Translations: art or science? Creativity or algorithm? When talking about translation, people usually think about literary translations—that is, novels, poetry, comics, and many other literary genres.
However, there are various kinds of translation: patent and technical translations, marketing translations, transcreations, localizations, and so on. All of them require a different degree of technique, accuracy, and creativity.
If you translate a user manual or a patent, you need to choose the words carefully as they must be specific to that field. Instead, if you are working on a marketing translation or a localization, you are expected to know the culture of the language you are translating into, the habits of those people, and some marketing notions in order to create effective slogans and advertisements. So, if you decide to walk down the path to become a professional translator, you need to know not only one or more languages at an advanced level and their respective cultures, but also your fields of expertise.
Thus, the intriguing recipe for a perfect translation could be as follows: study a language in depth and choose the field you want to specialize in, then add some writing skills and creativity to taste. It would be great if it were so simple! The truth is that a translator keeps studying all their life to always be up-to-date on the latest developments in his/her fields of expertise. But translating a text also means giving it new life by shaping sentences, rhythm, and style to create a good-sounding, free-flowing text that is easy to understand and maintains the meaning and expressiveness of the source text.
Besides this, there are other important skills; knowing a language implies knowing its rhythm, sound, and the right way to assemble the words in order to build good prose. This is an art, but also a science, as it requires an in-depth study of the language and practice—in other words, it is τέχνη, téchne, a craft resulting from the practical application of an art.
According to the Dictionary of Philosophy, téchne is “the set of principles, or rational methods, involved in the products of an object or the accomplishment of an end; the knowledge of such principles or methods; art.” Even Plato in his Republic (390-360 BC) considers the knowledge of the téchne as the foundation of the philosopher’s craft of ruling in the city.
There are specialized schools for interpreters and translators that teach students translation and interpretation techniques, along with pratical and theoretical notions. Yet, the technique itself must be refined over and over, just like a sculptor carves the details of a statue or a painter improves his style so that the observer’s eyes harmoniously move on the surfaces of the artwork. So do the reader’s eye and mind; the words must be easily read and the meaning must be immediately grasped. Therefore, a translator should possess not only the ability to write fluently in his/her native language but also good communication skills, which are fundamental to engage with the target audience in either literary or technical translations.
In other words, translating is a science that needs deep knowledge of the field and accuracy, but it is also a work of art that calls for creativity and language liveliness—both powerful antidotes against all forms of linguistic idleness.
Written by Marcella Sartore, Marketing & Communication Assistant @ Athena Parthenos