mistranslation n : an incorrect translation
Translation is the action of interpretation of the meaning of a text, and subsequent production of an equivalent text, also called a translation, that communicates the same message in another language. The text to be translated is called the source text, and the language it is to be translated into is called the target language; the final product is sometimes called the "target text."
Translation must take into account constraints that include context, the rules of grammar of the two languages, their writing conventions, and their idioms. A common misconception is that there exists a simple word-for-word correspondence between any two languages, and that translation is a straightforward mechanical process. A word-for-word translation does not take into account context, grammar, conventions, and idioms.
Translation is fraught with the potential for "spilling over" of idioms and usages from one language into the other, since both languages repose within the single brain of the translator. Such spilling-over easily produces linguistic hybrids such as "Franglais" (French-English), "Spanglish" (Spanish-English), "Poglish" (Polish-English) and "Portuñol" (Portuguese-Spanish).
The art of translation is as old as written literature. Parts of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, among the oldest known literary works, have been found in translations into several Asiatic languages of the second millennium BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh may have been read, in their own languages, by early authors of the Bible and of the Iliad.
With the advent of computers, attempts have been made to computerize or otherwise automate the translation of natural-language texts (machine translation) or to use computers as an aid to translation (computer-assisted translation).
The termMany non-transparent-translation theories draw on concepts from German Romanticism, the most obvious influence on latter-day theories of "foreignization" being the German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his seminal lecture "On the Different Methods of Translation" (1813) he distinguished between translation methods that move "the writer toward [the reader]," i.e., transparency, and those that move the "reader toward [the author]," i.e., an extreme fidelity to the foreignness of the source text. Schleiermacher clearly favored the latter approach. His preference was motivated, however, not so much by a desire to embrace the foreign, as by a nationalist desire to oppose France's cultural domination and to promote German literature.
For the most part, current Western practices in translation are dominated by the concepts of "fidelity" and "transparency." This has not always been the case. There have been periods, especially in pre-Classical Rome and in the 18th century, when many translators stepped beyond the bounds of translation proper into the realm of adaptation.
Adapted translation retains currency in some non-Western traditions. Thus the Indian epic, the Ramayana, appears in many versions in the various Indian languages, and the stories are different in each. If one considers the words used for translating into the Indian languages, whether those be Aryan or Dravidian languages, he is struck by the freedom that is granted to the translators. This may relate to a devotion to prophetic passages that strike a deep religious chord, or to a vocation to instruct unbelievers. Similar examples are to be found in medieval Christian literature, which adjusted the text to the customs and values of the audience.
EquivalenceThe question of fidelity vs. transparency has also been formulated in terms of, respectively, "formal equivalence" and "dynamic equivalence." The latter two expressions are associated with the translator Eugene Nida and were originally coined to describe ways of translating the Bible, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation.
"Dynamic equivalence" (or "functional equivalence") conveys the essential thought expressed in a source text — if necessary, at the expense of literality, original sememe and word order, the source text's active vs. passive voice, etc.
By contrast, "formal equivalence" (sought via "literal" translation) attempts to render the text "literally," or "word for word" (the latter expression being itself a word-for-word rendering of the classical Latin "verbum pro verbo") — if necessary, at the expense of features natural to the target language.
There is, however, no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. On the contrary, they represent a spectrum of translation approaches. Each is used at various times and in various contexts by the same translator, and at various points within the same text — sometimes simultaneously. Competent translation entails the judicious blending of dynamic and formal equivalents.
Back-translationIf one text is a translation of another, a back-translation is a translation of the translated text back into the language of the original text, made without reference to the original text. In the context of machine translation, this is also called a "round-trip translation."
Comparison of a back-translation to the original text is sometimes used as a quality check on the original translation, but it is certainly far from infallible and the reliability of this technique has been disputed.
Literary translationTranslation of literary works (novels, short stories, plays, poems, etc.) is considered a literary pursuit in its own right. Notable in Canadian literature specifically as translators are figures such as Sheila Fischman, Robert Dickson and Linda Gaboriau, and the Governor General's Awards present prizes for the year's best English-to-French and French-to-English literary translations.
Other writers, among many who have made a name for themselves as literary translators, include Vasily Zhukovsky, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Stiller and Haruki Murakami.
