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The Problem of Equivalence in Translation Works -by Joerg Schufmann
Summary : Translation is the act that renders knowledge, whether literary or scientific, a mobile form of culture. Such mobility, in turn, is what gives human understanding a deep and lasting influence beyond the borders of its original setting.
Translation is the act that renders knowledge, whether literary or scientific, a mobile form of culture. Such mobility, in turn, is what gives human understanding a deep and lasting influence beyond the borders of its original setting. Discussions related to the theory, practice, and history of translation have tended to focus on literary and holy texts. Yet translation has been a central determinant in the history of scientific knowledge as well, therefore a crucial element in its intellectual history, and continues to be so today.
Despite such importance, science and medical translation has been a topic of only sporadic scholarly study. The so-called 'invisibility' of the literary translator, whose labor and worth tend to be ignored in favor of the original author, doubly applies to the scientific translator, who has been neglected even by the field of translation studies, with a few important exceptions. These exceptions - for example, concerning the transmission of ancient Greek and medieval Islamic science - reveal an interesting truth: no less than with literary works, translators of science and medicine have often imposed new elements upon the texts they have rendered, enriching and expanding them by adaptation to new cultural contexts. Just as the world has benefited greatly from the translation of scientific and medical knowledge into many languages, so has this knowledge been advanced by translation in turn. At base, a physics paper in German cannot be perfectly copied into Chinese or Russian for the same fundamental reasons that this cannot be done for novels: differences in grammar, syntax, usage, etc. Interpretation is always involved in translation, and this includes scientific material. The scope of such interpretation has changed over time, for several reasons. One reason, for example, relates to the evolving character of scientific discourse itself, which, as noted, was quite diverse for most of its history.
As translation theory evolved, however, the consensus view expanded to include cultural, interpretive, interpersonal, cognitive, and even technical factors as well. With the advent of the functionalist approach in translation theory, the function or purpose of translated texts as communicative tools moved into the center of attention, where it remains today.
Although this article lacks space to even outline the great variety of factors that have been investigated to date, it is fair to say that translation studies as a field has moved radically in the direction of embracing an integrative approach to translation that sees itself as a multidiscipline with virtually no aspect of the communicative process being outside its scope of reference. Perhaps one of the most overriding shifts in translation theory has been from the static to the dynamic: from seeing the translation process as one of establishing equivalence between original and translated texts to seeing it instead as one of cognitive, social, and communicative action. Results of think-aloud studies on the mental processes involved in translation, focusing primarily on the interplay between intuitions and strategies, suggest that mental process research can be a fruitful source of knowledge about how experts and novices translate differently. Such research may well make valuable contributions to translation pedagogy in the future, for example in specifying a role for strategy and creativity training. In any event, against the backdrop of the modern understanding of translation, translation pedagogy can no longer be reduced to a simplistic performance magistrale, where a teacher can be expected to transmit the knowledge necessary to achieve linguistic equivalence. As in all other domains of human activity, the skills and knowledge needed to act need to be developed through the authentic practice of that professional domain. Partly as a result of the equivalence-to-action shift in translation theory, there is an ever-increasing awareness that translation experts must be actively engaged in the development of individually adapted skills for dealing with the myriad unforeseeable combinations of factors that they will definitely face in their professional work. Language - like an ocean - cannot be ever measured!
Joerg Schufmann is a successful writer and German language translator at HQ-translate agency, researching in quality management schemes. He actively took part in creation of present extensive list of translation services delivered by the company.
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