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Case 1: Graphic arrangements and translation: the case of parallel text

In this article, we look at examples of specific uses of space in translation and interpreting.
© Cardiff University

In this section we are going to look at four distinct contexts in which we often encounter translation and interpreting.

We will look at the way in which written texts are spatially arranged and what meanings we assign to their position.

Then we will examine the role of translation in museums and, more specifically, in relation to visual art. We will think about the role of translation (including peer translation) in multilingual classes aimed at health professionals. And we will discuss how translation and interpreting (including self-translation) can support access to community services. In each case, we are going to examine the typical spatial arrangements we are likely to encounter, and how they affect translation.

Case 1: Graphic arrangements and translation: the case of parallel text

In one of the previous sections we saw a photograph taken in Milan where a short text appeared in Chinese and in Italian. Look again at that image:

Image of Chinese text translated into Italian

The Chinese characters appear before the Italian version, and the arrangement is repeated for both the main text and the date. Looking at this image, did you make any assumptions about which is the Source Text and which is the translation?

Now look at the following image, which shows text in English and Italian, this time arranged side by side. Do you think you can guess which one is the translation?

Example of side by side text in English and Italian from the European commision Side by Side Translation from the European Commission (Click to expand)

Most people, at least in the West, will instinctively assume that the one which appears before the other is the source text – where ‘before’ refers to the order in which Western readers will look at written words, i.e. from top to bottom of the page and from left to right when moving from one page to another.

If you look carefully you will notice that there is no other sign indicating the relationship between the two couples of texts: spatial arrangement is enough to indicate a hierarchy of reading (which text we approach first) which is in turn immediately associated, due to cultural habits and social conventions, with a hierarchy of importance: the ‘original’ precedes the translation and remains somewhat superior to it.

© Cardiff University
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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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