Thursday, December 17, 2009

Translation & Interpreting

It's been awhile since I've posted anything about translation or interpreting, so I thought I'd take a break from foreign-language issues, step out of the world of the classroom and into the often invisible world of translation and interpreting, where people live, breathe and work, employing the highest level of language skills possible to the human mind.

If you think that viewing translation and interpreting as such is an exaggeration, consider what Martin Heidegger had to say about language: "Language is the highest and everywhere the foremost of thse assents which we human beings can never articulate solely out of our own means" (quoted in Steiner, G. After Babel, 3rd ed.: Oxford U. Press, 1998, just before chapter one). Heidegger's statement doesn't even begin to deal with the doubling of the mystery of language by introducing a second language, or a third, or a fourth...

First of all, for my general readers, there is a difference between translation and interpreting. I am almost never an interpreter. I am almost always a translator. As the link above explains, translators and interpreters are very different types of people. Being a simultaneous interpreter is like being a blind tightrope walker without a net, who has to run, juggling dishes. Being a translator is like being a hiker -- sometimes the road is steep, other times you have to jog or even run a bit. But the translator has the advantage of being able to take his bearings and if need be, backtrack. Interpreters don't have the advantage of being able to "backspace and delete."

The process of translation is both artful and technical. Our word for "technical" comes from Greek, "tekne," which encompasses both notions. Translation can be viewed as an exacting art or a creative science. Warning: Translating and interpreting are not careers people can suddenly decide to embark on after high school -- unless they are already exceedingly skilled in two languages. Note that I didn't say "bilingual," -- there is too much confusion about what being "bilingual" means.

Finally, I leave you with two articles. One deals with some of the problems of one of the two main branches of translation work: Literary translation. The other is about the alchemical experience of translation -- what translators experience as they work, whether they work in the other main branch -- technical -- or literary.

No comments: