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Strategies for Language Translation | Dissertation


The present dissertation is largely based on research in the field of translation. Translation is an influential valid feature of our society, and it symbolizes one of the most important aspects in shaping the upcoming course of the planet. . The translator’s tasks are complex and refer to his/her abilities of dealing with every aspect of the process of translation. The power of translator lies in his/her responsibility for his/her end product.

I chose this topic because I believe translation is part of everyone’s life and it has profound implications in our society. The translation is defined and influenced by the type of source text, the target reader’s understanding, the context, the translator’s skills and the linguistic and cultural differences between the source language and the target language.

My approach is two-fold: a theoretical perspective – A. Theoretical considerations – and a practical one – B. Application. The first part explains what the translator’ tasks imply and what factors influence the translational competence, analyzes the characteristics of these skills, offering guidelines and methods of approach for a better understanding. The second part deals with the problems I encountered while translating a part of Ultima noapte de dragoste, întâia noapte de război by Camil Petrescu.

In the first chapter, “Who are translators”, I shall try to define the translator’s profession, what important tools influence the activity of translation as well as what skills a translator should possess in order to be a competent translator. The first subchapter, “Skills of reading and writing” regards the translator’s tasks of decoding and encoding a text to offer the correct meaning in his/her translation. The next sub-chapters, “Subject area and Contrastive knowledge” and “Source language and Target language knowledge” describe why a translator should be specialized in various fields and the differences between the two languages regarding the language systems and cultures.

In the second chapter, “Factors that influence the translational competence”, I shall begin by theorizing translational competence, which refers to all those factors that lead to perfection in translation. The first subchapter, “Psychological factors”, underlines the effect of psychology on the process of translation. “Knowledge of translation theory”, the next subchapter, describes the norms of the field of translation, which help the translator to render the overall meaning of the source text and to have the same effect on the readership. The third subchapter, “The quality of translation. Efficiency of text analysis”, analyzes what a translator should avoid in order to ensure a correct translation and to establish the necessary level of quality. “Culture” and “Experience”, the next subchapters refer to how the knowledge of the source and target culture as well as the experience in the field help the translator to make the right decisions in translation.

The second part of the dissertation contains five chapters, which rely on the translation The last night of love, the first night of war. The first chapter, “The process of translation” presents the steps taken in the process of translation. “Source text and Target text analysis” deals with analyzing the extratextual and intratextual factors for each of the two languages. The last chapters “Identification of translation problems” and “Comments on translation” regard what translation problems were found during the translation process and I will discuss as well the translation difficulties and the way they were solved. The last chapter contains the translation of the first part of the novel by Camil Petrescu.

Being a proficient translator may be a quality that comes by nature or by continuous practice. I strongly believe that although theory helps, it is practice that actually leads to perfection in translation.

A. Theoretical considerations

1. Who are translators?

Translation is one of the various means of communication existing and, from this point of view, it is very important because it establishes a connection between at least two languages, two cultures, two nations; at verbal level it helps transferring their characteristic elements from one into the other as well as understanding them. Not giving it importance equates with a total isolation from the rest of the world.

A translation involves three parties, of which the third one, represented by the translator, is the most important. His responsibility is enormous because the burden of transferring the message presses over his shoulders. Knowing a foreign language and the subject is not as important as being sensitive to language and being competent to speak his own language clearly and resourcefully. For a good speaker avoids not only errors of usage but also mistakes of fact and language simply by applying his good sense.

A translator has also to have flair and a so-called “sixth sense”, which is compounded of intelligence, sensibility, intuition and knowledge. S/he perhaps more than any other practitioner of a profession, is continually faced with choices and has to be very careful and extremely fast in making them.

If I were to draw a line between translation and the translator and to state which one’s importance is greater, I would say that a translation cannot be achieved without the appropriate person to do it, i.e. the translator. The same applies to the translator, who fades away without the core of his profession. They depend on each other and are vital for the welfare of this world.

An element of great importance for a translator is the professional pride, a consideration higher than money, because s/he can fell her/his work is appreciated. I believe this is the case not only for in-house people, but also for freelancers. Even a high salary would not motivate as much a translator as the pride in the work. The professional integrity comes with the idea of being reliable, involving in the profession and respecting the ethics.

Reliability means doing the job as to meet the user’s needs. The translator is in a position of translating the texts that the user needs, in the style the client wants them to be translated, and by a deadline requested by the user. The attempt to become a reliable translator may sometimes bring about assignments that are impossible to achieve for many reasons: the texts are morally inappropriate, the necessary work is consumptive or the experience is not enough to deal with such a text.

