The folllowing sample essay on Sense For Sense Translation discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
Back in 1424 Leonardo Bruni stated that ‘’…the words mean one thing, the sense is another ’’ (Robinson, 2002 : 58) but he has not been the first one who argued that the literal translation rarely worked. In fact, the dichotomy between word-for-word and sense-for-sense translation has existed for milleniums. Cicero and Horace were the first theorists who made a difference between the two approaches back in the first century BC and nowadays the widest spread one is the sense-for-sense translation because it is the best way to preserve the meaning of the original which is what translation is all about.
Alas, the sense-for-sense translation is not an easy task. If language were simply a nomenclature for a set of universal concepts, it would be easy to translate from one language to another.
One would simply replace the French name with the English one. If language were like this the task of learning a new language would be much easier than it is. But anyone who has attempted either of these tasks has acquired, alas, a vast amount of direct proof that languages are not nomenclatures, that the concepts… of one language may differ radically from those of another. (qtd. n Baker, 1992 :10) But what exactly does a translation mean? The authors of The Oxford Dictionary of English (Second Edition) have defined it rather simply: ‘’a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language’’.
I do not agree with this definition simply because I believe that a good translation is a complex process, consisting of rendering ‘’…one sentence rather than one word at a time’’(Baker, 2000 : 88). Being the smallest units of speech, words usually have several meanings which often depend on the other words within the sentence or even the text.
Therefore, it is essential the translator to think of the sentence as one unit and not to translate literally. The whole conception of translation revolves around two main points – meaning and style. Leonardo Bruni argues that the original style of the source text is something that should be always taken into account. The translator should do his best to try to preserve its figures of speech and its rhythmical character, in order to keep the original’s majesty, polish and elegance and to render a beautiful text that does not lack meaning but is free of translationese. (Robinson, 2002 : 59,60)
The problem with the literal translation is that it often does not render the original meaning of the author correctly. Words and sense do not go hand in hand sometimes. As Bruni states, they mean one thing but the sense means another or even the oppposite( Robinson, 2002 : 58). ‘’ Literal translation, too bound to the single word can only rarely reproduce the sense or meaning. In addition, even the most free translation cannot capture that what is there but not communicable, i. e. , the essence, because it moves away too far from the word, and the word is still the basis of the translation’’ (Barbe, 1996: 332).
Whenever it is possible the translator should stick to the literal translation of the word, so that he preserves his original intention but he still needs to avoid translationese at any cost. Bruni argues that the word-for-word translation is due to the ignorence of the translators. In his view ‘’… the whole essence of translation is to transfer correctly what is written from one language into another. But no one can do this correctly who has not wide and exstensive knowledge fo the language’’(Robinson, 2002 : 58).
A century later, Etienne Dolet also makes this clear in his The Correct Way to Translate Well From One Language Into Another. In his four rules of translating well he observes that ‘’… in translating one must not be servile to the point of rendering word for word. If he does that, he is proceeding from poverty or lack of wisdom’’(Robinson, 2002:96). I completely agree with this point of view because I know how easy it is to get lost in translation or to convey the wrong meaning when one is not familiar with the language, its fixed expressions , proverbs and even the cultural differences .
For instance, a beginner student of English as a foreign language perhaps would not translate the expression to get pissed literally as in ‘’ I’m going to the pub to get pissed’’. But even if one is not so fluent in the foreign language he could still figure out the actual meaning of the expression thanks to the cohesion and the coherence of the source language text, as ‘’…the meaning of the word often depends on what other words it occurs with’’(Baker,1992, pp. 63). Unfortunately, this does not apply some other figures of speech, such as the idioms. The idioms are an essential part of many literary texts.
They form its identity and allow the author express himself with fewer words but at the same to sound smarter. However, as Leonardo Bruni states in On the Correct Way to translate, they can be rather tricky for translators who do not have a profound knowledge of the foreign language(Robinson, 2002:58). For example if ‘’a blessing in disguise’’ or ‘’ every cloud has a silver lining’’ were to be translated word for word in any language they would not make any sense, the translation would sound ridiculous and even worse, it could lower the author’s prestige.
Another problem could arise if the translator cannot figure out the correct meaning of the idiom or does not succeed to find the equivalent in the target language. That is why it is so important the translator to be fully proficient in the language or, as Baker observes, in case he is translating from his mother tongue into a foreign language, he should possess near native fluency (1992:64). But Leonardo Bruni argues that being a good translator is not just about possessing a near native fluency of the foreign language. Robinson, 2002:58). ’’ Not even that is enough. There are many man who have the capacity to understand an activity , though they cannot themselves exercise it. Many persons, for instance, appreciate painting who cannot themselves paint, and many understand the art of music without themselves being able to sing’’. Metaphors are another figure of speech that could cause problems. In Christian Papas’ view, ‘’ …metaphors… are a way of thinking intended to impress the reader and to add some wit to an expression’’(2007 : 123).
He argues that they lose their brilliance when they have been translated from one language into another. That is due to the cultural differences between the countries. That is why the translator needs to take into account not just the meaning of the word but its emotional charge which may vary from country to country. The literal translation sometimes works but not always. For instance a word-for-word translation for a black sheep would work perfectly fine into Bulgarian but it would not for a cheeky monkey.
Therefore, not only does the translator need to possess a profound knowledge in the target language, but also ability to interpret the cultural awareness of the foreign nation precisely because different people perceive things in a different way, especially those from different countries and cultural backgrounds. In conclusion, I would like to point out that translation might seem an easy task to many people who are not familiar with any foreign language and its properties.
They might think that if one has a perfect grasp of the foreign language he is a translator by default. It is therefore reasonable to say that a good translation is not such an easy task. If it was, it would have been carried out by computers. Nowadays, it involves much more than a literal rendering of foreign words. It is all about the sense.
Bibliographical references Baker, M. (1992) In other words: a coursebook on translation, Oxon, Routledge Baker, M. (2000) Routledge encyclopedia of translation studies, London, Routledge Barbe, K. 1996) The Dichotomy Free and Literal Translation, Meta :Translators’ Journal Vol. 41, n3 Culer, J. (1976) Saussure, see M. Baker Dolet, E. (1540) The Correct Way to Translate Well From One Language Into Another, see Douglas Robinson Bruni, L. ( 1424/26) On the Correct Way of Translating, see Douglas Robinson Papas, C. (2007) La traduction des metaphores au regard de la psychologie cognitive, Meta:Translators’ Journal Vol. 52, n1 Robinson, D. (1997) Western Translation Theory, Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing ———————– 2 2