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What is translation?

Watch the course educators dispel some myths about translation, discuss some definitions and key concepts.
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Is translation part of your personal or professional life? When, and where, do you encounter it? And does it make things easier for you? Does it solve problems or does it complicate life? The answer to all these questions is probably yes, but to understand what this means we need to go back to basics. We need to think about what translation is. Its definitions, its perceptions, and also some of its most common misconceptions. For example, when we look at the fact that the word translation, in English, comes from the Latin, translatio, a word that means carrying things across. Is that something that colours our perception of translation and of translators? Are interpreters and translators just messengers who ferry things across borders?
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And if so, what about the idea that that messenger could also be a traitor? The famous dictum in Italian is traduttore, traditore. Is that also what a translator is? We’ll then present you with a very general categorisation of translation starting with the first and most obvious type, that is translation between languages. So translating from English into Chinese, Chinese into Tamil, Tamil into Swahili, and so on. This is sometimes called interlingual translation. Interlingual from ‘inter,’ between, ‘lingual’ languages. So again, moving between languages. And that’s the type that we’re going to focus on in this course.
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Even if we narrow down our definition to that between languages, we’re still faced with a great diversity of types, topics of translation, that also require slightly different methods to obtain a good translation. So for example, if you’re translating a legal document, a marriage certificate, birth certificate, and so on, you probably want a very close, literal translation with nothing added, nothing left out. On the other hand, and we’re staying within the legal setting, if you’re interpreting,
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you have an interpreter and that 00:02:10.090 –> 00:02:12.920 align:middle line:84% is someone who translates what’s being said,
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they may need to add information. For example, to explain a cultural difference or somebody’s body language. Or think about humour. Think about a funny cartoon or a comedy that you watched with subtitles. Now you may not have realised, but that humour probably was not translated word-for-word and, if it had been, it probably just wouldn’t be funny. So humour is actually often re-written, re-created. So that’s just a few examples of the different types of translation and interpreting. And as you’ve seen, they do require slightly different methods. Every day, we use language differently, for different purposes, for different audiences. You would never speak to your children the way that you speak, say, to your employers. And yet, you use the same language.
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Even within the same language, there are problems of communication. Words, sentences, ideas, that are not grasped or misunderstood, by those you speak to. And we need to interpret, re-phrase, translate, ourselves. Have you ever had to look up words in the dictionary as you were following the instructions of some new appliance you bought? Or been annoyed by the latest movie that cut all of the best bits of your favourite book? If so, you’ve encountered the two types of translation that we’ll be talking about today, intralingual translation, translation within the same language, and intersemiotic translation, translation between different sign systems.
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As we move through this week and then the next few weeks, we will be asking what translation is and we will be giving you more detailed definition of the process of translation and of the role of translators. We will be asking you to reflect on your own experiences and we’ll be helping you to build a personal checklist of how to make translation work for you.
In this first session we will try to dispel some myths about translation, discuss some definitions and key concepts, and invite you to reflect on your experiences as translators (or interpreters) as well as users of translation.
As we progress, there will be plenty of examples for you to look at and activities to try out and we’ll ask you to share your ideas.

Your translation diary

One of the tasks that you are encouraged to do as we move through the course is to keep a “translation diary”. It is easy not to notice translation as we meet it in our daily life. What happens if, instead, we pay attention to it?
In your diary, you might want to jot down when you encounter a sign, or a leaflet, in multiple languages. (Some of which will be translations, but can you tell which ones?)
Or you might want to note whether the book you are reading at bedtime is a translation. Or whether you went to the cinema and the film you saw was dubbed, or subtitled.
And of course you may find yourself translating, too: for your own benefit, or in order to help others understand a message they do not have the ability to decipher.
Writing down some notes on these encounters with translation, or perhaps taking a quick photograph of what translations look like, will help you store ideas that you can bring back to the course: to compare them with some of the examples we will provide and also to share them with other learners.
Together, we might be able to produce the most complex picture ever put together of what translation looks like around the world!
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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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