HistoryThe first important translation in the West was that of the Septuagint, a collection of Jewish Scriptures translated into Koine Greek in Alexandria between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The dispersed Jews had forgotten their ancestral language and needed Greek versions (translations) of their Scriptures.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Latin was the lingua franca of the learned world. The 9th-century Alfred the Great, king of Wessex in England, was far ahead of his time in commissioning vernacular Anglo-Saxon translations of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. Meanwhile the Christian Church frowned on even partial adaptations of the standard Latin Bible, St. Jerome's Vulgate of ca. 384 CE.
The first large-scale efforts at translation were undertaken by the Arabs. Having conquered the Greek world, they made Arabic versions of its philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, some translations of these Arabic versions were made into Latin, chiefly at Córdoba in Spain. Such Latin translations of Greek and original Arab works of scholarship and science would help advance the development of European Scholasticism.
The broad historic trends in Western translation practice may be illustrated on the example of translation into the English language.
The first fine translations into English were made by England's first great poet, the 14th-century Geoffrey Chaucer, who adapted from the Italian of Giovanni Boccaccio in his own Knight's Tale and Troilus and Criseyde; began a translation of the French-language Roman de la Rose; and completed a translation of Boethius from the Latin. Chaucer founded an English poetic tradition on adaptations and translations from those earlier-established literary languages.
In the second half of the 17th century, the poet John Dryden sought to make Virgil speak "in words such as he would probably have written if he were living and an Englishman." Dryden, however, discerned no need to emulate the Roman poet's subtlety and concision. Similarly, Homer suffered from Alexander Pope's endeavor to reduce the Greek poet's "wild paradise" to order.
Translation of sung texts is generally much more restrictive than translation of poetry, because in the former there is little or no freedom to choose between a versified translation and a translation that dispenses with verse structure. One might modify or omit rhyme in a singing translation, but the assignment of syllables to specific notes in the original musical setting places great challenges on the translator. There is the option in prose sung texts, less so in verse, of adding or deleting a syllable here and there by subdividing or combining notes, respectively, but even with prose the process is almost like strict verse translation because of the need to stick as closely as possible to the original prosody of the sung melodic line.
Other considerations in writing a singing translation include repetition of words and phrases, the placement of rests and/or punctuation, the quality of vowels sung on high notes, and rhythmic features of the vocal line that may be more natural to the original language than to the target language. A sung translation may be considerably or completely different from the original, thus resulting in a contrafactum.
Translations of sung texts — whether of the above type meant to be sung or of a more or less literal type meant to be read — are also used as aids to audiences, singers and conductors, when a work is being sung in a language not known to them. The most familiar types are translations presented as subtitles projected during opera performances, those inserted into concert programs, and those that accompany commercial audio CDs of vocal music. In addition, professional and amateur singers often sing works in languages they do not know (or do not know well), and translations are then used to enable them to understand the meaning of the words they are singing.
History of theoryDiscussions of the theory and practice of translation reach back into antiquity and show remarkable continuities. The distinction that had been drawn by the ancient Greeks between "metaphrase" ("literal" translation) and "paraphrase" would be adopted by the English poet and translator John Dryden (1631-1700), who represented translation as the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, "counterparts," or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language:
"When [words] appear... literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since... what is beautiful in one [language] is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author's words: 'tis enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense."
Dryden cautioned, however, against the license of "imitation," i.e. of adapted translation: "When a painter copies from the life... he has no privilege to alter features and lineaments..." This general formulation of the central concept of translation — equivalence — is probably as adequate as any that has been proposed ever since Cicero and Horace, in first-century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translating "word for word" ("verbum pro verbo").
Despite occasional theoretical diversities, the actual practice of translators has hardly changed since antiquity. Except for some extreme metaphrasers in the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, and adapters in various periods (especially pre-Classical Rome, and the 18th century), translators have generally shown prudent flexibility in seeking equivalents — "literal" where possible, paraphrastic where necessary — for the original meaning and other crucial "values" (e.g., style, verse form, concordance with musical accompaniment or, in films, with speech articulatory movements) as determined from context.
In general, translators have sought to preserve the context itself by reproducing the original order of sememes, and hence word order — when necessary, reinterpreting the actual grammatical structure. The grammatical differences between "fixed-word-order" languages (e.g., English, French, German) and "free-word-order" languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Polish, Russian) have been no impediment in this regard.
When a target language has lacked terms that are found in a source language, translators have borrowed them, thereby enriching the target language. Thanks in great measure to the exchange of "calques" (French for "tracings") between languages, and to their importation from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and other languages, there are few concepts that are "untranslatable" among the modern European languages. In general, the greater the contact and exchange that has existed between two languages, or between both and a third one, the greater is the ratio of metaphrase to paraphrase that may be used in translating between them. However, due to shifts in "ecological niches" of words, a common etymology is sometimes misleading as a guide to current meaning in one or the other language. The English "actual," for example, should not be confused with the cognate French "actuel" (meaning "present," "current") or the Polish "aktualny" ("present," "current").
