Translation: Is It a Science or an Art?


Translation is the interpretation of the meaning of a source text and the subsequent creation of an equivalent text in other words, transmission of information into another language.

This definition seems to explain accurately the essence of the so-called science. If you’re reading this, then probably you most likely either a written or oral translator and you have to understand this classic tackle that continually faces almost every translator: you understand the context of a source text, but you are not able to find the equivalent in your own language; you are also not allowed to change the context of a text and your main aim is to find the solution and find appropriate words in your native language.

From this point of view, everything depends on the text that is in front of you. Legal document or a patent must be translated with precision surgery, while at the same time sales presentations, marketing documents, as well as artworks must sound naturally on a target language.

To give a translation natural-sounding requires a certain linguistic skills, understanding of language and its processes. Translation can hardly be called a science, but it is rather the inner music of language, a stream of phrases that are connected into the text, with a precise set of terminology.

Someone still believes that translation must be considered as an exact science. They say that the main thing is professional skills and knowledge, but not a subtle perception or sense of language. The science alleges it is a properly prepared and trained mind that can easily transform one language to another – like a computer.

Translators can be divided into two groups: those who always use logic, concentrating on the original text, and those who do it with a sense, focusing on a language. It also applies to consecutive and simultaneous interpreters. There are technical translators who possess the ability to translate a technical text and make it sounds quite naturally and translators who literary translate the text that adhere to the original context and create a huge number of pages, hardly amenable to reading and understanding (the last statement applies in particular to translation of literary texts in Chinese or Japanese languages in Europe).

The process of translation and interpretation reflects how it is complex to transmit communication messages. And especially if you are doing interpretation, being a person who wants to facilitate communication and understanding between the two other people, you might want to translate something that was not said: the “hidden” meaning of words or something that someone did not say out loud, for example, because of uncertainty. Without exaggeration I can say that you, as an interpreter, can influence the fate of nations. A good example of what you’ll find in a novel by Javier Marias “White Heart» (A Heart So White). Read it if you are interested in the literature on translation activities.


by Sergii Litvinov

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Translation: Is It a Science or an Art?

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