The translator involves in his profession in many ways. If s/he participates to courses and conferences in the field, this will consolidate the professional self-esteem that will definitely encourage and motivate them to accept different challenges:

Reading about translation, talking about translation with other translators, discussing problems and solutions related to linguistic transfer, user demands, nonpayment, and the like, taking classes on translation, attending translator conferences, keeping up with technological developments in the field, buying and learning to use new software and hardware − all this gives us the strong sense that we are not isolated underpaid flunkies but professionals surrounded by other professionals who share our concerns. Involvement in the translation profession may even give us the intellectual tools and professional courage to stand up to unreasonable demands, to educate clients and employers rather that submit meekly and seethe inwardly.

Being a translator does not mean only being involved in a work that s/he loves but also earning a living. Professional translators know the quality of their work and they will charge their clients according to this criterion. Of course, the amount of money is proportional with the volume of their assignments and the speed they work with. Probably translators are expected to translate fast; usually in-house translators translate fast, but the work in an agency is different from that of a freelancer. Freelancers have a different rhythm of their work and, if they do translations faster, this will bring more money for them. Of course, if one translates for pleasure and amusement, there is no need for being fast. They savor every step in the process and tend to deal with one paragraph for hours.

Many factors influence the translation speed. One of them is typing speed. It helps the translator to write rapidly his/her ideas on the computer. Another factor of importance is the degree of text difficulty. A difficult text will slow down the process of translation and will take much more time do it. The continuous practice and experience makes the translator to process easily the difficult words and structures. The same situation is for how the familiar the text will be for the translator. Other factors that interfere in the process of translation are the personal style and the general mental state of the translator.

The use of translation memory software is very helpful for a translator and increases the translation speed. Besides these advantages, many things should be taken into account: if the volume of translation is reduced, this will not warrant the cost of the software. Usually, in-house translators use this software. Large corporations usually need a great volume of translations and address to them and not to freelancers. This software is helpful only with texts in digital form; it is not helpful in the case of literal translation. However, freelancers who work for different agencies and who have a high-volume of assignments say that the use of translation memory software is very helpful though it is not very creative.

1.1. Skills of reading and writing

The translator’s knowledge of translation theory and the skills of reading and writing a text are definitely of paramount importance for the quality of the translation. The ethics of translation speak about the way in which a translator should understand the text that needs to be translated, how to recognize the author’s intention in order to render the appropriate message into the target language. The translator has to analyze the text linguistically, culturally, philosophically, even politically, if necessary. The first step is to get a general reading and then a closer one to establish the characteristics of that text. The translator has to know how to identify the author’s attitude to the subject matter. S/he also must pay special attention to the type of language that is used, grammatical structures, register, rhetorical function, genre, the use of modals and especially to the needs and expectations of the target audience. It is known that all these ethical rules are taught because they do not come instinctively. Usually, if they come naturally, they surely come by experience. A professional translation often arises at the subliminal level due to the fact that the translator has an analytical feeling which helps him/her finding the solutions to those problems that are somehow similar to precedent situations. The novice translators are taught analytical guidelines to help them becoming familiar with the rules and, at the same time to become proficient, without being aware of it. The wheel of experience shows how this analysis of the brain becomes a sort of second nature for the translator during the process of translation. Another reading guideline for the translator is to decide the emotional tone and the degree of formality of the source text. Determining the audience of the target text shows how the target language should be structured, deciding to whom it is addressed, to the educated, the average literate audience or others. Children are a special audience and the message is different according to the age, the degree of familiarity with the stories, the amusement that the translation provokes and many others. Eugene Nida explains how the ability of decoding a text should work:

Decoding ability in any language involves at least four principal levels: (I) the capacity of children, whose vocabulary and cultural experience are limited; (2) the double-standard of new literates, who can decode oral messages with facility but whose ability to decode written messages is limited; (3) the capacity of the average literate adult, who can handle both oral and written messages with relative ease; and (4) the unusually high capacity of specialists (doctors, theologians, philosophers, scientists, etc.), when they are decoding messages within their own area of specialization. Obviously, a translation designed for children cannot be the same as one prepared for specialists, nor can a translation for children be the same as one for a newly literate adult.

