The fourth ancient purpose is to translate the world’s great books, the universal works in which the human spirit is enshrined and lives: poetry, ogy, sociology and politics, of individual and social behavior. These are the works which, in principle, should be retranslated for each generation, where the universal outweighs the cultural. Yet here the translator has to resist the temptation to be too explicit, to reduce the metaphor, the symbol, the connotation, to sense; the translation, like the original, is written to delight as well as to instruct.
The fifth purpose is as a general aid or as a skill required in the acquisition of a foreign language.
Needless to say, these five purposes, which may be crudely summarized as the political, the technological, the cultural, the artistic and the pedagogical, may overlap, and indeed converge in the translation of this or that text.
Further, it would seem peculiarly pointless to rank them in any order; the technological, sometimes the political, may be more urgent, the artistic the more enduring, at one time or another, all may be equally important.
A profession may be defined as a calling requiring specialized knowledge and long and intensive academic preparation; originally it was restricted to divinity, law and medicine. In Romance languages th term usually means an occupation from which one gains one’s livelihood.
In the twentieth century at least, many occupations have changed their names in keeping with their aspirations to a higher status, often notoriously comically, leading to translation problems, as in any upwardly mobile world which has left dubious cultural deposits in various languages.
In world terms, the translator’s occupation has been transformed since the foundation of FIT (International Federation of Translators) in 1953, the promulgation of the Translator’s Charter af Dubrovnik in 1963, and the Unesco Recommendations of 1976 in Nairobi.
In brief, this reflects the changing position of the translator from an amateur to a professional status, from private or local to national; from an invisible an anonymous position to a visible and responsible presence; from a person untrained or semi-trained at an institute to one educated at a university.
It is stated, in the words of the translator’s charter, that in spite of the various circumstances under which it is practiced, translation must now be recognized as a distinct and autonomous profession.
Note that interpretation which is often conflated with translation in this country, unfortunately and misguidedly in the new institute of translation and interpretation, is a separate profession, although the criss-cross of oral translation of written texts and the compromise of consecutive interpretation also have to be practiced. Professionalism can be defined in various ways, and I propose now merely to make my own definition of the various attributes of a professional translator.
First a translator must be a member of an autonomous and nationally accepted professional body consisting only of translators – not language teachers, interpreters or Sprachmittler, i.e. people working partly in translation or other language activities. Remuneration and conditions of work must be in accordance with the requirements of the professional body and the translator must not be asked to meet unreasonable deadlines.
Secondly, the translator is as responsible for any text he or she translates – as its author. The translator has the duty of being ‘faithful’ to the original text only in as far as it does not conflict with the material and the moral facts as known. If a defective text is likely to mislead the readership (not otherwise) the translator has to correct it or express dissent, within or outside the translation as appropriate.
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Unless a waiver is plainly issued, the translator is answerable for the translation, to the extent even of appending a ‘not found ’ footnote against a neologism that has to be interpreted. The translator does not have to be expert in the topic of the text, but the text must be understood and translated in the appropriate, peculiar, ordinary or technical language.
I am suggesting the translator has a potential responsibility for ‘intervening’ if there are the following types of defect in the original:
1. Slips, misprints, miscopying (say anatomie for autonomie) because the typist misread or misheard (Any text.)
2. Errors of scientific or material fact.
3. Bad writing, i.e. illogical structure, poor syntax, ambiguity, redundancy
4. Statements infringing accepted human rights.
The manner of the intervention may involve consultation with author, editor, or client and my in practice include corrections, rewriting, deletions and comments outside or within the text (translator’s square brackets, footnotes or preface, depending on whether the text is authoritative literary or occasional and anonymous).
The translator should refuse to translate a text only if the conditions implied above are not met, or simply if she or he does not feel competent to translate it.
Thirdly, the translator has to be a graduate and to take an appropriate part-time or full-time vocational course at a university-type institution. In my opinion the course curriculum should consist of 60% translation practice according to requirements (in the UK two-thirds technological, one-third institutional) including course in précis, summary, gist, functional translation (answering specific questions on source language (SL) text) and ad hoc or sight translation (written to oral); 10% technical backgrounds, with emphasis on the explanation of concepts; 10% SL and target language cultural backgrounds with emphasis on human geography and institutional terms.
Further, there should be courses in techniques of machine translation, including practice in the work translators will have to do (the course should be free from jargon, sales-talk and one-upmanship about the latest models), and translation criticism of a variety of texts, which is also an invaluable exercise in revision, and which should include a few literary and philosophical texts.
Lastly there should be a course in principles and methods of translation; as a subject-title, I abandon Translation Theory since it gives the impression that theory is one thing and practice is another thing.
The syllabus should include: 1, a theory of the process of translating, a functional theory of language, a broad eclectic theory of translation, and a frame of reference setting out translation problems at all ranks from misprints and punctuation through metaphors, proper names, neologisms, cultural words, eponyms like “Thatcherism”, acronyms, familiar alternatives, symbols, and grammatical groups and clauses, titles, paragraphs and the general problems of the text, the final court of appeal; 2, the varieties of contextual factors headed by the readership, and the setting: 3, the multiple translation procedures, a different list for each type of problem.
But this syllabus should be seen as a tactful setting for the discussions of options and difficulties, in the form of solution –proposals supported by arguments, and references to similar examples. This is the key and core course in the curriculum, the academic discipline that co-ordinates the other subjects. Being essentially a generalization of translation problems, its purpose is to be useful to the translator.
Lastly, translators must have a period of three to five years work experience before they to become professionals. The body of professionals are staff translators, including revisers, working in international organisations, multinationals, private companies and translation companies, as well as teachers of translation and of principles of translation in colleges and universities, who should all be parttime translators.
Freelance translators are often specialists in a few technologies; literary translators usually work on contract, and write themselves; in the Soviet Union nearly all poets are translators.
There is a need for a new position of translation consultant, who should have considerable experience as a translator or translation teacher as well as of publications and research. Research in translation is lamentably scarce in this country.
A translation consultant should advice governments and ministries, public organizations and companies on their translation requirements and output and within his or her competence, should give an expert opinion on the interpretation of translated documents and aspects of language planning.
The translator’s code of conduct is laid down in the Dubrovnik Translator’s Charter, in particular as regards confidentiality and open negotiation of fees depending on the specialized nature of the text and with reference to deadlines which even now are continuously miscalculated or ignored by clients in many countries who think all problems are solved by bilingual dictionaries.
Given a world where everyone wants to learn English, it is not surprising that attitudes to translation are more backward in the USA and the UK than elsewhere, but also in France. Certainly there is improvement. There is an apparently more receptive attitude to translation in British industry. Since the EC, translations abound in every supermarket in the country. Sometimes, when one sees the street notices in Cardiff or even Dublin, they repond to national pride rather than to realities.
The specific skills of the translator include first, sensitivity to language, secondly, the ability to write neatly, plainly, nicely, in a variety of registers in the target language as well as having a good knowledge of its cultural background; thirdly, the ability to research often temporarily the topic of the texts being translated, and to master on specialism; lastly, a good reading knowledge of two or more foreign languages with their cultural backgrounds.
Despite above, the more technical the text, the less important the knowledge of the foreign language; instead, the linguistic skill in the home language will be the most important.
The translator also has to have certain general abilities: 1, common sense, or the ability to detect and expose nonsense; 2, discrimination in weighing one option against another; 3, speed in working against a deadline; 4, the ability to think of several things at the same time; 4, attention to details – figures, SI units, spellings, omissions, proper names, though this isn’t so important if, as it should be, all work is revised; 6, lateral and vertical thinking (the ability to let one’s mind play around a problem)