A Sentence from Translator's Life (Customer Memo)

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Technology  »  A Sentence from Translator's Life (Customer Memo)

A Sentence from Translator's Life (Customer Memo)

By Mykhailo Voloshko | Published  09/19/2009 | Technology | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://arm.proz.com/doc/2638
Apart from respectable and greedy customers, there are those who err through their own ignorance and don't really mean to be hard on honest translators.

First, let me describe each type of customers:
1. Respectable customers know how much can be done by a good translator per day and how much should be paid for the job.
2. Greedy customers know how much can be done by a good translator per day and how much should be paid for the job, but look for those who'll do the job much cheaper.
3. Ignorant customers act in the same way, but unlike greedy customers, they do it unintentionally. They just don't know the specificity of translator's work.

In this article you'll learn what translation is like and will hopefully manage to overcome some translation-related stereotypes.

What does it take to translate just one sentence?
Some people believe that translation is nothing more than substitution of words from one language in the text with the words of another language. Any translator will say that's not true. For those customers who usually have little to do with linguistics, I'll try to dispel this myth in terms of mathematics.

Let's assume the sentence is an equation, in which every word is a variable. So, a sentence of 10 words will look like this:

a + b + c + d + e + f + g + h + i + j = ?

Provided each word can have from 1 to 50 main meanings, the value range of each variable is from 1 to 50. In each case, the variable value depends on many other factors (we call it context) and can be found in enormous look-up charts (we call them dictionaries) or can just be kept in mind. Of course, translators know the main meanings of many words, but none of us knows as much as all the necessary dictionaries do.

Thus, we've proved that translation is not mere substitution of words from one language in the text with the words of another language.

But the above equation cannot be deemed solved even if you know the exact value of each variable in it. Translation is not an exact science: translator omits, adds, and changes words to make a grammatically correct target sentence.

Furthermore, in many cases the whole sentence structure must be changed. But a well-structured sentence is still not enough.

Isn't it enough to get a grammatically correct sentence?
No, it isn't. And here's why.

In addition to correctness, the sentence must sound good and read well. To achieve it, the translator must perform three more operations.

The first task is to check for the presence of paronyms within the sentence and the paragraph. If detected, the paronyms should be changed with appropriate synonyms, and in many cases it involves significant modifications of the sentence structure.

The second task is to check for the presence of unnecessary rhymes within the sentence, unless one translates a poem where the rhymes are needed. The detected unnecessary rhyming words should also be changed with appropriate synonyms, which involves significant modifications of the sentence structure in many cases as well.

The third task is to check whether or not the previous operations resulted in awkward collocations of words in the sentence. By awkward collocations I mean collocations, though in other respects correct, producing undesired effect due to the possible meanings of words involved. It's something like a pun, but the one, which can play a nasty trick on you if it appears in the wrong place.

That's it! The sentence is done, unless some further changes in the text entail new alteration of the sentence.
So, now you are ready to prove to your customer that translation is not that easy. :)

You can also read this article in Russian.

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