When you’re in the business of language services, you tend to talk about translation and interpreting, forgetting that if you’re not in the same industry, understanding these complex jobs can be difficult. Since we recently celebrated International Translation Day (on the 30th of September), I think it’s fitting that we discuss about some facts about translation, look into it deeper and discover and learn more about this specialized industry. Let’s take a look at some facts and figures:
Translation has a very long history. The first examples are the translation of the Bible into Latin and the translation of Buddhist texts into literary Chinese. These were done during the first millennium. Since then, translation has played an important role in ecclesiastic reformations, pedagogical institutions, development of literary cultures and the spread of capitalism and nation-state globally. But translation was not systematically studied nor was it given that much academic attention until sometime during the 1970s or 1980s.
Scholars came to know that translation had politico-ethical significance and conceptual complexity around the first part of the 21st century. Moreover, they recognized that translation affects various aspects of life and industry, such as religion, literature, education, judiciary procedure, entertainment, scientific research, international diplomacy, immigration, and public administration among others.
In the modern era, translation is typically presented as a communication model to transfer the meaning between two different national or ethnic languages in order for one to comprehend the other.
Translation has many connotations – ideas of linking a text, phrase or word to another and moving, conveying or transferring from one place to another. But it is not that simple. We have to consider that many words can have multiple meanings and most of them simply do not have translation in another language. Thus, you cannot always have a one-to-one substitution when you do basic translation.
The kind of text the document has and the nature of the source and the target languages contribute to the difficulty in creating translation. It is also dependent on the knowledge of the required specific vocabulary. Although it is quite easy to do literal translation where you only substitute one word for another, the resulting text might not be precise and could actually be wrong. Grasping the ideas and concepts behind the text is one of the most difficult things to do in translation. In order to understand a language fully, a person must understand the culture where the language originated.
From a professional translator’s perspective, translation is not just about the words. It is more about what is involved in the words. This is the reason why knowledge of the subject matter is translation’s very essence. Translators train for several years to develop subject matter expertise needed in translation work, which means learning various complex concepts in art, music, business, finance, law, technology or science. The effort to learn these is essentially relevant to the execution of the task of being a translator.
It is to precisely convey the concepts across the barriers posed by languages. But language is not about words, as the words used in a language are only the symbols used to illustrate meanings, idea, concept or underlying message. Thus, translators do not translate words or languages but rather the ideas that should be understood by another culture.
The most common and innocent question that translators encounter is about the number of languages they speak. While there are translators that can speak more than two languages, they should not necessarily be multilingual. Many multilinguals cannot be translators. They pursue learning other languages because they love languages; because the nuances of the text in its original language is very sublime or subtle, which cannot be translated; and because they want to read various works in different languages. A translator on the other hand has the desire to have other people understand words written in another language.
It would be catastrophic if a translator only comprehended the language but not the ideas. This brings me to stress a very good point. Those aspiring to be translators should not only focus on the language but on content as well. Learn about the world and different cultures. As language is tied to culture, knowing the culture will help make you understand the language better.
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