Essay: The process of translation

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Since no two languages are the same, the process of translation is not as easy as some would think. It is often claimed that anyone could be a translator; which is completely false. It is true that some people are more talented than others, but the study of translation has its own role, namely that of preparing ‘the student for dealing with the unpredictable’ (Baker 1992:2). This unpredictable is related to the fact that translation is actually a procedure of ‘interlinguistic transfer’ (Petcu 2016:1), and the translator should manage to render that meaning in the right way.
 
3.1 Equivalence at word-level

In her study of translation, Mona Baker starts by claiming that at the basis of any communication act lies the word. In order to make a good translation, the translator first decodes the message of the source text. And decoding is made through words. Baker gives the loose definition of the word, citing from Bolinger and Sears (1968:43): the word is ‘the smallest unit of language that can be used by itself’. But the word is not the only unit which can carry meaning. Morphemes, for example, are ‘the minimal formal element of meaning in language’ (Baker 1992:11). The difference between them is that a word can contain more than one meaningful element and a morpheme cannot(Baker 1992:11). In relation with these notions are the monomorphemic words (they have only one morpheme) and polymorphemic words (they have multiple morphemes).

(1) Cat is a monomorphemic word because it cannot be broken down is smaller meaningful units, only into sound segments.

(2) Unhappy is a polymorphemic word because it is composed of an affix (the prefix un-), and a meaningful unit (happy).

Every word or lexical unit carries lexical meaning. In Baker’s study of translation four types of lexical meaning are proposed: propositional meaning, expressive meaning, presupposed meaning, and evoked meaning.

The first category of lexical meaning, namely the propositional meaning, contributes to the truth value of a proposition. It helps us establish whether a proposition is true or false. For example, the propositional meaning of hat is ‘a piece of clothing that you wear on your head’ . The use of the word hat in order to refer to a piece of clothing that covers the lower half of the body would be inaccurate.

When it comes to the expressive meaning, we are no longer concerned with the truth value of a proposition. Expressive meaning reflects the speaker’s attitude or feelings and according to Baker’s example, there’s a difference between Don’t complain and Don’t whinge (Baker 1992:13). The difference is that whinge is more powerful than complain, because it carries some extra-meaning, namely that the speaker is annoyed.

All these meanings are used in a certain register. Register may vary depending on field of discourse (the subject of discussion, ex. politics), tenor of discourse (the language used with regard to the interpersonal relationship, ex. teacher/student) and mode of discourse (the role of the language, whether it is spoken/written or its form ‘ speech/essay, for example).

3.1.1 The problem of non-equivalence

Equivalence is one of the most discussed, interpreted and controversial concepts in translation studies. Since all translators have to deal with the problem of non-equivalence, Baker has some suggestions. In her study, she makes a connection between this problem and semantic fields.

Semantic fields are studied by linguistics; every language has its own semantic fields. A semantic field is a group of words that are related in meaning. Some examples of semantic fields would be those of technology, communication, cosmetics. Moreover, most languages have ‘fields of distance, size, shape, time, emotion, beliefs, academic subjects and natural phenomena’ (Baker 1992:18).

Lexical sets are the sub-divisions of a field. As Mona Baker exemplifies, ‘the field of SPEECH in English has a sub-division of VERBS OF SPEECH which includes general verbs such as speak and say and more specific ones such as mumble, murmur, mutter, and whisper.’ (Baker 1992:18).

In order to produce a good translation, the translator should understand ‘the difference in the structure of semantic fields in the source and target languages’; for example, in English there are four divisions when it comes to the field of temperature: cold, cool, hot and warm (Baker 1992:19). Romanians also have a few divisions within this field: rece, cald and fierbinte with their derived terms, such as r”coros or c”ldu”. The difference is that Romanians do not make a distinction between cold and cool, they use a single term for both. Knowing this, if the translator translates from Romanian into English, he should be aware of the differences and use the proper term.

In Mona Baker’s study of translation we find out that ‘semantic fields are arranged hierarchically, going from the more general to the more specific’ (Baker 1992:20). The more general word is called a superordinate term (or a hypernym) and the more specific word is called a hyponym. For instance, in the field of animals, animal is the superordinate term and dog, cat, mouse, lion are hyponyms. The meaning carried by a superordinate is part of the meaning of the hyponyms, but it does not work both ways. A dog is an animal, but not all animals are dogs.

We should always keep in mind the fact that semantic fields are not fixed. They change constantly, some words may be introduced into the vocabulary while some words may be excluded. (Baker 1992:20).

