The Many Metaphors of Translation - Multilingual Connections

The Many Metaphors of Translation

International Translation Day
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It may be tempting to think of translation as a simple conversion of one language to another. But for those who are inclined to roll up their sleeves and take on the tricky business of translation, there is certainly no shortage of challenges to keep them second-guessing their choices on the page. Different languages contain discrepancies between their methods of constructing meaning,grammar, and sentence structures. While a translation might masquerade as an original text dressed in a fancy new costume, many translators feel that their work can’t be as easily defined.

The fact that translation is so frequently described through metaphor highlights the elusive, artistic spirit at the core of the discipline. We asked our linguists to shed some light on how they conceptualize their craft.

Stephanie Metaphor for Translation

“I imagine that the translation process is akin to a simplified version of the screenwriter-director relationship. The screenwriter and his script, containing fully fleshed-out characters and a detailed setting, depends on the director’s experienced and creative handling—on her keen eye and ear—to adapt his vision to a different medium and bring it to life for that specific audience.”

Karen (English<>Spanish)

“Words and language define and shape our perception of our immediate (and remote) reality. As a translator and writer, and lover of legends, lore and certain sci-fi; I feel like a mind traveler of worlds, a word and language shifter striving to make parallel realities perceptible and accessible to the greater public…”

Vanessa (English/Spanish>French)

A translation is not a copy of an original, it is an exegesis of it. Interestingly, many Muslims will distinguish between the Qur’an, i.e. the original Arabic text, and a given translation of it, explaining that they are not one and the same, that the Qur’an itself can only be read in Arabic and any translation is a mere attempt to explain its substance to non-Arabic speakers. But in any translation, much is lost, whether cultural nuance, linguistic subtleties, poetic aesthetic, etc. Hence the translator’s work consists not in conveying the substance as exactly as possible, but as fully as possible. It is as though they are giving a lecture on the original substance, but seeking to make it as fluid as possible, so the reader is blissfully unaware that they are in class.

Elisabeth (French/Arabic>English)

Anna Metaphor for Translation

“Translation is one way for me to play with words. Words are not just a tool. I am so in love with Arabic, my mother tongue, that I am sometimes tempted to think that words are an end in themselves, their denotations and connotations; the letters, their resonance, rhythm, even their curves…

As a mom, I remember how I used to look for the nicest and most comfortable outfits for my children. This is how I deal with the writer’s ‘brainchildren’ (in Arabic we call them Thought’s Daughters…feminists will love that!), with utmost care and sensibility.”

Ghida, (English>Arabic)

“I think of translation as a balancing act. Should the translation be as literal as possible or should it primarily sound idiomatic in the target language? Is it more important to preserve an author’s idiosyncratic style or to convey a message as clearly as possible? The answers to these kinds of questions depend on much more than just the style and content of the source text. The cultural context, purpose, and audience of the target text play an equally important role in tilting the balance one way or another. Balancing the various – often conflicting – demands of translation is both the biggest challenge and the main appeal of the job.”

Susie (German<>English)

Kate Metaphor for Translation

“For me, being a translator is having the responsibility, and even more, an opportunity to learn something new every day. Learn with the language, with each choice we have to take to convey a specific meaning to another public culture, and, of course, learn with the number of different subjects and new content presented to us with every new project, demanding constant study of a multitude of themes.

So, being a translator is like embarking on a challenging and privileged journey, crossing borders and assuming the mission to safeguard and transmit ideas and concepts to different parts of the world. It’s to help to universalize knowledge.”

Ignacio (English>Portuguese)

Como el Coloso de Rodas de Heemskerck, el traductor ha de tener un pie en cada orilla y la mente justo en el centro si pretende mantener encendida la llama del entendimiento entre los hombres.

Just like the image of the Colossus of Rhodes as imagined by the famous painter Martin Heemskerck, I strongly believe that translators must keep a foot on either bank and their mind right in the center to keep alive the flame of understanding between cultures and people.”

Analía (English<>Spanish)

Teresa Metaphor for Translation

Whatever their perspective, professional linguists must possess a masterful ability to navigate that treacherous middle ground between the source language and the target language. Multilingual Connections employs a network of highly skilled individuals with proven track records of handling the unique and intricate challenges of their respective language pairs.

Contact us today to find out how we can provide multilingual solutions for your business.

Want to stay connected?

We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!