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Western theory of translation

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John_Dryden_portraitDiscussions about the theory and practice of translation attain back into antiquity and show outstanding continuities. The ancient Greeks distinguished in between metaphrase (literal translation) and paraphrase. This point of view was continued by English poet and translator John Dryden (1631-1700), who described translation as the judicious blending of those two modes of phrasing when choosing, within the target language, “counterparts,” or equivalents, for the expressions utilized within the supply language:

When [words] seem . . . actually graceful, it had been an injury towards the author that they ought to be changed. But because… what’s stunning in a [language] is frequently barbarous, nay occasionally nonsense, in an additional, it could be unreasonable to limit a translator towards the narrow compass of his author’s words: ’tis sufficient if he select out some expression which doesn’t vitiate the sense.

Dryden cautioned, nevertheless, against the license of “imitation”, i.e., of adapted translation: “When a painter copies from the life… he has no privilege to alter features and lineaments…”

This common formulation from the central idea of translation – equivalence – is as sufficient as any which has been proposed because Cicero and Horace, who, in 1st-century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translating “word for word” (verbum pro verbo).

Regardless of occasional theoretical diversity, the actual practice of translation has hardly changed from antiquity. Except for some intense metaphrasers within the early Christian period and also the Middle Ages, and adapters in numerous periods (particularly pre-Classical Rome, and also the 18th century), translators have usually shown prudent flexibility in looking for equivalents – “literal” exactly where feasible, paraphrastic exactly where essential – for the original meaning as well as other essential “values” (e.g., style, verse type, concordance with musical accompaniment or, in films, with speech articulatory movements) as determined from context.

Generally, translators have sought to preserve the context itself by reproducing the original order of sememes, and therefore word order – when essential, reinterpreting the actual grammatical structure, for instance, by shifting from active to passive voice, or vice versa. The grammatical variations in between “fixed-word-order” languages (e.g. English, French, German) and “free-word-order” languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Polish, Russian) happen to be no impediment within this regard. The specific syntax (sentence-structure) traits of a text’s supply language are adjusted towards the syntactic specifications from the target language.

When a target language has lacked terms which are discovered inside a supply language, translators have borrowed these terms, thereby enriching the target language. Thanks to the exchange of calques and loanwords in between languages, and to their importation from other languages, you will find couple of ideas which are “untranslatable” amongst the contemporary European languages.

Usually, the higher the get in touch with and exchange which have existed in between two languages, or in between these languages along with a third one, the higher will be the ratio of metaphrase to paraphrase that might be utilized in translating amongst them. Nevertheless, because of shifts in ecological niches of words, a typical etymology is occasionally misleading as a guide to present which means in one or the other language. For instance, the English actual ought to not be confused using the cognate French “actuel (“present”, “current”), the Polish aktualny (“present”, “current,” “topical,” “timely,” “feasible”), the Swedish aktuell (“topical”, “presently of importance”) or the Russian актуальный (“urgent”, “topical”).

The translator’s function as a bridge for “carrying across” values in between cultures has been discussed during Terence, the 2nd-century-BCE Roman adapter of Greek comedies. The translator’s function is, nevertheless, by no means a passive, mechanical one, and so has also been in comparison to that of an artist. The primary ground appears to become the idea of parallel creation discovered with critics like Cicero. Dryden observed that “Translation is a type of drawing after life…” Comparison between a translator and a musician or actor remember the Samuel Johnson’s remark about Alexander Pope playing Homer on a flageolet, whilst Homer himself utilized a bassoon.

If translation is art, it’s no simple one. Within the 13th century, Roger Bacon wrote that if a translation would be to be accurate, the translator should know each languages, also the science that he’s to translate; and discovering that couple of translators did, he wanted to complete away with translation and translators altogether.


The translator from the Bible into German, Martin Luther, is considered as the first European to posit that one translates satisfactorily only toward his personal language. L.G. Kelly states that starting with Johann Gottfried Herder within the 18th century, “it has been axiomatic” that one translates only toward his personal language.

Compounding the demands around the translator will be the reality that no dictionary or thesaurus can ever be a totally sufficient guide in translating. The British historian Alexander Tytler, in his Essay on the Principles of Translation (1790), emphasized that assiduous reading is really a much more complete guide to a language than are dictionaries. Exactly the same point, but additionally such as listening towards the spoken language, had earlier, in 1783, been produced by the Polish poet and grammarian Onufry Andrzej Kopczynski.

The translator’s unique function in society is described inside a posthumous 1803 essay by “Poland’s La Fontaine”, the Roman Catholic Primate of Poland, poet, encyclopedist, author from the initial Polish novel, and translator from French and Greek, Ignacy Krasicki:


[T]ranslation . . . is in fact an art both estimable and very difficult, and therefore is not the labor and portion of common minds; [it] should be [practiced] by those who are themselves capable of being actors, when they see greater use in translating the works of others than in their own works, and hold higher than their own glory the service that they render their country.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

How to Translate – English Translation Guide in European Union
How to Translate – English Translation Guide in European Union

A guide for translators, about the translation theory, the translation process, interpreting, subtitling, internationalization and localization and computer-assisted translation. A special section is dedicated to the translator’s education and associations. The guide include, as annexes, several independent adaptations of the … Read More

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