Translation with a capital T

I have decided to make my musings on translation a weekly exercise. Here is week two. Let’s discuss some basic terminology.

“But I’m not a translator. Why should I care? “, you ask. Well, a wise meme on the door of one of my lecturer says:
 via languageartsandscience

Notwithstanding the fact that you are surrounded by translated texts, wether you’re aware of it or not, chances are, at some point in your life you will need somebody to translate for you, and believe me, when something depends on you getting it right, you do not want to be at the mercy of Google Translate.
And if you are going to use somebody’s services it is always good to have a rough idea of what these are. It will make everybody’s lives easier. This is part of the educational ambition of this blog.

Before we get started, a disclaimer: Most of these thoughts are not my original ideas, most of what I write about is something that I learned from somebody else at one point during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I don’t mean to plagiarize, but sometimes I’m to lazy to research who exactly said what where exactly. Lucky for me this is a blog and not an academic paper—also lucky for you, probably. This is how I understand things, many of which are common currency in translation circles. All misunderstandings are mine, most ideas are not.

So. What is translation? And why does Translation not always equal translation? Much like the distinction between Deaf and deaf, sometimes, capitalization can make all the difference. To the uninitiated it may not look like there isn’t one. But in the case of D/deaf, one refers to an entire culture, the other to a physical condition. This means a person who can hear just fine or is “only” hard of hearing to some extent but not be completely deaf can still be Deaf with a capital D. They are part of Deaf culture, speak a sign language, enjoy sign language rap and probably have lots of deaf friends and family. But the one is a much narrower category than the other. Similar things can be said about translation.

Translation with a capital T entails all translation-related practices. Intuitively, then Translation means any practice that involves converting a text from one language into another. On the other hand, when scholars and professionals talk about translation with a lowercase t, they usually refer to written translation, as opposed to interpreting or audiovisual translation practices.

In other words, Translation covers practices as different as written translation (translation with a lowercase t), oral translation (interpreting in all its different forms), and audiovisual translation such as subtitling, dubbing and voice-over. I’ll talk about each of these more in the weeks to come, but most people will have some idea what these things are.

To make matters more complicated, scholars sometimes also talk about intersemiotic translation. Semiotics is the study of sign systems (including, but not limited to the sign system of language). Therefore intersemiotic translation simply means converting a text from one sign system to another, this can also be within a  language (intralingual), as opposed to between languages (interlingual). An example of this would be the adaptation of a novel into a film; the text is carried over into a different medium, a different sign system with its own rules, conventions and physical restrictions. This is also part of Translation in a wider sense, although it does not match our initial, intuitive definition of translation. However I will mostly focus on interlingual translation practices, because that’s what I do.

That all being said, Translation is a beautiful and complex process, it is a craft and an art. The goal of this blog, is to do justice to this complex topic, and to draw attention to something that mostly goes unnoticed when it is done right. But it can be hilarious when it goes wrong, so expect some posts on translation fails.

Speaking of fails, here’s a cat GIF as a reward. Thanks for reading.
(By the way, it’s pronounced /ɡɪf/. Trust me, I’m a linguist.)

Was this interesting/boring to you, although you’re not into translation/into translation? Too much terminology/not enough cat GIFs? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


One thought on “Translation with a capital T

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