Challenges Facing The Translator English Language Essay

The personal pleasure derived from translation is the excitement of trying to solve a thousand small problems in the context of a large one. A translation obligates the translator to make a number of decisions so that a complete translation is produced. Such a translation must be written in a way which serves the same function as the source text and be culturally coherent between the source and target languages. In this essay I will discuss a range of decisions that the translator must make and making specific references to textual analysis, cultural mediation and some applied aspects of translation.

The translation begins with the reading of the source text which allows the translator to identify the several key components which will form the foundations of the translation. The translator must do a detailed textual analysis so that the intention, readership and setting of the source text are identified. (Newmark P, 1988) I find this to be the first challenge that faces the translator as a number of decisions must be made to clarify where the translation will be published, who the translation is going to be targeted at; and what the function of the text will be. (Alfano V, 2012)

Newmark (1988) states “The intention of the text represents the source language writer’s attitude to the subject matter.”For the translator, understanding what is meant by the author of the source text is vital as the attitude of the author will suggest the language function and setting of the target text. Bühler’s theory of language functionality can determine a text to have an expressive, vocative or informative function depending on the core topic and status of the author. The challenge for the translator is to determine one’s own status within the text in order to identify the language function. Newmark gives examples of the author’s status being anonymous; he shows that this status can be used for an informative or vocative text depending on its main function. If the main function of the text was to tell the truth, it would suggest that the text takes an informative language function, whereas a text concentrating on the readership would suggest a vocative function. (Newmark P, 1988)

During the textual analysis the translator must assess the readership; I consider this to be a particular challenge for the translator as one must “try to assess the level of education, class, age and sex of the readership” before determining it to be for an expert reader, uninformed reader or educated layman. (Newmark P, p.13) Depending on the readership the translator may need to pay more attention to the readers of the target text than that of the source text. A physical geography textbook aimed at an uneducated readership would use general vocabulary in order to aid the readership into understanding the text; “The floor of the sea is covered with rows of big mountains,” whereas for the educated layman, the translator may use topic specific vocabulary as there is an assumption that the context of the text would be enough for the reader to handle the key issues; “The floor of the ocean is covered with great mountain chains and deep trenches.” (Newmark P, p.p.13-14) The variation in style depends on the readership and setting of the target text. Newmark (1988) suggests using Martin Joos’ and Strevens’ stylistic scales when assessing the level of formality within the text.

The final aspect of the textual analysis that I consider to be challenging for the translator is determining the setting of the target text in order to fulfil the requirements of the client. The translator must decide what the target text equivalent is for the source text, and then decide the type of language that must be used to suit the publication. For example, The Guardian newspaper is aimed at an educated upper-middle class readership; this means that the language used would be educated and written in a formal style. The translator in this example does not need to pay particular attention to the readership unless there are cultural discrepancies within in the text.

This essay has referred to a number of issues that the translator faces before translating into the target language. Here, we can see that it is imperative that the translator makes the correct decisions whilst conducting a textual analysis in order to identify the key features within the text so that one can appropriately translate into the target language. Following the textual analysis there are further issues which cause concern for the translator. These issues come under the heading of cultural mediation; a translator must be aware that some expressions, professions and activities are not realised in every language, thus the translator must decide how to translate them. The translation of culture specific references poses a particular issue for the translator as some words may not be translatable, therefore the translator must employ the relevant translation method to suit the problem.

During a translation the translator must ask oneself whether the words in the source language are transferable in the target language. The translation of cultural words such as les pieds noirs and les maghrébins cannot be literally translated as they have no meaning in the target language. Cultural and descriptive equivalents can be used to solve this issue. The translator can give extra information in order to maintain a functional equivalency within the text.

Descriptive equivalent: les pieds noirs ou les maghrébins; 2nd generation immigrants originating from Algeria and North Africa.

Cultural equivalent: les pieds noirs ou les maghrébins ; French Algerians (les francais d’algerie)

Neutralisation: les pieds noirs ou les maghrébins; black Immigrant  

Newmark (1988) states that “the translator’s role is to make people understand, not to mystify by using vogue words.” thus literally translating the words may not be enough for the reader to understand what has been written in the text. le ministre de l’intérieur being translated as the minister of the interior holds no value in English whereas Home secretary or Director of homeland security is a known position to the readership in the target language. This is an example of using cultural equivalency in order to ensure that the Target text reader can understand the text.

I will now discuss some of the applied aspects of translation. There are many fields in which a translator can practice one’s profession; other than literary translation, one can work in an array of subject areas such as commerce, law and film. Even though the translator’s role is the same in every field, some challenges are presented to the translator more clearly in some practices than others.