The translation has to be the same with the translator’s intention and point of view and the translator always has to keep in mind the target language readership. The translation of colloquial and intimate phrases are always problematic for the translator and they should be translated carefully. The grammatical analysis helps the translator to understand the relationships between the words and at the same time to help him/her to get the message of the author. It becomes crucial to find the correct meaning of the grammatical constructions given the fact that one construction may have many interpretations or meanings. The problem becomes acute in the case of idioms because they need a special approach when they need to be translated. Eugene Nida and Charles Taber mention the difficulties that arise when translating these expressions:

Idioms are typically constructed on quite normal grammatical patterns of phrase structure, but the meaning of the whole idiom is not simply the sum of the meanings of the parts, nor can one segment the meaning (in the many cases where it is complex) and assign a definable portion of the meaning to each grammatical piece (e.g., a morpheme). […] one must treat the entire expression as a semantic unit, even though in the surface structure of the grammar it obeys all of the rules applicable to the individual pieces.

Writing skills are as important as reading skills and refer to the ability of writing in a clear and proper form. Translators have to be familiar with different styles of writing according to each domain, as well as with those conventions regarding editing.

The skills of reading a source language text are significant qualities for a translator and help him understanding the original text and delivering a translation in an appropriate and correct style. Reading the source text is the first step in the process of translation and the better the translator understands the meaning of the author’s intention, the clearest he will render the message into the target language. The understanding of the source text represents a primary ability necessary in the process of translation, followed by a combination between other skills, which will be presented in this chapter.

1.2. Subject area and contrastive knowledge

Translators must be aware of the importance of being specialized in various subject fields, such as: medical translation, legal translation, financial translation, technical & IT translation, scientific translation, marketing and PR translation, website translation and others. The knowledge of a certain subject area helps the translator to deal with words and constructions that are specific to that domain. Many translators have the courage to say that their knowledge of translation theory allows them to accept texts that need to be translated from different fields. It is somehow premature to say that, especially by a beginner in the field of translation. Of course, an experienced translator may deal easily with this type of texts, but ideally, one should have in mind the necessary training in a particular field.

Contrastive knowledge refers to how a translator should be able to find the contrastive elements between the source and target language so as to deliver an accurate message through his/her translation. An analysis should be made at the linguistic level, namely the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic levels, and the literary one. The syntactic level deals with the analysis at the sentence, clause, phrase and word level. The semantic analysis refers to how the translator examines the relationships between the elements found through syntactic analysis. At the pragmatic level, the translator tries to identify the register features of the text which express the intention of the source language author. After these three steps of analysis, follows the stage of synthesis, a stage that starts on the contrary way, with the pragmatic level.

1.3. Source language and Target language knowledge

It is well-known the fact that a translator should possess a good knowledge of both source and target language, in other words, s/he should be a master of the two languages. They have to be fluent in the two languages in order to be able to transmit the proper message and to sound as natural as possible in the target language, using a correct style and terminology. What is also important is to know and apply all the rules concerning editing conventions of the two languages which will help the readability of the target language text.

The booklet entitled ”Bilingual Skills Certificate and Certificate in Community Interpreting” published by the Institute of Linguists gives an interesting definition on bilingualism:

Bilingual service providers are people who possess two sets of skills – language and professional skills, so that they can give the same standard of service in the context of two languages and cultures. In order to provide an equal standard of service to all clients, the people providing the service should have adequate standards of training and qualification in both sets of skills. For example, allowing people to give medical advice or gather information upon which medical decisions are made when they are not qualified and solely on the grounds that they happen to speak French or Urdu is as bad as giving good medical advice which cannot be understood.

One of the risks that translators are dealing with is that of fooling the brain into thinking that the structures used in the target language are correct merely only because they are correct in the source language. This is especially the case of translators who work in their adopted country as a result of the fact that they begin to think like a native. Keeping up with cultural change is the way in which the translator can understand a language properly and s/he can translate it successfully. For this reason it is said that the best translations are done by native speakers, residents in the country where the target language is spoken. If the translator has the possibility to travel to the source language country to work on different tasks, he will be able to date with the source language and culture and at the same time s/he will maintain the knowledge of the mother tongue at the proper level.

The translation always needs to be localized for the intended reader. This is a factor of great importance because it governs choice of language, presentation, the level of the language. The language needs to be elementary but not extremely simple.

A competent translator will always know how to adapt his ear to the target language and will use his intuition when it comes to adjust to target language rules.

