About Translation

In a broader sense, translation is a process of changing something into one form to another. This term, however, is used more popularly in linguistic sense. Here, the word ‘translation’ may refer to (1) the process of changing written or spoken text from one language into another and (2) the result of the process itself. As a process, translation has been practiced—perhaps—since various languages were first known to man in history. People need to communicate, even amongst those with different languages and cultures, and translation is important to bridge the understanding between them.

As studies of translation have developed during the last four decades, many theorists have defined translation in various ways, using various approaches. I myself see translation as a cultural-shifting of linguistic units. The question arises: why is cultural approach important in translation? The answer to this question is, I believe, as Bassnett has put it:

“Language, then, is the heart within the body of culture, and it is the interaction between the two that results in the continuation of life-energy. In the same way that the surgeon, operating on the heart, cannot neglect the body that surrounds it, so the translator treats the text in isolation from the culture at his peril.” (2002:23).

Thus, the relationship between language and culture is so important that a translator should not ignore the cultural aspects of the text to be translated. Unfortunately, many people claiming themselves translators sometimes do not have such cultural awareness. It is true that translation does not requires any special school. However, this skill can only be acquired thorough extensive training and good competence in both the source and target languages. And, cultural awareness is one of the most important competence that a good translator should have.

Translation skill is more than the ability to speak two (or more) languages

Translation skill is more, way more, than merely knowing two or more languages. In fact, what is so-called translation competence is a combination of many skills, including:

(1)  The mastery of the source language, but also the target language

There are many cases in Indonesian where a graduate of foreign language school are confident enough to translate from the foreign language they learn into Indonesian. They feel competent enough to be a translator, simply because they master the source language. True, it takes a great deal of knowledge about the source language to understand the source text. However, it also takes a greater deal of knowledge about the target language to know how to deliver them correctly, properly, and culturally-acceptably. The fact that many Indonesians are ignorant to learn Indonesian language correctly just because they use it on a daily basis worsens this condition.

(2)  Writing and paraphrasing skill

Unlike interpreting, written translation produces a piece of writing that should have a standard quality of a writing. This standard can only be achieved if the translator knows how to write. Yes, translators must know how to write, and furthermore, how to paraphrase. They must organizes the writing so that it contains the same message as the source text but still makes the readers feel as if it is written originally in the target language.

(3)  Editing and proofreading skill

A translator is not only a translator, but also an editor and a proofreader of, at least, their own translation. Thus, a translator should be trained to catch any errors, be it grammatical, typological, and logical, and to fix them.

Translation is never about the meaning of the words, but about the meaningful message behind the words

In translation studies, there is this old debate whether or not translation should be foreignized (translated literally to approach the meaning of the source text to the maximum extend) or domesticated (rewriting the message of the source text into the target language. However, I think almost every translation practitioner nowadays would agree that the latter approach will be better in most contexts. The reason is simple: because the translation is assumed to be read by those who speaks in the target reader. You translate an article from English to Indonesian to be read by those speaking Indonesian. So, why make your Indonesian readers frown in discomfort with your Indonesian text?

Bearing this in mind, translation is not about changing the meaning of the words, but to introduce the message behind them. The easiest example is, you do not translate greetings, swearing, puns, and idioms words by words. You don’t do it not only because it will sound odds in the target text, but also because it simply can’t be done.

Translation is a rewriting

There is this theory stating that translation is a new, independent work of the translator. I don’t want to talk about the legal matter, and I don’t have the competence to do so. However, it seems true that translation should be seen as independent, because translation is itself a work. Translation, especially the good one, is a work of rewriting in which the translator rewrite and paraphrase the message they grasp from the source text in the source language into the target language. It is simply impossible to translate without rewrite the structural order of the equivalent words in target sentence, as it is necessary in order to follow the grammatical prescriptions of the target language.