While keeping an eye on this linguistic aspect, we should also be aware of a few dimensions of the problem of non-equivalence. The first one is related to culture-specific concepts. Baker explains that ‘the source-language word may express a concept which is totally unknown in the target culture'(Baker 1992:21). She exemplifies with the term Speaker (of the House of Commons); it seems that there are no equivalents for this in many languages. But there might be some approximate translations in some languages. For example, in Romanian an equivalent expression is pre”edintele Camerei Deputa”ilor. There is a cultural difference in their meaning, namely that when he/she takes office, the Speaker of the House of Commons breaks ties with his/her political party, and pre”edintele Camerei Deputa”ilor does not. If we would rather not lose the cultural specificity, we can translate it by pre”edintele Camerei Comunelor.

Another type of non-equivalence would occur if the source-language concept is not lexicalized in the target language. Baker suggests the example of standard (defined in Longman Dictionary as ‘the level that is considered to be acceptable, or the level that someone or something has achieved’ ). She claims that in spite of the fact that the concept is understood by most people, there are languages which do not have an equivalent for it, such as Arabic. Luckily, the Romanian translation fully respects the lexical form of the term since the same term is used, namely standard. The example (3) exemplifies how Romanian preserved the term.

(3) Fiecare ”ar” are propriul standard de frumuse”e.

Another problem may arise when the source-language word is semantically complex. Mona Baker gives the example of the Brazilian word arrua”o, meaning ‘clearing the ground under coffee trees of rubbish and piling it in the middle of the row in order to aid the recovery of beans dropped during harvesting’ (Baker 1992:22).

Non-equivalence can also occur when the source and target languages make different distinctions in meaning. Baker illustrates this problem (1992:22) with two Indonesian words, kehunjanan (going out in the rain without knowing that it’s raining) and hujanhujanan (going out in the rain while being aware that it’s raining). Such a distinction is inexistent in English and in Romanian.

In both cases, whether the word is semantically complex or there are certain differences between the meanings of source and target terms, the translator may use the paraphrase or add a footnote with an explanation.

A translator may face some difficulties if a superordinate or a hyponym is absent in the target language. For instance, when it comes to the field of movement, English is very rich, using terms such as to jump, to spring, to leap, for instance. We can find Romanian equivalents for these, namely a s”ri (for jump), a t”ni (spring) and a s”lta (for leap). But this does not always happen in all languages.

Difficulties may also appear when talking about shifts in the physical or interpersonal perspective (Baker 1992:23). Baker gives the example of Japanese, where there are six equivalents for the word give, depending on who gives what to whom.

Another problem would be the differences in form. Baker provides the example of some English couplets, such as employer/employee, trainer/trainee, and payer/payee or affixes that contribute to evoked meaning, like ‘ish(stylish) and ‘able (loveable) (1992:24). Even though the meaning cannot always be rendered in all languages, even by paraphrase, in Romanian there may be solutions for these terms: angajator/angajat for employer/employee, antrenor/sportiv for trainer/trainee and pl”titor/beneficiar for payer/payee.

Baker comes up with some useful strategies that could help in overcoming problems of non-equivalence. Firstly, she claims that a very good solution would be the use of a more general word, namely a superordinate (Baker 1992:26). For example, in a Spanish translation from English, the verb shampoo is replaced with lavar (wash) in the target text (Baker 1992:27). The verb wash is a superordinate term for to shampoo. Luckily, in Romanian there is no such case in this context; we have a term for to shampoo, namely a ”ampona.

Another solution would be to translate using a more neutral word (Baker 1992:28). For instance, we have the verb to whinge, which in opposition to to complain, expresses more annoyance on the speaker’s behalf. We can translate to whinge by a se v”ita or a se smiorc”i.

We can also use the strategy of cultural substitution, which demands a lot of creativity (Baker 1992:31). The translator has to use a word or expression that has a similar impact on the reader. An example would be the British archetypal prankster, Robin Goodfellow. As he is not a character which is well-known to most Romanians, a cultural substitute could be P”cal”, since both characters share the same features.

There are cases where two languages have cultural differences, so a translator can use a loan word or a loan word and an explanation (Baker 1992:34). The translator preserves the form of the source-text term and adds an explanation and if the term occurs more than once, it is not necessary to repeat the explanation. But it is also possible that the concept of the loan will be understood by the reader, and in this situation the explanation is not mandatory; the example in (4) illustrates this situation:

(4) Recent projects have included support to improve the pursuit of money laundering and the recovery of the proceeds of crime, strengthen communication between the judiciary and the mass media, and prepare for the implementation of the new codes.

