Purpose in Practice: what do you want to do with your translation?

What is translation purpose? Most common definitions would agree that the purpose of translation is to “convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages” (Globalization and Localization Association), but how does this reflect the relationship between translator and client in practice?

“Skopos” is a Greek word for “aim” or “purpose” that was introduced into translation theory in the 1970s by Hans Vermeer. This went on to become the technical term for translation purpose and the act of translating for that purpose. It refers to the understanding that each text is produced for a given purpose and as such should be translated in a way that enables it to function in the situation in which it is used, with the people who want to use and in the way they intend it to function. Translators create texts for clients who may be around the corner, in the same city or on the other side of the world, but these clients are not always good at communicating with translators in terms of explaining what they want or need when asking for a translation (sometimes they don’t actually know themselves!).

So in terms of translation purpose, the most important and basic question it seems is: what is it that you want to do with your translation? The second most important aspect to consider is how will a translator help you achieve your purpose?

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Book review: Found in Translation

Found in Translation: How Translation Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

A book dedicated to translators, gasp! Is this book here to publicly recognise that it is because of us the world communicates? It would seem so. Jost Zetzche, a German translator who has written a doctorate on translation in history and Nataly Kelly, a Spanish interpreter and scholar in sociolinguistics, paint a vivid canvas of just how many aspects of everyday life are profoundly affected by translation. Well researched and presented, Found in Translation reveals the extent to which the products we use and the freedoms and pleasures we enjoy are made possible by translation. Above and beyond world politics and global business, the book is divided into chapters that cover areas as diverse as space travel, legal cases, battlefields, fashion, medicine, terrorism, marketing, the European Union, Ikea, Dr Seuss, the Simpsons, Twitter, Shakespeare, cinema, sport, religion, love, porn, the airline industry, food and more. Each chapter is interspersed with highlighted text boxes that provide examples of funny diplomatic and marketing mistranslations, linguistic facts or quirky stories such as being able to access the ATM in Latin at the Vatican. Read more

Priceless words

Translating for free! Gasp!

I know that many translators out there might balk at the idea of doing a translation “for free” in what is already a highly competitive marketplace that can all too often be driven by price not true value. But even in translation some things are priceless. Much more than Mastercard. Pro-bono translation is one of these invaluable things. It struck me the other day whilst doing some work for Translators Without Borders (TWB), yes for “free” for an NGO working to fight malnutrition in Chad in Africa, that despite our globalised, virtual and connected world there are still very real physical borders experienced by people living in Africa in particular. People who are struggling to access even the most basic needs including food, let alone quality healthcare services. Most countries in the Sahel region in Africa, experience a severe rate of overall malnutrition which was around 30% at the start of the 2000s is now around 40% (Bureau d’Appui Santé et Environnement). For me, this aspect of my work, this jolt back to another’s reality, lifts my eyes above my laptop screen in my comfortable home office to the world at large. Even though people might think that translators bridge cultures all the time in their work, the reality is that often we can fall into the trap of just translating and not reflecting on the impact of our work. Read more

Risk in translation

Risk in translation

I am a translator. I translate texts from one language to another. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

But to get from one language to another, or from source text (ST) to target text (TT), requires a translator to go through a process. Firstly, this involves the translator making a number of choices about how to interpret the ST. Secondly, it requires the translator to use resources and to apply technical skills in order to thirdly, re-express the message in the TT. From this description, we can conclude therefore that translation is a decision making process. Any kind of process has inherent risk. The Business Dictionary defines inherent risk as “The probability of loss arising out of circumstances or existing in an environment, in the absence of any action to control or modify the circumstances.” In translation, we could say that risk equates to the possibility of not fulfilling the translation’s purpose as proposed by translation theorist Anthony Pym in his 2010 paper Text and risk in translation. I think that this is only a partial view of what we could consider as risk in translation.

Within the decision making process of translation, I see three sets of risks to be managed and minimised. Text, technology and trade risks.

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Translating happiness

Today, March 20, is the UN International Day of Happiness. I don’t know about you but I have always thought of happiness as a relatively abstract concept, but as an individual one.  I acknowledge that its synonyms – contentment, satisfaction, jollity (seriously we don’t use this word enough!) or enjoyment – are easily understandable. As I did some reading, however, I began to wonder about the UN definition of gross global happiness. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General stated that the world

“needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development, social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness”.

I’m all for measuring gross domestic product but gross global happiness…is this a step too far? As a translator, I’m happy when I’m translating because it makes me happy that I can gift someone with the possibility of reading a text in their own language. As Mandela so eloquently said,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

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