes, the blog is back after a Summer break. Articles will now be posted at more regular intervals. This week, we will be looking at a simple principle that can really change your life: thankfulness.

"Thank you," two small words that make a huge difference. Whether it is by email, by phone or even with a small gift, people love to be appreciated. However, in our rush to "get things done" we often miss small but nonetheless crucial ways of showing people we care.

Maybe our attitude would be different if you we realise how much thankfulness benefits us, as well as others. As selfish as it might seem, people tend to be more apt to help others when they can see it is in their interests too. If we knew just how amazing thankfulness is, maybe we might thank people more often.

Well then, what are the benefits of thankfulness?

The first benefit is by far the most important. The Bible tells us that we enter God's presence with thankfulness in our hearts. As we demonstrate our gratefulness to God, we are able to experience more of who He is. This is simple enough to understand: who would you rather be around, those who recognise your efforts and are truly grateful or those who take you for granted?

Another benefit is that thankfulness opens doors. By appreciating the little things people do, you create a connection with them. After all, who would you rather talk to, the person who notices the difference you make or the person who couldn't careless.

There is, of course, one last benefit. Being thankful gives you a better outlook on life. At a time when there are so many negative messages going around, the simple acts of noticing the good things people do and giving appreciation keeps you positive and ready to see the good things that are going on.

So there you are. Go looking for things to be thankful for. Go looking for people to appreciate. You'll be surprised at the real difference it makes.