Translation – precedence of functional over word meaning
The importance of human translators and a reliable agency and the drawbacks of machine translation.
Translation is the conversion of information from one language to another. It requires special skills to ensure that not just words but more importantly the meaning, intent and function of the original sentence is conveyed in the translated text.
Consider for example, the word ‘hey’ in English. Now look at it in a conversation:
We can see that the word has no meaning by itself, but it’s usage in a specific situation, and when uttered to get someone’s attention, performs a certain function of drawing attention, and asking the other to pay attention.
Now try to imagine how this would be said in a different language.
If you were to consider only the LITERAL or WORD meaning of ‘hey’ you would get many equivalents which, when applied in the same dialogue, may be out of place in the target language.
Take for example in a Hindi -speaking environment – one could say
सुन (literally – listen – functionally – give me your attention)
In Kannada one could say:
ಇಲ್ಲಿ ನೋಡು, (literally means – hey, look here – or – give me your attention.
In German one could say:
Schau mal! (literally – look here – meaning – give me your attention)
This is an example to show how the meaning is not conveyed by the semantic or lexical content of a word alone, but rather adapt the choice of words to serve the purpose that was originally intended.
The same idea applies to larger texts, more so where the nuances of languages are important to understand. The subtle shades of meaning call of ingenuity as well as familiarity with the USE of both languages, especially the target language.
Consider another language:
When a person says in English:
“I can’t wait to meet you!”
Translated LITERALLY, one could say:
Hindi : मैं तुमसे मिलने के लिए इंतजार नहीं कर सकता ! *
Kannada : ನಾನು ನಿನ್ನನ್ನು ಭೇಟಿಸಲು ಕಾಯಕ್ಕಾಗಲ್ಲ.*
German : Ich kann nicht warten, um dich zu sehen!*
This gives a completely different meaning. Idiomatic expressions need particular attention and literal translations can be catastrophic! Imagine translating with a minimum knowledge of German and telling a person that you cannot wait to see him. It would be a shock and be considered rude by the German listener, who would believe that the speaker is actually not willing to wait. The correct translation should convey that one is excited and looking forward to meeting the person.
Hindi : मैं तुमसे मिलने के लिए उत्सुक हं !
German : Ich freue mich auf unser Treffen!
Texts of increasing complexity and containing higer level of idioms and technical jargon require not only a functional command in both languages but also domain specific knowledge to understand these nuances.
This is where the importance of human translation over machine translation comes to the fore. It is not possible for machines to capture human thought and idiom or the complexity of a subject matter as expressed in language. Whatever advancement is being made in machine translation is based on large repositories, the memory of the machines to distinguish particular uses from others. Yet, machines are far from replacing humans.
Also, the selection of human translators based on their ability and expertise is important. Clients must select agencies whose job it is to identify and select suitable translators for particular jobs.
We at WordPar International place emphasis on the selection of the right translator for every given job. This is the first step towards quality control and reduction of wasteful revisions.