2. Factors that influence the translational competence

The language and the process of thinking are not identical phenomena but they are closely linked and interrelated. If we take into account the language as a communicative process, we need to specify that what it is transmitted or communicated is a message, so it is a semantic content. The verbal expression is dependent on choosing the words and the way of phrasing. For example, the verb ‘to say’ can be expressed by other verbs with an equivalent or words with an approximate meaning: to communicate, to dispose, to inform, to report, to discuss, to talk, to enlighten, to explain, to remember, to advise, to persuade and many others. Communication becomes concrete exactly by using the perfect word, appropriate for a situation. By using the verb ‘to say’ instead of all the other verbs, we would express ourselves in a generic, graded way, and practically we would not manage to suggest a rich content. In such a situation, a translator will always have to select carefully the words to express the intention and the attitude of the source language writer.

A good knowledge of a foreign language is not sufficient for being a proficient translator. A translator needs to be a translator by his/her nature. There are many skills that I consider to be the most important, for example the knowledge of translation theory, the ability to analyze, compare and convert texts from one cultural domain into another, the experience in the field, the level of implication in the process of translation and many others. Trying to reach an absolute equivalent is impossible even if the translator detains great resources at the linguistic, stylistic and literary level. Psychological factors also affect the process of translation and speak about the level of translator’s implication when rendering the message into the target language. The translator’s way of expression comes and forms itself at the mental level and, based on a specific developed background affects the quality of the translation.

2.1. Psychological factors

Due to our way of thinking, a man can decide upon the meaning of an object, phenomena or action connected to his environment. This is possible taking into account the new information by reference to the assimilated and systematized background knowledge. This is a part of the mental process involved in the process of translation. The understanding of a translator can be guided by several intentions or points of view. For example, a complex situation, such as translation, which implies natural, economic, geographic and cultural factors, can be understood under different angles. If a translator doesn’t have the necessary knowledge s/he cannot decode the meaning of the original text. The translation has to sound as natural as possible, let alone the fact that it shouldn’t contain confusing words so as to make harder the reading and understanding of the audience: ”[…]it should studiously avoid the ‘translationese’ – formal fidelity, with resulting unfaithfulness to the content and the impact of the message.”

The impossibility of making a perfect translation should not become a frustration for the translator. Of course, there will always be persons who will translate better, but maybe in a different style. Showing empathy for a certain author will positively influence his/her work and style of writing. It is unethical for a translator not to be objective inside the translation process. Nevertheless, it is obvious that s/he will think about translation as the experience in the field tells him/her how to do it. Sometimes the experience guides a translator in choosing the words or expressions. Another psychological factor, altering the meaning of the source language text and imposing, consciously or not, a personal viewpoint on the audience is not a good decision for a translator to take. The translator must try to preserve the uniqueness of a culture, its characteristics and norms.

In translation, cultural psychology shows how a concept from a certain historic, social-economic or cultural background of a country or region can be found in another one but does not reflect the same thing as in the first one:

‘Phoenix’ is a legend in China’s miraculous animals, on behalf of ‘luck, happiness and elegance’, it is believed to ride ‘Phoenix’ a bike can bring good luck, while in Western culture, the legendary phoenix is a phoenix, a ‘regeneration’, ‘Resurrection’ and other means, so that the goods in the West is not surprising that no one is interested.

Consumer psychology has implications in the way in which the consumers’ interests are motivated. Through a good translation, the promotional character of this type of psychology can attract clients or, on the contrary, not even stimulate them at all to buy a product. For example, ‘Happy Cakesgiving!’, a collocation taken from an advertisement about a special and tasteful cake, remembers about ‘Thanksgiving Day’, a holiday usually celebrated in the United States and Canada. The construction is very interesting and is in fact an adaptation of the holiday, underlying the importance of it for so many people. It is very hard, if not almost impossible to find an equivalent into Romanian, but a translator may always find a solution to satisfy the audience, adapting somehow the term to the local culture. ‘Ziua deliciului’ may be a variant with relevance for the Romanian culture, resembling with the structure of ‘Ziua mamei’ (Mother’s Day), ‘Ziua Nationala’ (National Day), ‘Ziua Unirii’ (Unification Day) and so on.

The aesthetic psychology works in translation at the pragmatic level. The artistic words and phrases, the combination of structures that reflect the beautiful, the elegant and graceful utterances are to be translated in the same way into the target language. This is a very hard to achieve due to many reasons. One of them is the specific syntax which makes the difference between the languages. Preserving the rhyme of a Romanian text when translating it into English is very difficult. The thematic structure of a text in Romanian is very hard to render into English. If we take the example of a section from Zamolxis, by Lucian Blaga, we will find that is impossible to preserve the elements of rhythm and rhyme.

e.g. MÇŽ-mpÇŽrtÇŽÅŸesc cu câte-un strop din tot ce creÅŸte

ÅŸi se pierde.

