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TRANSLATION THEORY TODAY

or

LINGUISTIC CONTEMPORARY THEORY OF TRANSLATION

or

TOPICAL INTEREST IN THE THEORY AND PRACTICES OF TRANSLATION

or

TOPICAL INTEREST IN TRANSLATION THEORY AND PRACTICE

LECTURE 1

INTRODUCTION: BECOMING A TRANSLATOR

It is worthwhile to begin lectures on Translation Theory today with a short introduction to the translation as a professional activity.

Professionals in every occupation/walk of life (профессиональная деятельность) form associations and institutes of various kinds to provide their practicing members (члены профессионального сообщества/практики) with a forum to discuss and set standards for the profession (установить стандарты) as a whole, to set examinations (назначить и разработать экзамены), assess competence (оценить способности/профессиональные данные), and lay codes of conduct (установить правила поведения в профессии). The standards set by a given profession may well be extremely high, but this does not necessarily guarantee recognition (гарантировать признательность) by those outside the profession.

Notwithstanding the length and breadth of one’s experience, recogni­tion, in our increasingly qualification-conscious society (профессионально-ориентированное общество), comes mostly with proof of some kind of formal education. Every respectable profession – or every profession, which wants to be recognized as such – therefore attempts to provide its members with systematic training in the field (системная профессиональная подготовка в определенной отрасли). One of the first things that the Department of Translation and Cognitive Linguistics (кафедра переводоведения и когнитивной лингвистики) did as soon as it was formed was to set up new standards (установить новые стандарты) to design programs (разработать программы) in translation today and run training courses (проводить практические занятия по определенным учебным дисциплинам) for members of the profession.

There are two main types of training that the Department of Translation and Cognitive Linguistics can provide for students: academic (теоретическая подготовка) and vocational (практическая подготовка), or/in other words training in theory and practical skills (практические навыки). Voca­tional courses (практические учебные дисциплины) provide training in but do not include a strong theoretical component (мощный теоретический компонент / сильную теоретическую основу). At the end of a vocational course in translation, a student is able to translate accurately (переводить точно) and at proper speed (быстро, с хорошей скоростью). Only academic courses in translation will (can) elevate the student to the level of a professional. Like vocational courses, most academic courses set out to teach students how to do a particular job (выполнять определенную / рутинную работу): translate texts of different types orally and in writing. They do more than that because academic courses in translation always include strong theoretical components. The value of these theoretical components is that they encourage students to reflect on what they do, how they do it, and why they do it in one way rather than another. This last exercise, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of various ways of doing things, is itself impossible to perform unless one has a thorough and intimate knowledge (глубокие знания) of the objects and tools of one’s work (рабочий инструментарий).

Theoretical training (теоретическая подготовка) does not necessarily guarantee success in all instances (гарантировать успех во всем \ по всем направлениям). Things still go wrong (возможны провалы) occasionally because, in translation two factors are very significant: the deep knowledge of language and its laws and extra-linguistic knowledge. We often see failures in translation in very simple at first glance (на первый взгляд) cases.

For example: Translate the following sentence into Russian: «Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation». The students often translate it as «пять десятков лет назад (пятьдесят) лет назад великий американец, под чьей символической сенью мы сегодня собрались, подписал Прокламацию об освобождении негров». There are three mistakes in the Russian sentence. The first one concerns the tricky and confusing word score. We see, it is used in the English utterance in singular and we suppose that we know the Russian meaning of this word (in Russian «счёт»). It never occurs to us that the word score can have another meaning in English «два десятка» and that we have to multiply 5 and twenty to get 100. The word proclamation belongs to the group of «false friends of translators». The word прокламация (proclamation) in Russian means «агитационный листок политического содержания». In English, this word has a different meaning «act of making known officially». Thus, it corresponds to the Russian word указ/постановление. According to politically correct English, there is the third mistake: we should substitute the word негр by афроамериканец.