The translator's role as a bridge for "carrying across" values between cultures has been discussed at least since Terence, Roman adapter of Greek comedies, in the second century BCE. The translator's role is, however, by no means a passive and mechanical one, and so has also been compared to that of an artist. The main ground seems to be the concept of parallel creation found in critics as early as Cicero. Dryden observed that "Translation is a type of drawing after life..." Comparison of the translator with a musician or actor goes back at least to Samuel Johnson's remark about Alexander Pope playing Homer on a flageolet, while Homer himself used a bassoon. If translation be an art, it is no easy one. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon wrote that if a translation is to be true, the translator must know both languages, as well as the science that he is to translate; and finding that few translators did, he wanted to do away with translation and translators altogether. The first European to assume that one translates satisfactorily only toward his own language may have been Martin Luther, translator of the Bible into German. According to L.G. Kelly, since Johann Gottfried Herder in the 18th century, "it has been axiomatic" that one works only toward his own language.
Compounding these demands upon the translator is the fact that not even the most complete dictionary or thesaurus can ever be a fully adequate guide in translation. Alexander Tytler, in his Essay on the Principles of Translation (1790), emphasized that assiduous reading is a more comprehensive guide to a language than are dictionaries. The same point, but also including listening to the spoken language, had earlier been made in 1783 by Onufry Andrzej Kopczyński, member of Poland's Society for Elementary Books, who was called "the last Latin poet." The special role of the translator in society was well described in an essay, published posthumously in 1803, by Ignacy Krasicki — "Poland's La Fontaine", Primate of Poland, poet, encyclopedist, author of the first Polish novel, and translator from French and Greek:
Religious textsTranslation of religious works has played an important role in history. Buddhist monks who translated the Indian sutras into Chinese often skewed their translations to better reflect China's very different culture, emphasizing notions such as filial piety.
A famous mistranslation of the Bible is the rendering of the Hebrew word "keren," which has several meanings, as "horn" in a context where it actually means "beam of light." As a result, artists have for centuries depicted Moses the Lawgiver with horns growing out of his forehead. An example is Michelangelo's famous sculpture. Christian anti-Semites used such depictions to spread hatred of the Jews, claiming that they were devils with horns.
One of the first recorded instances of translation in the West was the rendering of the Old Testament into Greek in the third century B.C.E. The resulting translation is known as the Septuagint, a name that alludes to the "seventy" translators (seventy-two in some versions) who were commissioned to translate the Bible in Alexandria. Each translator worked in solitary confinement in a separate cell, and legend has it that all seventy versions were identical. The Septuagint became the source text for later translations into many languages, including Latin, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian.
Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translation, is still considered one of the greatest translators in history for rendering the Bible into Latin. The Roman Catholic Church used his translation (known as the Vulgate) for centuries, but even this translation at first stirred much controversy.
The period preceding and contemporary with the Protestant Reformation saw the translation of the Bible into local European languages, a development that greatly affected Western Christianity's split into Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, due to disparities between Catholic and Protestant versions of crucial words and passages.
Martin Luther's Bible in German, Jakub Wujek's in Polish, and the King James Bible in English had lasting effects on the religions, cultures and languages of those countries.
Machine translationMachine translation (MT) is a procedure whereby a computer program analyzes a source text and produces a target text without further human intervention. In reality, however, machine translation typically does involve human intervention, in the form of pre-editing and post-editing. An exception to that rule might be, e.g., the translation of technical specifications (strings of technical terms and adjectives), using a dictionary-based machine-translation system.
To date, machine translation—a major goal of natural-language processing—has met with limited success. A November 6, 2007, example illustrates the hazards of uncritical reliance on machine translation.
Machine translation has been brought to a large public by tools available on the Internet, such as Yahoo!'s Babel Fish, Babylon, and StarDict. These tools produce a "gisting translation" — a rough translation that, with luck, "gives the gist" of the source text.
With proper terminology work, with preparation of the source text for machine translation (pre-editing), and with re-working of the machine translation by a professional human translator (post-editing), commercial machine-translation tools can produce useful results, especially if the machine-translation system is integrated with a translation-memory or globalization-management system.
