The True Meaning of Translation

December 24th, 2009
In the context of the translation process and end product, human translation contains many definitions and interpretations. Professional translation experts view the majority of them as meaning-based, which is in line with the age-old translation service tradition. Therefore, the human translation process is viewed as a detached and isolated practice wherein the professional translation agent has to handle textual material that contains all the information needed to make sense of the overall message. However, reevaluating the definition of translation in the modern context may be required in order to better understand its true meaning. The indispensable contribution of textual examination and genre studies root from the significance of contextualizing texts. In a manner of speaking, "meaning" isn't defined as content anymore; it's now being modified and parleyed in accordance to external factors that play an important role in the comprehension of the communicative act involving formal and social conventions, communicative purposes and private intentions, places or ceremonies, institutions, and actors or participants. Since the ninth-century Baghdad School through the eleventh-century Alfonso XII School to modern-day translation studies, experts in the translation service trade have been trying to grasp a common definition for translation. The translation process is a history-filled subject involving many layers and nuances, so pinning one specific definition on the term can be a challenging undertaking. From the literal theory to the Théorie du Sens, translation theorists have been hard at work in pinpointing the true meaning of translation from the get go. At any rate, to better understand the word "translation", let's go to the beginning and dissect its word roots. To be more precise, it's rooted in the Greek and Latin languages. The basic sense of the original word refers to metaphors and transference, but there are variations of meanings according to language as well (which is a strangely fitting coincidence for such a word). In Finnish, Japanese, and Chinese, their equivalent words for translation is defined as "to change state" or "to turn", which suggests transformation, modification, and change. In English, the connotation of translation is "to carry across one's meaning or message", while in Swedish and German, translation is referred to as "to carry away the meaning". Finally, in the original Latin, translation is considered as an act wherein "one leads his meaning across". For eastern languages, translation is all about transforming the message. For western languages, translation is all about transporting it from one language to another. Ironically, the translation for the word "translation" shares no common ground to the languages around the world, so its meaning is ultimately ambiguous depending on cultural context. The balance between source material faithfulness and pragmatic adaptation via localization will probably be debated by theorists and experts for years—perhaps centuries—to come, which gives new meaning to the term, "Lost in Translation".

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