Do you want to know what translation is? Then you should read this great article that was adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica. As an English to Indonesian professional translator we proud to give you this awesome overview.

So far, some of the relatively large-scale effects of culture contacts on languages and on dialects within languages have been surveyed. A continuous concomitant of contact between two mutually incomprehensible tongues and one that does not lead either to suppression or extension of either is translation. As soon as two speakers of different languages need to converse, translation is necessary, either through a third party or directly.

Before the invention and diffusion of writing, translation was instantaneous and oral; persons professionally specializing in such work were called interpreters. In predominantly or wholly literate communities, translation is thought of as the conversion of a written text in one language into a written text in another, though the modern emergence of the simultaneous translator or professional interpreter at international conferences keeps the oral side of translation very much alive.

The tasks of the translator are the same whether the material is oral or written, but, of course, translation between written texts allows more time for stylistic adjustment and technical expertise. The main problems have been recognized since antiquity and were expressed by St. Jerome, translator of the famed Latin Bible, the Vulgate, from the Hebrew and Greek originals. Semantically, these problems relate to the adjustment of the literal and the literary and the conflicts that so often occur between an exact translation of each word, as far as this is possible, and the production of a whole sentence or even a whole text that conveys as much of the meaning of the original as can be managed. These problems and conflicts arise because of factors already noticed in the use and functioning of language: languages do not operate in isolation but within and as part of cultures, and cultures differ from each other in various ways. Even between the languages of communities whose cultures are fairly closely allied, there is by no means a one-to-one relation of exact lexical equivalence between the items of their vocabularies.

In their lexical meanings, words acquire various overtones and associations that are not shared by the nearest corresponding words in other languages; this may vitiate a literal translation. The English author and theologian Ronald Knox has pointed to the historical connections of the Greek skandalon “stumbling block, trap, or snare,” inadequately rendered by “offense,” its usual New Testament translation. In modern times translators of the Bible into the languages of peoples culturally remote from Europe are well aware of the difficulties of finding a lexical equivalent for “lamb,” when the intended readers, even if they have seen sheep and lambs, have no tradition of blood sacrifice for expiation nor long-hallowed associations of lambs with lovableness, innocence, and apparent helplessness. The English word uncle has, for various reasons, a cozy and slightly comic set of associations. The Latin poet Virgil uses the words avunculus Hector in a solemn heroic passage of the Aeneid (Book III, line 343); to translate this by “uncle Hector” gives an entirely unsuitable flavour to the text.

The translation of poetry, especially into poetry, presents very special difficulties, and the better the original poem, the harder the translator's task. This is because poetry is, in the first instance, carefully contrived to express exactly what the poet wants to say. Second, to achieve this end, the poet calls forth all the resources of the language in which he is writing, matching the choice of words, the order of words, and grammatical constructions, as well as phonological features peculiar to the language in metre, perhaps supplemented by rhyme, assonance, and alliteration. The available resources differ from language to language; English and German rely on stress-marked metres, but Latin and Greek used quantitative metres, contrasting long and short syllables, while French places approximately equal stress and length on each syllable. The translator must try to match the stylistic exploitation of the particular resources in the original language with comparable resources from his own. Because lexical, grammatical, and metrical considerations are all interrelated and interwoven in poetry, a satisfactory literary translation is usually very far from a literal word for word rendering. The more the poet relies on language form, the more embedded his verses are in that particular language, and the harder they are to translate adequately. This is especially true with lyrical poetry in several languages, with its wordplay, complex rhymes, and frequent assonances.

At the other end of the translator's spectrum, technical prose dealing with internationally agreed scientific subjects is probably the easiest type of material to translate, because cultural unification (in this respect), lexical correspondences, and stylistic similarity already exist in this type of usage in the languages most commonly involved, to a higher degree than in other fields of discourse.

Significantly, it is this last aspect of translation to which mechanical and computerized techniques are being applied with some prospects of limited success. Machine translation, whereby, ultimately, a text in one language could be fed into a machine to produce an accurate translation in another language without further human intervention, has been largely concentrated on the language of science and technology, with its restricted vocabulary and overall likeness of style, for both linguistic and economic reasons. Attempts at machine translation of literature have been made, but success in this field, more especially in the translation of poetry, seems very remote at present.

Translation on the whole is an art, not a science. Guidance can be given and general principles can be taught, but after that it must be left to the individual's own feeling for the two languages concerned. Almost inevitably, in a translation of a work of literature something of the author's original intent must be lost; in those cases in which the translation is said to be a better work than the original, an opinion sometimes expressed about the English writer Edward Fitzgerald's “translation” of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, one is dealing with a new, though derived, work, not just a translation. The Italian epigram remains justified: Traduttore traditore “The translator is a traitor.”



language.  (2009). Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

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