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What Is Translation

We’ve previously talked about the types of translation, but in this article we’ll take one step back and introduce translation as a discipline, taking a look at its techniques, and history. 


What Is Translation?

Translation refers to converting the meaning of ANY kind of text from one language into another. The original text is referred to as the Source Text, while the translated one is called the Target Text. It aims to preserve the original meaning, as well as achieve communication with the reader.

 Translation refers to a need, a process, and a demand. Translation first came out of a need to connect with the world.

 It is an interdisciplinary field that people always ascribe to transcending cultural borders, and that is true. It is one way for people to connect.

Moreover, translation also refers to the process that is usually done by a translator or a linguist to take the words and meanings of a certain text and write it down in a different language.

Lastly, translation is on demand. The world simply can’t live without translation. Educational, economic, and industrial systems rely on translation, and many people daily benefit from translation.



The Concept of Translation

A concept can refer to a methodology and an essence.

Translation in essence is not concerned with a word-for-word conversion of a text. The earliest attempts at translation were not primitive or simple renderings but acquired significant linguistic and cultural milestones.

According to the French scholar and translator Etlienne Dolet in his book La Manière de Bien Traduire d’une Langue en Aultre. He divided the concept of translation into 2 main principles:

  1. The translator must have a full understanding of the source & target languages and must comprehend perfectly the source language
  2. The translator is well-read in the subject matter of the text at hand.

But, the process of translation proves to be more complicated than that. Let’s look at the current techniques in translation.



What are the key approaches to translation?

Origins of the Debate

There is a famous debate among academicians and translations about which is better: A word-for-word translation that is loyal to the source text, or a non-literal translation that’s loyal to the target reader? Apparently, this debate is as old as the discipline itself.

The so-called “sense-for-sense” translation was coined by Jerome, a great translator of the Bible, who stated that the translator needed to translate “not word for word” but “sensum de sensu”.

 The translation techniques we know now can be divided into Direct, and Indirect:


Direct Translation Techniques

When both the source language structure can be used in the target text. Direct translation technique is classified into borrowing, loan, and literal.

1. Borrowing

Can you think of a word that is used in your native language that is taken from another language?

For example, the word Cafe in English is borrowed from French.

In English, the word Niqab (which refers to a veil that covers the whole face of a woman) doesn’t have an equivalent.

This technique is used when there is no equivalent for the word in the target language.

2. Loan translation (claque)

Instead of borrowing the word, a translator can translate it into the target language, in which it does not exist.

For instance, “Ubermensch” in German philosophy is translated into English as the upper man, and in Arabic as “al insan al a’la-الإنسان الأعلي)

3. Literal Translation

This technique remains faithful to the source text, translating words directly in the same meaning and order.

This technique is disputable because it could miss out on many cultural nuances, putting loyalty to the source text writer over the target text reader.


Indirect Translation Techniques

Unlike direct translation, indirect translation techniques change the structure of the source text and favor meaning over literal abidance to the text.

1. Transposition

A basic technique of indirect translation is shifting of grammar, especially between texts that come from vastly different languages like English and Arabic.

This could mean changing verbs into nouns or nouns into adjectives…etc.

2. Modulation

This technique adjusts the text to make it readable and comprehendible to the reader while preserving meaning and effect.

In short, it tries to make the translation sound natural.

3. Equivalence/Reformulation

The equivalence technique tries to find for a certain source text word its equivalent in the target text. This happens often with idioms

For instance, the English language uses the expression ‘heartwarming’ to describe the impact of good  news or a wholesome event. While Arab speakers use ‘athlaj sadry’ which literally translates to “hearticing”!

This simple difference is key to understanding how climate and environment affect the way different cultures describe their emotions.

4. Adaptation

Adaptation is incredibly simple. It could be as easy as the vocabulary differences between American and British English, or the localization of units of measurement from pound to kilogram!

Adaptation is cultural substitution. If one word refers to a culturally specific element in the source text, it could be localized to a cultural nuance understandable in the target text but carries the same meaning.

5. Reduction

To avoid redundancy repetition or word fluff, a translator sometimes removes words that do not add or subtract meaning in the target text.