Nimic nu mi-e strein,

ÅŸi numai marea îmi lipseÅŸte.

I share a drop of all that waxes and wanes.

Nothing is alien to me,

and the sea alone is absent.

Another reason for which it is very difficult to preserve the style of a specific text is the word order, which does not permit the translator to deal easily with the style of the original. In order to realize the message of the source language text, a translator will have to take decisions regarding what it should reproduce, either the forms or the ideas of the original. My belief is that a good translator will always be able to maintain the stylistic characteristics of a text and to construct structures that will transfer the propositional content and communicate the purpose intended by the source language writer.

2.2. Knowledge of translation theory

In order to gain recognition in the field of translation, a bilingual speaker has to respect the norms that give him the responsibility over a text.

Gideon Toury distinguishes between two groups of norms relevant for the process of translation: preliminary and operational. Preliminary norms deal with two major sets of concerns, which are usually interrelated: those regarding the existence of a definite translation strategy, and those related to the truthfulness of translation. Operational norms refer to the decisions made during the act of translation itself.

A faithful translation depends on the correct selection of the appropriate method of translation. There are many people who wrongly believe that literary translation is more important than the technical one saying that the latter contains specific terms that are easy to translate whereas the first one is far more complex. Any translation is a very complex task and requires the same knowledge and responsibility from the part of the translator. One of the roles of the translator is to assist and fulfill the target readers’ expectations. The principle that governs this idea is that a translator should not transmit only the words to the readers, but the ideas of the source language text. The translator’s task becomes very difficult to achieve if s/he does not understand properly the referential meaning of a text so as to transfer it correctly to the target language. Another important role of the translator is to produce the same impression on the target readers as the author of the source language produces on his/her own readers. Another guideline stipulated by translation theory is that a translator should correct the misrepresentations, which belong to the extralinguistic reality. S/he has to find if a text has a correct syntax, if it contains stereotype phrases, fashionable general words. If the text is not well written, s/he can interfere in the original text and perform intra- and interlingual translation so as to transmit an appropriate message. A close attention must be paid to word order, false friends, common structures which become unnatural by one-to-one translation, the use of elevated usage of words and idioms or the use of infinitives, gerunds and verb-phrase. The translator should write in his own style and should not use words and expressions that produce an artificial effect on the target text.

2.2.1 Translation methods


Another principle related to the knowledge of translation theory is the use of paraphrase as a solution to those words which do not have an equivalent in the target language, whether they are technical, scientific, literary or institutional terms. In translation theory, to paraphrase means trying to express the signification of a word by amplifying or explaining its meaning:

[…] is a technical term from linguistics and related disciplines, and is characterized by three specific features: (I) it is intralingual rather than interlingual, i.e., it is “another way of sayng the same thing” in the same language; (2) it is rigorous, in that there are no changes in the semantic components: no additions, no deletions, no skewing of relationships, only a different marking of the same relations between the same elements; (3) specifically as it relates to back-transformation, it is aimed at restatement at a particular level, that of the kernels.

This often happens in the case of poorly written texts or it is also a method used in translating the Bible. The latter case implies many debates because paraphrasing the Bible means an interpretation that tends to be subjective due to the translator’s point of view regarding religion. Eugene A. Nida points out this idea in his work “Toward a science of translation”:

The dangers of subjectivity in translating are directly proportionate to the potential emotional involvement of the translator in the message. For scientific prose such involvement is usually at a minimum, but in religious texts it may be rather great, since religion is concerned with the deepest and most universal value systems. In some instances it is a translator’s own sense of insecurity which makes it difficult for him to let the document speak for itself, and in other instances a lack of humility may prompt him to translate without consulting the opinions of those who have studied such texts more fully than himself.

So, this method includes not only advantages, for the ability to transmit the message, but also disadvantages because it alters the original meaning. By using a paraphrase, the translator can render the meaning of the source language text. Since this is a way to carry in the target text the intention of the author, the paraphrase shows how s/he can remain faithful to the original. Problems about paraphrasing arise when we try to detect its level of fidelity in the process of translation. Every translator will have his/her own way of interpreting the original text and, thus, an original method of paraphrasing. Sometimes trying to eliminate the use of a paraphrase may result in weakening the text. A special attention should be paid to the substantial sense of a translated work after using the paraphrase.

Functional Equivalence

Functional Equivalence, also called dynamic equivalence is a method in which the translator tries to reflect the intention of the author in the source language at the expense of the original grammatical structure.

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