In regard to texts (e.g., weather reports) with limited ranges of vocabulary and simple sentence structure, machine translation can deliver results that do not require much human intervention to be useful. Also, the use of a controlled language, combined with a machine-translation tool, will typically generate largely comprehensible translations.
Relying on machine translation exclusively ignores the fact that communication in human language is context-embedded and that it takes a person to comprehend the context of the original text with a reasonable degree of probability. It is certainly true that even purely human-generated translations are prone to error. Therefore, to ensure that a machine-generated translation will be useful to a human being and that publishable-quality translation is achieved, such translations must be reviewed and edited by a human.
Computer-assisted translationComputer-assisted translation (CAT), also called computer-aided translation, machine-aided human translation (MAHT) or interactive translation, is a form of translation wherein a human translator creates a target text with the assistance of a computer program. The machine supports a human translator.
Computer-assisted translation can include standard dictionary and grammar software. The term, however, normally refers to a range of specialized programs available to the translator, including translation-memory, terminology-management, concordance, and alignment programs.
With the Internet, translation software can be very helpful for non-native individuals to understand web pages published in different languages. Whole page translation tools can be limited since they only have a limited understanding of the original author's intent or context. As a result, translated pages tend to be more humorous and confusing rather than useful.
Interactive translations with pop-up windows are becoming more popular. These tools show several possible translations of each word or phrase. Human operators merely need to select the correct translation as the mouse glides over the foreign text. Possible definitions can be grouped by pronunciation.
- Balcerzan, Edward, ed., Pisarze polscy o sztuce przekładu, 1440-1974: Antologia (Polish Writers on the Art of Translation, 1440-1974: an Anthology), Poznań, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1977.
- Berman, Antoine (1984). "L'épreuve de l'étranger". Excerpted in English in: Venuti, Lawrence, editor (2002, 2nd edition 2004). The Translation Studies Reader.
- Cohen, J.M., "Translation," Encyclopedia Americana, 1986, vol. 27, pp. 12–15.
- Darwish, Ali (1999). "Towards a Theory of Constraints in Translation". (@turjuman Online).
- Kasparek, Christopher, "The Translator's Endless Toil," The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, pp. 83-87. Includes a discussion of European-language cognates of the term, "translation."
- Rose, Marilyn Gaddis, guest editor (1980). Translation: agent of communication. (A special issue of Pacific Moana Quarterly, 5:1)
- Schleiermacher, Friedrich, "Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens" (1813), reprinted as "On the Different Methods of Translating" in Lawrence Venuti, editor (2002, 2nd edition 2004), The Translation Studies Reader.
- Tatarkiewicz, Władysław, A History of Six Ideas: an Essay in Aesthetics, translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1980, ISBN 83-01-00824-5.
Associations and Federations
- American Translators Association
- ALTA (American Literary Translators Association)
- AITC (International Association of Conference Translators)
- IATIS (International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies)
- International Federation of Translators
- ELIA (European Language Industry Association)
- JAT (Japan Association of Translators)
- NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters, Australia)
- AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters)
mistranslation in Arabic: ترجمة
mistranslation in Breton: Treiñ ha troidigezh
mistranslation in Bulgarian: Преводач
mistranslation in Chuvash: Тăлмач
mistranslation in Czech: Překlad
mistranslation in Danish: Oversættelse
mistranslation in German: Übersetzung (Sprache)
mistranslation in Modern Greek (1453-): Μετάφραση
mistranslation in Spanish: Traducción
mistranslation in Esperanto: Traduko
mistranslation in Basque: Itzulpengintza
mistranslation in Persian: ترجمه
mistranslation in French: Traduction
mistranslation in Korean: 번역
mistranslation in Indonesian: Terjemahan
mistranslation in Icelandic: Þýðing
mistranslation in Italian: Traduzione
mistranslation in Hebrew: תרגום
mistranslation in Hindi: अनुवाद
mistranslation in Hungarian: Fordítás
mistranslation in Malay (macrolanguage): Terjemahan
mistranslation in Dutch: Vertaling
mistranslation in Japanese: 翻訳
mistranslation in Norwegian: Oversettelse
mistranslation in Polish: Tłumacz
mistranslation in Portuguese: Tradução
mistranslation in Russian: Перевод
mistranslation in Simple English: Translation
mistranslation in Slovenian: Prevajanje
mistranslation in Finnish: Kääntäminen
mistranslation in Swedish: Översättning
mistranslation in Turkish: Tercüme
mistranslation in Ukrainian: Переклад
mistranslation in Chinese: 翻译