Thursday, March 3, 2016

Random Reasons Why Translating Is Unrewarding

As a translator, your main objective is to pretend you don't exist.

There's an art form vastly underestimated by those who don't have experience with it: translation, the most unrewarding art form out there. Translating a text into another language usually takes more time than to write it, much knowledge, work and experience, and yet, as a translator, your main objective is to pretend you don't exist.

If the translated text doesn't feel like it's the original you've failed. If the translated text doesn't express what the original text does you've failed. If the words or idioms used in the original don't exist in the target language - deal with it. If you think the style of the original badly needs to be improved you still have to stick to it. If you think the original text is just sh*t you can either stop translating or accept its sh*ttiness. If you think the original text is brilliant you will hate your translation, no matter how good it is.

There is a different logic behind every language. There are lots of unique grammatical specifics. There are different rules for word building and syntax. There are huge differences in how long a sentence can be. There are huge differences in what is required for a sentence to be complete.

No word can be translated from one language into another to 100%. Apart from the literal meaning there is also a connotative meaning, so speakers of different languages imagine different things when hearing the same word. In every language the meaning of a word can be different, depending on the context. In different languages there are different rules which words can be used together and which not. There are many words that can't be translated at all.

Every language has its own definition of good and bad style. What is polite in one language can be a no-go in another. Often good style requires information not given in the original text. Often whole sentences need to be paraphrased for a translation to be elegant. Wordplays and other virtuosities often can't be translated. And to make it all even worse, every language has a different speech melody.

Sometimes the original text is so bad that it's hard to understand what the author is trying to say. Sometimes the original text is too complicated. Sometimes it's too ambiguous. Too ingenious. Too beautiful. Too stupid. Too ... Not meant for translation at all.

In the end, translation is just plain masochism which often isn't even paid well. The only way in which translation is rewarding is getting deeper insights and making new discoveries regarding a language. - Is it worth it?

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