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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Translation maxims

Here is a set of translation maxims I developed a number of years ago. I thought it would be interesting to post the list here. It still appears at its original URL which is linked to the title for this blog entry. Feel free to comment on any of these maxims.

by Wayne Leman

1. Any concept can be expressed in any language, using the natural linguistic resources of that language. The translation of a concept will often have a different number of words from what it had in the original text, because all languages differ in their vocabulary (lexicon) and how their words relate to each other (syntax).

2. A translation should not sound like a translation. It should sound like any other good, natural speech or writing in that language.

3. Accuracy is measured by the degree to which users of a translation get the same meaning from it which the original text had. Accuracy can be determined by field testing the translation among a wide range of speakers of the target language.

4. Word-for-word translation does not necessarily increase [communicative] accuracy. In fact, it often reduces [communicative] accuracy.

5. Thought-for-thought translation does not increase [communicative] accuracy, if the translator inserts ideas of his/her own which are not in the meaning of the original text.

6. Meaning is found more than just in words. It is the total expression of an utterance, including meaning which is found in the words, but also in the syntax of how the words are connected to each other, how the resultant phrases are connected to each other, and how sentences, paragraphs, episodes, and discourse segments relate to each other. Meaning is also often not explicitly expressed in one language, because there are cultural clues making it unnecessary to do so. But that implicit meaning is just as much a part of the meaning of an utterance as are the explicit words and syntax. Meaning is also found not just in the denotations of words, but also in their connotations. A good translation will reflect, to the best degree possible, the connotations, rhetorical impact, and emotive style of the original text. Total accuracy requires preserving all of these aspects of the original meaning, lexical meaning, syntactic and discourse meaning, implicit meaning (that which is necessary for accurately understanding an utterance), connotations, rhetorical impact, and other aspects of good style.

7. The best translations are made by individuals who are native speakers of the target language. The best native speaker translators are those who are very sensitive to proper grammar and word combinations in their own language. These translators will likely be recognized by others in their language community as being good speakers, perhaps even eloquent.


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