WS 2011/2012 exam translation E - D text 0
In a world whose inhabitants are more and more involved with one another across the frontiers of politics and language, it is obvious that translation is a daily necessity. Yet good translators being scarce, mistranslation is quite frequent. This leads on occasion to grave misunderstanding and does nothing to allay any existing friction. Even between the two branches of what we still think of as one and the same language, namely English and American, misunderstanding may occur – let alone between two entirely different languages.
What then is the first duty of the translator? He must thoroughly understand the meaning of the words in his original: not their general drift but their precise meaning. It is just the familiar words that sometimes mislead through unexpected overlappings and false similarities.
But that is only the first step. Anybody who has really tackled the business of translation knows that the bother is not finding the equivalent for this word or that; it is finding how to turn the sentence as a whole. It is almost impossible to translate a sentence without paraphrasing. It is a paraphrase when you translate wie geht es Ihnen? by how are you? or er hat Geld wie Heu by he has money to burn*. To put into the other language each word separately is no feat to aim at; the result would be nonsense. What these warning examples boil down to is this: a translator must not be afraid of departing from the word-by-word contents of his original. This is of the utmost importance whenever a rhetorical device occurs in the original, which may convey the opposite of what is actually said. When Thomas Nugent translated Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws”, he completely missed the irony in a famous passage about negro slavery: so completely that he felt called upon to add a footnote of apology for the great author who, although enlightened, still defended slavery: The apology should have been addressed to the author who was thus being misrepresented.
For centuries our shelves have been full of works in “famous” translations, which yet contain page after page of gibberish – the gibberish that comes of a too-easy literalism. But for this fault we might have been spared translations that are sadly marred by schoolboy howlers one is reluctant to lay at the door of eminent scholars. It has been said that translation is an art; if so, it is an art that one grows old and weary in acquiring.
Jacques Barzun and Henry Graff, The Modern Researcher
[The New Yorker]
*"to have money to burn": cartoon by Tom Toles, July 21, 2003
THE ART OF TRANSLATION
LANGUAGE TAKEN LITERALLY (1)
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