Just how creative would you have to be if you aspire to become a translator? Is translation a form of art? To answer these questions, let’s dive into what the practice of translation actually entails and how this parallels with “art”.
What is translation?
In short, translation is a process that communicates the words and meaning of a written text from one language (source language) into another (target language). This takes a lot of creativity and imagination in order to successfully and accurately transfer the messages of a text into a different language.
Where can creativity be found within translation?
Translation is subjective. No two translators will translate an entire document using the same expressions or formulations. Even if two professionals agreed on the intended message, it does not necessarily result into two identical translations. Regardless of the subject matter of the source document, many translators proudly view themselves as writers. Translation allows them to express and own their individuality through their personal style of writing.
Additionally, dealing with different cultures and ethnicities adds a tender layer of cultural sensitivity which needs to be addressed. Values and ideologies diverge greatly in our modern world and, as such, the connotations of certain colours or idioms, for example, may trigger unwanted discomfort or anger. As a result, translation demands an imaginative mind in order to articulate potentially harmful expressions in a non-offensive manner. Translations, therefore, hold paramount importance when it concerns sharing ideas, media and beliefs in a way that is acceptable by all. (Read one of our previous blog posts about why translation is so important in our globalised world.)
Essentially, there are many culturally bound expressions or idioms which have no direct translation, and likewise, it is also highly unlikely that the standard phrase can be translated literally. Take for instance the French sentence, “J’ai dix ans.”. When translated literally into English, you will find yourself saying “I have ten years”, which doesn’t really make any sense… Normally, you would say, “I am ten” or “I am ten years old”. Yes, this is an elementary example, but this is to highlight that word for word translation is not appropriate, even for the most basic of sentences. A translator ultimately analyses and interprets the underlying messages of a text and must find an imaginative way to present these in another language that reads naturally and idiomatically. This isn’t simply the case of looking up words in a dictionary, rather it involves deep thought of how to successfully get messages across to the target reader.
As a result, translation can be considered to be an art form. It gives the translator the opportunity to let their creative juices flow through re-writing what they believe is the intended message of the source document. All in all, creativity and imagination are key because some words, phrases or collocations simply do not translate!