Many of you translators out there will be familiar with the expression traduttore, traditore, which means ‘translator, traitor’, and most of you will have stories to tell of your own personal experiences with difficult translations.
Translators – An Easy Target!
Because we’re working within the translation industry we’ve all seen poorly translated documents; translations that misrepresent the original text, translated text that’s virtually unintelligible to a native speaker, and blatant mistakes whether they be in song lyrics, subtitles, or day-to-day document translations. And of course the translator becomes the villain - the easy target when someone is looking to lay blame. Because, after all, isn’t translation simply taking words from one language and translating them into equivalent words in another language? So really, how hard can it be?
It’s Not as Simple as It Sounds
Well, let’s start with how hard translation can actually be. Translation is definitely not an easy task, and it certainly involves much more than the simple transference of words from one language into another. It requires much research, cultural knowledge, the thorough understanding of both the original and target languages, and a deep and thorough knowledge of the topic you’re translating. And that’s not all! There are still inherent problems with any language that lend themselves to mistakes and numerous incorrect interpretations. In some languages there are phrases that are so intricately connected to cultural context that it’s pretty-much impossible to find an equivalent translation of the text that also has the same meaning.
Which Way Should the Translator Proceed?
So, what should a translator do when faced with these difficult expressions? Should the translator find the closest alternative that will make sense in the target language, knowing that the translated version will slightly modify the idea; or, should they translate these expressions literally so as to not betray the text, but risking a lower quality translation? Most translators would probably agree that their task is to effectively communicate the same idea to ensure that it makes proper sense to native speakers. So the question still remains – are translators doomed to constant criticism?
Maybe there’s no clear answer to that question; however, putting criticism and accusations aside, translation can be an extremely rewarding task, and of course it’s a very essential task. In fact, the work of translators has become one of the worthiest and most important undertakings in today’s modern, multicultural world.