The translation of humour may seem straight forward in one’s mind but the question must arise to the translator that some expressions and phrases that are funny in one’s own language and culture may be different in another. Vandaele’s definition of humour:

“Humour is what causes amusement, mirth, a Spontaneous smile and laughter.” (eds Gambier Y and Van Doorslaer L, 2010)

The translator must understand the catalyst which makes phrases humorous in the target language, so that one can appropriately replicate the effect of the source text. The translator must provoke feelings of positive arousal when enticing these emotive feelings from the readership; however a balance between fidelity and transparency must be maintained in the target language in order to receive the same humorous effect as one receives from the source language. (Vandaele J, 2002) How does the translator achieve this? There are a number of factors which make a phrase or expression funny. Often the topic, situation and presentation of a joke can evoke feelings of humour and could be seen as a branch of translating culture. Kopp J (2012) explains that current affairs play a big part in the context of humour and uses the example of topic based current affairs programs such as ‘Have I got news for you, (by the BBC)’ to elaborate this:

“Alan Davies: Eight hundred Americans die in a McDonald’s every year.

Rich Hall: Which one? Best to avoid that one.” (QI.wikiquote, 2013)

The above quote shows that context is important in order to find the joke humorous. Even though it is possible that the presentation of the joke can affect the recipient’s perception of the joke, those living in the west are knowledgeable that America is facing a crisis in terms of the levels of obesity within the country. Alan Davies is portrayed to be giving a fact about the number of deaths that occur within the fast-food franchise McDonalds each year. However Rick hall plays on Davies’ use of the singular proper noun, a McDonalds, giving the impression that eight hundred Americans die in one particular franchise of the fast-food chain each year. Why is this funny? Kopp J (2012) suggests that the ridicule of a nation or group of people can evoke a humorous outcome; here, the emphasis on the death of Americans suggests a cultural elitism amongst those who are not of an American nationality, thus creating a humorous situation. She also states that the knowledge shared by the recipient is important as one that does not know of the situation on America’s obesity crisis or does not have knowledge of the McDonalds fast-food chain cannot readily understand the joke. The translator must understand that some communities may not recognize this because they do not have knowledge of the subject. Therefore the translator may add information to the translation in order to achieve the same humorous effect.

[FR] Alan Davies : il y a 800 américains qui meurent dans un McDo chaque année.

[FR] Rick Hall : Ça c’est Vrai ? On ne devrait pas aller du même McDo alors !

Here we can see that all of the key elements from the source language remain in the translation as the audience of the target language are culturally aware of the situation created by Davies and Hall during their sketch. However the use of meme by Hall clarifies his point of not wishing to go to a restaurant in which 800 people have died.

The next challenge I will refer to is the issue of legal translation. I find this to be an issue for the translator as one must show transparency in one’s translation. The fidelity to the source text is no longer sacred as one must be even more conscious of the technicality of the subject matter. The translator must be faithful to the law and communicate it effectively, rather than concentrating on the translation of idiomatic expressions in the source text, the translation must remain transparent enough so that the message of the law remains clear whilst maintaining a functional equivalence to the source text.

The requirement for legal translation is increasing due to an increased access for people and businesses to travel freely. This means that the law in every country needs to be translated so that there is access for people to read on the law of the country they plan to visit or work. This only becomes an issues for translators when legal conventions and government institutions do not have a cultural equivalent in the target language or that the running of the institution is governed in a different way to that of the same institution in the source language. (Riberi, 2012) thus the greatest obstacle in legal translation is the incongruity of legal systems between countries. (Å arcevic S, 2000) This poses a problem when translating legal texts as there are a number of functions which a legal text can perform. However I find that the problematical legal text takes a prescriptive function; it is used to inform the reader about actions and sanctions that will occur if one does not conform to a specific ruling. However, how does one translate a course of action that does not exist in the target language? Continental law does not prescribe the death penalty, yet a French holiday maker traveling to a country, such as Thailand, which does prescribe the death penalty could unknowingly be put under this sanction without knowledge of it unless the translator appropriately translates the term. Thus the translation of prescriptive legal texts is a challenging practice for a translator.

Throughout this essay I discussed a number challenges that face the translator. Even though this essay has not explored all of the issues that face the translator, it gives a broad perspective on the decisions that the translator must make during one’s practice and that the translator can sometimes be accountable for the reader not receiving the same effect from the target text than that of the source text. I have answered the question to what I consider to be the biggest challenges facing translator and I think the work to be done during the textual analysis is the hardest challenge that translator faces during one’s work. The decisions which the translator makes during this time will affect the quality of the final translation. Thus making the correct decisions in the textual analysis is vital to a complete translation.

A key theme shown within the essay is cultural mediation. The translator must assume what the readership knows and what the readership is culturally able to understand. When one is translating the text, the translator must make decisions to change the ideas in the text to suit the readership in order to evoke the same effect given when reading the source text. This concept is clear in the translation of humour as some cultures are not able to readily understand western humour, and therefore must be given an alternative discourse to the source text in order to maintain a functional equivalent; which is to evoke laughter from the readership. (Vandaele J, 2002)

My final point on challenges for the translator is legal translation and this essay concludes on the difficulties that the translator faces when trying to maintain function equivalents between texts whilst coping with incongruent legal systems and maintain the fine between fidelity and transparency in the target language. The translator must make decisions when facing sanctions which are not realised in other countries and find ways to inform the readership of this whilst holding one’s fidelity to the “effectiveness of the plurilingual communication of the law.” (Riberi J, 2012)

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