A translation

First let me say that I find translating quite difficult and it is rarely as straightforward as one may think. To do the job well, you need to have an in depth knowledge of the subject of the text which needs to be translated. Now, I am quite good at ‘on-the-spot’ translations, that is readinf something in English and roughly translating it into Italian. I can usually do this well enough to give my listener, or listeners enough information for them to understand the sense of the subject matter.

Last week a friend of a friend asked me if I would be interested in translating a text for a sculptor friend of his. I gamely said yes, but added that I would like to see the text first to see whether I would be capable of doing the work. The text was sent and on the face of it, seemed quite straightforward. Then I got down to doing the translation and discovered that it was riddled with rather complex philosopical concepts and references. It is here that I have to add that my knowledge of philosophy, of the linguistics of thought, is, to put it mildly, somewhat limited. Fortuneatly, my other half has a degree in philosophy and so she was able to explain the meaning and concepts behind the words. This, I have to say, was a great help and without her assistance, I would have found myself in deep water. There was even a word in the original Italian text which was difficult for Italians to understand and which made the task even more of a challenge.

The internet can be a useful resource in these excercises, as you can test the validity of sentences by searching for them to see if anyone has used such a structure before. If they have, then you are on the right lines, if not, you need to go back and reformulate until the result becomes something close to ‘natural’ English, or whatever language you are working with.

Anyway, despite the difficulties, I’ve finished the work and it will accompany an exhibition of this sculptor’s work in that beautiful part of the world which goes by the name of Slovenia.

I know of people with a much higher knowledge of Italian than my goodself who steer clear of translating, possibly because they have not yet realised that it is more or less essential to specialise in a particular area, otherwise you find yourself trying to translate and interpret ideas with which you are not familiar and becoming an overnight expert in ‘quantum physics’, to use an extreme example, is nothing if not difficult. If, of course, you have studied or are familiar with quantum physics, you will find it much easier to translate from another language, with which you are familiar, into your own. I hope you get the idea.

You can try to use internet ‘machine’ translators, but the results, which may point you in the right direction, are often odd to say the least. The Italian goverment once dropped a clanger by using a machine translation on one of its web pages. The result was, depending on your point of view, either hilarious or dreadful.

The difficulty is ensuring that in translating, you retain the original sense that the author intended, and this at times can be frustrating. It is all too easy to interpret one word wrongly and end up with a sentence that destroys the meaning intended by its author.

Moral of the story: Only translate if you are familiar with the subject matter of the text you are working with and that you have an in-depth understanding of the language you are working with. Oh, and you also need to be able to write well and accurately, too. Simple. Not.

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