The X-Factor in Translation

August 21st, 2009
Faithfulness to the source text was once thought to be the end-all and be-all of translation in both the western and eastern world. As the professional translation industry evolved, various translation services and agencies found out that this was not necessarily the case. Human translation usually differs from machine translation in terms of being able to get the context and meaning behind the source text, but even human translation suffers the pitfalls of excessively rigid faithfulness to the original language document. Whether translation purists accept it or not, a leeway for adaptation and accommodation must exist in order to make a translation become both faithful and catered to the target audience in terms of style, cultural understanding, socio-political climate, and so on. As such, this guide to the x-factor of a good translation—accommodation of the original text in the target language by keeping in mind the cultural differences and experiences of the target audience—will outline the many types of adaptation and the reasons why accommodation is such an essential part of a translation service or professional translation firm's work. Reasons for Adaptation Adaptation, which is considered by this article to be equivalent to accommodation, refers to making modifications and changes on the translation or target text while still retaining the "spirit" or general meaning of the source text. An accommodated text is obviously not the traditional, extremely faithful translation of yesteryear, but is instead an interpretation that's fully suited to the target audience, yet is still fundamentally expressing the intent of the original document. The reasons for accommodation largely depend on how a person interprets the concept of translation itself. Is it a process or a product? In terms of translation being a process, adaptation makes sure that the outcome of the process produces something easily understood by its reader. Even in terms of translation being a product, it possesses the same objective of being comprehended by the target audience, so adaptation remains a factor in both theories. To wit, adaptation is needed in order to fulfill translation's ultimate goal of becoming a communication medium between two cultures. Types of Accommodation In terms of methodology, there are only two types of accommodation; literal translation to the point of near transliteration (for example, the translation of Confucius's teachings that look nigh-incomprehensible to the English-speaking world because of its brevity and ambiguousness) and free translation or pragmatic accommodation, which can be compared to the localization of websites to various languages and cultures or adapting brands and products to suit the country it's being targeted at. Simply put, if you go by the old meaning of translation, you're only taking into account one of two parties (the people who produced the source text, and the people who want to understand the source text in their own language), particularly the makers of the original text and the message they want to convey. If you go by free translation and pragmatic adaptation, you get to take both parties into consideration, especially the ones who want to understand the source text. Adaptation is less about unfaithful adaptation but more about clarity of meaning despite cultural and linguistic differences.

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