6. Expansion

The opposite of reduction. It’s when words are added in order to preserve meaning. This can be due to differences in sentence structure, grammar or terminology.



What are some types of translation? 

Legal Translation

Legal translation is one of the most famous types for valid reasons.

First, it entails a great variety of documents, from birth certificates to company contracts, and reports, to court documents like court proceedings, and judicial acts.

Secondly, it is crucial for any international communication. In legal writing, anything could go wrong, and consequently cost people financial loss. For this, legal translators step in and make sure everything is accurate.


Literary Translation

One of the earliest forms of translation. When the seeds of globalization started to form, literary translation facilitated the interconnectedness of cultures. The power of stories, and poetry, ancient or modern had to transcend the borders of its country. One author in China writing great novels would have never been discovered by people in Africa or America if not for the help of translation.

However, literary translation is tricky, it requires creativity and a solid background in literary structures.


Medical Translation

The field of medicine, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals is foundational and encompasses various types of documents. It is one field of specialized or technical translations because not every translator can handle medical texts unless they are familiar with their terminology.


Journalistic Translation

A demanding specialised field of translation is the journalistic one. It concerns itself with the translation of news articles mainly and other texts of a journalistic nature like reports or interviews.

Journalism is an exciting field, it brings the news to the audience in a compelling yet simple way. Journalistic translators carry on this task. They adapt the source text to make it compelling, accurate, and appealing to a wider audience. It also entails lots of language play.


Religious Translation

The earliest translations known to us now were of a religious nature, such as the translations of the Old Testament. 

The ancient world has been a troubling one, people needed rules and laws to draw some order into their daily lives. Translation of religious texts was crucial to help spread awareness of religion in many parts of the world.

Religious translation is one kind of specialized translation. It requires knowledge of religion and attention to detail. It could encompass anything from scripture, and manuscripts, to religious online content, and religious books. 

These are only five essential fields of translation, we have published a comprehensive article gathering in-depth information about 15+ types here: Types of Translation



What is translation history?

It’s needless to mention that translation is not a modern field. Although it has never been as developed as now, yet many accounts prove that translation goes back to the 1st century BC.


Meaning of the word in antiquity 

The word ‘translation’ in etymology had an interesting upbringing ever since the Greek and Roman ages. 

In Latin, the word translation literally meant ‘ to carry across’. While in ancient Greek translation was “metaphrasis” which meant ‘ to speak across’. Metaphrase evolved until it referred to a word-for-word translation.

Let’s have a look at some of the most detrimental events in the history of translation:


The discovery of the Rosetta Stone In 1799

Rosetta Stone is one of the most visited displays in the British Museum. It is inscribed in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphic, Demotic, and Ancient Greek.

The Stone was a groundbreaking discovery attributed to the field of translation as we know it today because it decoded the language of the Pharaohs!


The Epic of Gilgamesh

This Mesopotamian epic poem is regarded as the earliest literary translation that the world knows of.


Early Religious Translations of the Bible ‘Septuagint’

This one dates back to the 3rd century when there was a need for religion and for translating religious text to spread religion to different people.

Here, we’re referring to the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. It became a cornerstone to other multiple bible translations that followed.


Other Important Milestones in the History of Translation

  • The Tower of Babel.
  • The Translation of Scientific Works by Ibn al-Haytham.
  • The printing press.
  • The Translation of Chinese Literature into European Languages.
  • The Industrial Revolution.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Advent of Computer & its translation software.
  • International Translation Day Sep 30, 1991
  • Machine translation.



What Is The Difference Between Translation And Interpreting?

Translation is often referred to as textual or written, meaning that it only deals with written text. However, translation has several mediums other than the textual one, like the voice medium.

Interpreting differs from translation on many levels.

Firstly, it is time-sensitive. Simultaneous translation is required on the spot.

Secondly, it requires accuracy, impeccable and unmistakable understanding of the language pair.

Thirdly, interpreting is a two-way road. It keeps going back and forth between the speaker and the interpreter.

Fourthly, interpreters do not check dictionaries.


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Whether you are settling newly in any of the MENA countries, or expanding your foreign business in the Middle East, our company has so much to offer to its clients, breaking language barriers, one word at a time.

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