Monday, October 13, 2008

Translation : Art plus Craft plus Science

Many newcomers to translation believe it to be an exact science, and mistakenly assume that firmly-defined one-to-one correlations exist between words and phrases in different languages, thus rendering translations fixed and identically-reproducible, much as in cryptography. They assume that all that is needed in order to translate a text is to encode and decode between languages, using a translation dictionary as the codebook.

On the contrary, such a fixed relationship would only exist, were a new language synthesized and continually synchronized with another, existing language in such a way that each word would forever carry exactly the same scope and shades of meaning, with careful attention being given to the preservation of etymological roots and lexical "ecological niches," assuming that these were known with certainty. If the new language were then ever to take on a life of its own apart from such cryptographic use, each word would naturally begin to assume new shades of meaning and cast off previous associations, thereby vitiating any such synthetic synchronization.

There has been debate as to whether translation is an art or a craft. Literary translators, such as Gregory Rabassa in If This Be the reason, argue that translation is an art, though one that it is teachable. Other translators, mostly those who work on technical, business or legal documents, regard their métier as a craft — one that can not only be taught, but that is subject to linguistic analysis and that benefits from academic study.

Most translators will agree that the situation depends on the nature of the text being translated. A simple document, e.g. a product brochure, can often be translated quickly, using techniques familiar to advanced language-students. By contrast, a newspaper editorial, a political speech, or a book on almost any subject will require not only the craft of good language skills and research technique, but a substantial knowledge of the subject matter, a cultural sensitivity, and a mastery of the art of good writing. Translation has, indeed, served as a writing school for many recognized writers.

We cannot say translation is a art only, or craft or science only. In fact translation is the combination of all the three. As far as translation is concern it is not similar to that of fine art like things but if writing any story is creation then translating it is essentially a recreation. Art and craft are complementary to each other and for translating anything a good amount of experience is also needed. The whole process of doing any translation is fully scientific so translation is science also.

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