The value of a theoretical understanding of laws of translation is that it

(a) minimizes the risks involved on any given occasion and prepares the student for dealing with the unpredictable (иметь дело с непредсказуемым языковым явлением);

(b) gives the interpreter or translator a certain degree of confidence which comes from knowing that his/her decisions are calculated on the basis of concrete knowledge rather than ‘hunches’ (догадки) or ‘intuition’;

(c) provides the basis on which further developments in the field may be achieved because it represents a formalized pool of knowledge which is shared and can be explored and extended by the professional community (профессиональное сообщество) as a whole (в целом), not just locally but across the world (во всем мире).

Needless to say, this type of theoretical knowledge is itself of no value unless it is firmly grounded in practical experience (практический опыт).

Throughout its long history, translation has never really enjoyed the kind of recognition and respect that other professions enjoy. Translators have constantly com­plained that translation is underestimated as a profession.

In fact the first theoretical works on translation appeared in Russia in 20s years of the XX century. Prof. L.L. Nelubin gave you you a detailed account of it in his course of lectures.

The first departments of translation appeared in Russia much earlier than in English-speaking countries. Russian people live behind the iron curtain (жить за железной занавесью), there were few (if any) emigrants from English-speaking countries, but the country needs in professional translators and interpreters. They were trained in academic institutes (departments of translation), which were easily controlled by KGB (КГБ – комитет государственной безопасности СССР). There were many emigrants from different countries in English-speaking countries and they acted as interpreters and translators. Linguistic sciences in these countries don’t look at translation as a separate scientific field.

In sum­ming up the first conference held by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in Britain (in 1980s), Professor Bellos stated that «The main impetus and concern of this first ITI (the Institute of Translation and Interpretation) Conference was the unjustly low status in professional terms of the translator. An appropriate theme, since it was one of the main reasons for the formation of the ITI».

There is no doubt that the low status accorded to translation as a profession is ‘unjust’, but one has to admit that this is not just the fault of the public. The translation community itself is guilty of underestimating not so much the value as the complexity of the translation process and hence the need for formal professional training in the field. Translators are not yet sure ‘whether translation is a trade, an art, a profession or a business’. Talented translators who have had no systematic formal training in translation but who have nevertheless achieved a high level of competence through long and varied experience tend to think that the translation community as a whole can achieve their own high standards in the same way. Our profession is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a translator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime.

The first stage of the career pyramid – the apprenticeship stage – is the time we devote to investing in ourselves (инвестировать в себя) by acquiring knowledge and experience of life (приобретать необходимые знания и жизненный опыт). That is a typical life path of a translator in English speaking countries: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe and love your own language. Then roam the world (познавать мир), make friends, see life. Go back to education to take a technical or commercial degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and your early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin.

The question is whether it is feasible for most aspiring translators to pursue this career path and whether this approach is right for the profession as a whole, bearing in mind that it stresses, at least for the first thirty or forty years of one’s career, life experience rather than formal academic training. One obvious problem with this career path is that it takes so long to acquire the necessary skills you need as a translator that your career is almost over before it begins.

Some professionals in this occupation are not opposed to formal academic training; on the contrary, they encourage it and recognize its value. There are professional translators and interpreters who actually argue strongly against formal academic training because, they sug­gest, translation is an art, which requires aptitude, practice, and general knowledge – nothing more. They say the ability to translate is a gift: you either have it or you do not, and theory (almost a dirty word in some translation circles) is therefore irrelevant to the work of a translator/interpreter. If we accept this line of thinking (принять такой ход мысли / размышления), we never recognize translation as a profession and people of other professions will treat translators and interpreters as skilled (высоко квалифицированный) or semi-skilled (квалифицированный) workers. To achieve high level of professionalism, translators need to develop an ability to stand back and reflect on what they do and how they do it. Like doctors and engineers, they have to prove to themselves as well as others that they are in control of what they do; that they do not just translate well because they have a ‘flair’ (a gift) for translation, but rather because, like other professionals, they have made a conscious effort to understand various aspects of their work.

