Happy International Translators Day 2013
When you think of translation, you may casually consider it merely a matter of conversion; the linguistic equivalent of converting kilometers to miles, for example. This impression could certainly be strengthened by the existence of automated online tools such as “Google Translate,” or various digital dictionary devices.
Translation, however, is a subtle and complex endeavor that writers have struggled with for centuries. The English poet and translator John Dryden lived in the seventeenth century, and wrote essays about the difficult choices a translator faces. He described the way in which a translator must sometimes choose an equivalent meaning, rather than simply rendering the exact words of the original source, and he said, ” it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author’s words.”
Translation choices to make
What happens, for example, if you’re working with a language like Arabic, which often has no punctuation at all? Do you render the Arabic directly into equivalent English words and risk making the writer sound incoherent? Or do you take the commonplace Arabic sentence and re-work it so that it ends up being an equally commonplace English sentence? In other words, do you place higher value on accurately conveying the straightforward nature of the original thinker, or do you place higher value on word-for-word technical equivalence?
Academic study of translation
Students of literature continue to be entranced by the subtleties of this field, and an increasing number of universities worldwide offer courses of study in literary translation. An example of one of these programs is The Center for Translation Studies at Barnard College (a part of Columbia University in New York). At Barnard, students can earn undergraduate or graduate degrees in translation studies, and the college describes the importance of the discipline in this way: “Translation Studies places language at the core of current debates about globalization and its impact on cultural identities.”
The life of a translation student
At Brown University, an undergraduate in a literary translation class says that he’s currently working on the problems of puns: “What if a pun doesn’t translate? Some would try to translate literally, forgoing the humor. Others would let that pun go, then insert a new pun into the translation, where there was no pun in the original, to maintain the humorous spirit of the piece… Oh my gosh, there is so much. It is a huge, very subtle, very complicated discipline.”
As Professor Rainer Shulte, co-founder of the American Literary Translators’ Association says, “In the act of literary translation the soul of another culture becomes transparent.”
We want to take time to celebrate and thank the team of talented and experienced professional translators that we work with day in and day out. Their hard work through out the year results in thousands of happy translation customers!