Application of Context in Translation

Pragmatics is a new region in Linguistics, focusing on specific language in specific situation, especially the understanding and application of language in different language communication environment. Here is an example. “深圳是我家,清洁靠大家”is a slogan quite common to see in the street.

If you translate it directly into “Shenzhen is my home, its cleanness depends on all of us”. Foreigners may feel a little stange and may be confused. Actually, if we make some modification, and translate it simply into “Keep our city clean and tidy”, they may grasp your meaning and feel warm and amiable.

The choice of word determines the quality of translation. Translators need to understand the original text, and choose the best word expression according to the style and context.

For example, the word “charge”. As a verb, it has two different meanings: charge a bettery and charge fees. As a noun, it means electric current. Also, another example quite common to see is the word “next”, which has the meaning of next page, next screen, next item. Thus in translation, we need to refer to the whole context and available references, to choose the words with exact meanings.

At the same time, usually there are several words with the same meaning. That is to say, some certain meaning may match to different words and expression. Thus, in addition to distinguish the original meaning, translator need also have the skill of choose the best expression.

Anyway, both meaning distinguishing and word choosing are all closed related with context. Just as translation ideologue Newmark once said: “No word is island entire to itself”. Context involves not only language, but also social behaviors. Context provides a social situation or circumstance, which determines the exact meaning.

Some times, we cannot understand the meaning of some word, and we need to consider the sentences before and after, or even the whole paragraph, in order to grasp the real meaning. In Honkong translation field, there is a saying: words do not have definite translation. Namely a same word may have different translations in different contexts.

Here are some examples:

As for the word “light”, it may be translated different according to the specific word combination.

Light music 轻音乐

Light car 轻便的汽车

Light heart 轻松的心情

Light voice 轻柔的声音

Light manner 轻浮的举止

good Christian虔诚的教徒

good parents慈爱的父母

good chils 孝顺的儿女

good wife 贤良的妻子

good husband 尽职的丈夫

According to Wang Zongyan, meaning distinguishing is the essence of translation. Only when one can understand the exact meaning of every single word, it is possible for him/her to ensure the exactness of translation. Of course, correct understanding is the premise of correct translation. In order to achieve appropriate and nature expression, translator need to be qualified in both source language and target language. And also, learn from practice.

Read Also: Some Obstacle in Translation

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