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Approaches to Evaluating the Quality of a Translation (1)

Evaluating the quality of a translation presupposes a theory of translation. Thus different views of translation lead to different concepts of translational quality, and hence different ways of assessing it. In trying to make statements about the quality of a translation, one thus addresses the heart of any theory of translation, i.e., the crucial question of the nature of translation, or more specifically, the nature of (1) the relationship between a source text and its translation, (2) the relationship between (features of) the text’s ) arid how they are perceived by human agents (author, translator, recipient (s) ), and (3) the consequences views about these relationships have for determining the borders between a translation and other textual operations. In the following discussion of different approaches to assessing the quality of a translation the relative stance these approaches take these three important questions will be highlighted. 1. Anecdotal, Biographical and Neo-hermeneutic Approaches to Judging Translation Quality Anecdotal reflections on the merits and weaknesses of translation have been offered by generations of professional translators, poets and writers, philologists and philosophers. In these essays on translation, the status and relative weight of criteria such as the “faithfulness to the original”, “retention of the original’s special flavour”, “preservation of the spirit of the source language” as opposed to concentrating on “a natural flow of the translated text” and the “pleasure and delight of the reader of the translation” have been discussed at great length. A common trend in the anecdotal treatment of translation quality assessment is to first deny the legitimacy of any effort of trying to derive more general rules or principles for translation quality and secondly to list and discuss a series of concrete and random examples of translation problems and their unexplained or inexplicable optimal solutions. A classic example of the bewildering profusion of both vague and mutually exclusive guidelines that a translator should heed when he sets out to produce the “best translation” of a given text is listed in Savory: “1. A translation must give the words of the original. 2.       A translation must give the ideas of the original. 3.       A translation should read like an original work. 4.       A translation should read like a translation. 5.       A translation should reflect the style of the original. 6.       A translation should possess the style of the translator. 7.       A translation should read as a contemporary of the original. 8.       A translation should read as a contemporary of the translator…etc”. Most of the anecdotal approaches to the evaluation of translations emphasize the belief that the quality of a translation depends largely on the translator’s subjective interpretation and transfer decisions, which are based on his linguistic and cultural intuitive knowledge and experience. With respect to our three basic questions (relationship between original and translation, relationship between (feature of) the texts and human agents, and delimitation of translation from other text-processing operations), we can state that the subjective, and neo-hermeneutic approach to translation evaluation can only shed light on what happens between the translator and (feature of) the original text. With regard to the other aspects, it is unenlightening, as it represents a narrow and selective view of translation one sidedly emphasizing one aspect of translation: the process of comprehension and interpretation on the part of the translator. In concentrating on the individual translator’s process of comprehension, the original text, the translation process proper, the relation between original and translation, the expectations of the target readers are not given the attention they deserve, and problem of distinguishing between a translation and various types of versions and adaptations is not even recognized. The aversion of propagators of this approach against any kind of objectivization, systematization and rule-hypothesizing in translation procedures leads to a distorted view of translation and a reduction of translation evaluation research to examining each individual translation act as an individual creative endeavour. (to be continued)

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