Unlike medicine and engineering, translation is a very young discipline in academic terms. It is only just starting to feature as a subject of study in its own right, not yet in all but in an increasing number of universities and colleges around the world. Like any young discipline, it needs to draw on the findings and theories of other related disciplines in order to develop and formalize its own methods; but which disciplines it can naturally and fruitfully be related to is still a matter of some controversy. Almost every aspect of life in general and of the interaction between speech communities in particular can be considered relevant to translation, a discipline which has to concern itself with how meaning is generated within and between various groups of people in various cultural settings. This is clearly too big an area to investigate in one go. So, let us just start by saying that, if translation is ever to become a profession in the full sense of the word, translators will need something other than the current mixture of intuition and practice to enable them to reflect on what they do and how they do it. They will need, above all, to acquire a sound knowledge of the raw material with which they work: to understand what language is and how it comes to function for its users.

Linguistics is a discipline, which studies language both in its own right and as a tool for generating meanings. It should therefore have a great deal to offer to the budding discipline of translation studies; it can certainly offer translators valuable insights into the nature and function of language. This is particularly true of modern linguistics, which no longer restricts itself to the study of language. It, in fact, focuses on the study of text, as a communicative event and pragmatics (the study of language in use rather than language as an abstract system).

The course in Translation Theory Today attempts to explore some areas in which modern linguistic theory can provide a basis for training translators and can inform and guide the decisions they have to make in the course of performing their work.

Lecture 2 definitions of translation. Language, culture and thought definitions of translation

Translation is one of those phenomena in our lives, which / that seems very simple and easily understood at first glance. Everybody seems to know what translation is and most educated people have translated something in their lives more or less successfully. Everyone intuitively knows how to translate, but s/he is not capable of making this knowledge deep and formal.

Thus, Vladimir Nabokov felt very strongly about translation quality, he gave the possibilities of maximizing translation accuracy much and careful consideration. Once he wrote:

What is translation? On a platter,

A poet’s pale and glaring head;

A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

Translation is a phenomenon that has a huge effect on everyday life. This can range from the translation of a key international treaty to the multilingual poster that welcomes customers to a small restaurant near to the home of one of the authors. Let’s then go about defining the phenomenon of translation and what the study of it entails. If we look at a general dictionary (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary), we find the following definition of the term translation: 1) the act or an instance of translating; 2) a written or spoken expression of the meaning of a word, speech, book, etc. in another language.

The first of these two senses (meanings) relates to translation as a process, the second to the product. This immediately means that the term translation encompasses very distinct perspectives. The first sense focuses on the role of the translator in taking the original, or source text (ST) and turning it into a text in another language (the target text, TT). The second sense centers on the concrete translation product produced by the translator – that is the text.

This distinction is drawn out by the definition in the specialist Dictionary of Translation Studies, in which translation: An incredibly broad notion, which can be understood in many different ways. For example, one may talk of translation as a process or a product, and identify such sub-types as literary translation, technical translation, subtitling and machine translation; moreover, while more typically it just refers to the transfer of written texts, the term sometimes also includes interpreting.

This definition introduces further variables, first the ‘sub-types’, which include not only typically written products such as literary and technical translations, but also translation forms that have been created in recent decades, such as audiovisual translation, a written product which is read in conjunction with an image on screen (cinema, television, DVD or computer game). Moreover, the reference to machine translation reveals that translation is now no longer the preserve of human trans­lators. In a professional context, increasingly a process and product that marries computing power and the computerized analysis of language to the human’s ability to analyze sense and determine appropriate forms in the other language.

The basic problem of teaching how to translate is to decide what, in fact, we translate. The simple answer is the text. To translate the text we need some basic understanding of the textual transformation (translation grammar – syntactic and grammatical structures), knowledge of lexical units, or items (translation vocabulary – the exact word sense) and stylistic devices (translation stylistics) of Source and Target languages. Of course, it will help us to translate the text, but it does not mean that we do it correctly because translating the text we translate in addition Language, Culture and Thought. It means we also translate the context, or extra-linguistic text environment.

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