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Dr. Graciela D´ Adamo Ph.D.
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Translations and Interpreting Services
  What is Translation?
Translation is the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language (the "source text") and the production, in another language, of an equivalent text (the "target text," or "translation") that communicates the same message.

Translation must take into account a number of constraints, including context, the rules of grammar of the two languages, their writing conventions, their idioms and the like.

Traditionally translation has been a human activity, though attempts have been made to computerize or otherwise automate the translation of natural-language texts (machine translation) or to use computers as an aid to translation (computer assisted translation).

Perhaps the most common misconception about translation is that there exists a simple "word-for-word" relation between any two languages, and that translation is therefore a straightforward and mechanical process. On the contrary, historical differences between languages often dictate differences of expression. Hence, source and target texts may differ significantly in length.

The translation process, whether it be for translation or interpreting, can be described as:

1. Decoding the meaning of the source text; and
2. Re-encoding this meaning in the target language.

To decode the meaning of a text, the translator must first identify its component "translation units", that is to say, the segments of the text to be treated as a cognitive unit. A translation unit may be a word, a phrase or even one or more sentences. Behind this seemingly simple procedure lies a complex cognitive operation. To decode the complete meaning of the source text, the translator must consciously and methodically interpret and analyze all its features. This process requires thorough knowledge of the grammar, semantics, syntax, idioms, and the like, of the source language, as well as the culture of its speakers.

The translator needs the same in-depth knowledge to re-encode the meaning in the target language. In fact, in general, translators' knowledge of the target language is more important, and needs to be deeper, than their knowledge of the source language. For this reason, most translators translate into a language of which they are native speakers.

In addition, knowledge of the subject matter under discussion is essential.

In recent years, studies in cognitive linguistics have provided valuable insights into the cognitive process of translation.

As the goal of translation is to ensure that the source text and target get communicate the same message, while taking into account the constraints placed on the translator, a successful translation can be judged by two criteria:

1. Faithfulness, also called "fidelity", which is the extent to which the translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without adding to it or subtracting from it, and without intensifying or weakening any part of the meaning; and

2. Transparency, which is the extent to which the translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to the language's grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions.

A translation meeting the first criterion is said to be a "faithful translation"; a translation meeting the second criterion is said to be an "idiomatic translation". The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The criteria used to judge the faithfulness of a translation vary according to the subject, the precision of the original contents, the type, function and use of the text, its literary qualities, its social or historical context, and so forth.

The criteria for judging the transparency of a translation would appear more straightforward: an unidiomatic translation "sounds wrong", and in the extreme case of word for word generated by many machine translation systems, often results in patent nonsense with only a humorous value.

The concepts of fidelity and transparency are looked at differently in some recent translation theories. In some quarters, the idea that acceptable translations can be as creative and original as their source text is gaining momentum.




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