Translation: Definition and Examples

Goodbye in various languages

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The word "translation" can be defined as:

  1. The process of turning an original or "source" text into a text in another language.
  2. A translated version of a text.

An individual or a computer program that renders a text into another language is called a translator. The discipline concerned with issues related to the production of translations is called translation studies. The etymology is from the Latin, translat- "carried across"

Examples and Observations

  • Intralingual translation - translation within the same language, which can involve rewording or paraphrase;
  • Interlingual translation - translation from one language to another, and
  • Intersemiotic translation - translation of the verbal sign by a non-verbal sign, for example, music or image.
  • Three Types of Translation: "In his seminal paper, 'On Linguistic Aspects of Translation' (Jacobson 1959/2000. see Section B, Text B1.1), the Russo-American linguist Roman Jakobson makes a very important distinction between three types of written translation: Only the second category, interlingual translation, is deemed 'translation proper' by Jakobson." (Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday, Translation: An Advanced Resource Book. Routledge, 2005)
  • "Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful." (attributed to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, among others). (Literal or word-for-word attempts can result in some amusing translation fails). 

Translation and Style

"To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise, the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one's own style and creatively adjust this to one's author." (Paul Goodman, Five Years: Thoughts During a Useless Time, 1969)

The Illusion of Transparency

"A translated text, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, is judged acceptable by most publishers, reviewers, and readers when it reads fluently, when the absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities makes it seem transparent, giving the appearance that it reflects the foreign writer's personality or intention or the essential meaning of the foreign text--the appearance, in other words, that the translation is not, in fact, a translation, but the 'original.' The illusion of transparency is an effect of fluent discourse, of the translator's effort to ensure easy readability by adhering to current usage, maintaining continuous syntax, fixing a precise meaning. What is so remarkable here is that this illusory effect conceals the numerous conditions under which the translation is made . . .." (Lawrence Venuti, The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. Routledge, 1995)

The Process of Translation

"Here, then, is the full process of translation. At one point we have a writer in a room, struggling to approximate the impossible vision that hovers over his head. He finishes it, with misgivings. Some time later we have a translator struggling to approximate the vision, not to mention the particulars of language and voice, of the text that lies before him. He does the best he can but is never satisfied. And then, finally, we have the reader. The reader is the least tortured of this trio, but the reader too may very well feel that he is missing something in the book, that through sheer ineptitude he is failing to be a proper vessel for the book’s overarching vision." (Michael Cunningham, "Found in Translation." The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2010)

The Untranslatable

"Just as there are no exact synonyms within a language ('big' does not mean precisely the same as 'large'), there are no exact matches for words or expressions across languages. I can express the notion 'four year old male uncastrated domesticated reindeer' in English. But our tongue lacks the economy of information packaging found in Tofa, a nearly extinct tongue I studied in Siberia. Tofa equips reindeer herders with words like 'chary' with the above meaning. Furthermore, that word exists within a multidimensional matrix that defines the four salient (for the Tofa people) parameters of reindeer: age, sex, fertility, and rideability. Words are untranslateable because [they] do not exist in a flat, alphabetised dictionary style list, but rather in a richly structured taxonomy of meaning. They are defined by their oppositions to and similarities to multiple other words--in other words, the cultural backdrop." (K. David Harrison, linguist at Swarthmore College, in "Seven Questions for K. David Harrison." The Economist, Nov. 23, 2010)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Translation: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Translation: Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Translation: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).