Proiectele recente au inclus sprijin pentru ”mbun”t”irea instrument”rii cazurilor de sp”lare de bani ”i a recuper”rii veniturilor realizate din infrac”iuni, consolidarea comunic”rii ”ntre sistemul judiciar ”i mass-media, precum ”i preg”tirea pentru punerea ”n aplicare a noilor coduri.

In cases of non-equivalence, a translator can also use paraphrasing with a related word (Baker 1992:37). The word or expression used in the target language is equivalent to the one used in the source language, but has a different grammatical or lexical form in the target text. The strategy works in Romanian translations too:

(5) I would like to own a tiger-like cat one day.

Mi-ar pl”cea ca ”ntr-o bun” zi s” am o pisic” cu blana tigrat”.

A similar strategy is translating by paraphrase using unrelated words (Baker 1992:38).

(6) It provided an affidavit of its manager explaining the sourcing process of the samples used in the testing in order to prove the independence, correctness and representativeness of the testing.

Produc”torul-exportator a furnizat o declara”ie scris” a responsabilului care explica provenien”a e”antioanelor utilizate ”n cadrul testelor pentru a dovedi independen”a, corectitudinea ”i reprezentativitatea acestor teste.

In some contexts, the translator has no choice but to leave out a word from the source-language text, this strategy being called translation by omission. But he has to bear in mind that this strategy can be put into practice only if the omitted term does not provide the readership with vital information. Baker’s example is the following:

(7) ST: This is your chance to remember the way things were, and for younger visitors to see in real-life detail the way their parents, and their parents before them lived and travelled.(Baker 1992:40).

TT1: Voici l’occasion de retrouver votre jeunesse (qui sait?) et pour les plus jeunes de voir comment leurs parents et grands-parents vivaient et voyageaient. (Baker 1992:41).

TT2 : Acum ave”i ”ansa de a v” reaminti trecutul, iar vizitatorii mai tineri pot vedea cum au tr”it ”i c”l”torit p”rin”ii lor ”i p”rin”ii p”rin”ilor lor.

In example (7) we can see that the structure in real-life detail is omitted in both translations; the translator has chosen to do this because the information is not really necessary, and its absence does not affect in any way the text. As a sidenote, in Romanian it works both ways, with or without that term. If the Romanian translator had chosen to preserve the structure, the target text would have been like this:

(8) Acum ave”i ”ansa de a v” reaminti trecutul, iar vizitatorii mai tineri pot vedea exact cum au tr”it p”rin”ii lor ”i p”rin”ii p”rin”ilor lor.

3.2. Equivalence above word level. Collocations, idioms & fixed expressions

So far we have talked about what can happen when the problem of non-equivalence occurs at word level. We might wonder what happens when words combine and form various structures (Baker 1992:46). Words usually occur in the presence of certain other words, the occurence being based on some restrictions. This goes under the name of ‘lexical patterning’, which is the case of collocations and idioms and fixed expressions (Baker 1992:47).

In her study of translation, Baker discusses the problem of collocations, idioms and fixed expressions in translation. As she puts it, collocations are ‘semantically arbitrary restrictions which do not follow logically from the propositional meaning of a word’ (Baker 1992:14). Some translators find the translation of lexical patterns a little difficult because they might confuse the source and target patterns and be influenced by the collocational patterning of the source language. This is likely to happen because the language changes all the time: ‘we create new collocations all the time, either by extending an existing range or by deliberately putting together words from different or opposing ranges’, Baker explains (1992:52). Translators have to be in touch with all the linguistic changes in the languages they works with, because otherwise they will not be able to come up with a natural equivalent.

Baker shares another difficulty that a translator may have to deal with: misunderstanding the meaning of a collocation because of the influence of his/her native language (Baker 1992:55). There are cases when that particular collocation has a close equivalent in the other language, but the latter is associated with someloss of meaning. But we have to bear in mind that if the respective nuance is of no real significance in the respective context, it is better to have a naturally written text than a ‘foreign’ one. Naturalness is more important than accuracy in some cases. Even Baker agrees with this, saying that ‘a certain amount of loss, addition, or skewing of meaning is often unavoidable in translation; language systems tend to be too different to produce exact replicas in most cases’ (Baker 1992:57). For example, the English collocation good/bad law is a just/unjust law in Arabic (Baker 1992:56).

Two terms that are relevant for the disccussion collocations in translation are the terms ‘collocational range’ and collocational markedness’. The collocational range refers to the set of collocates of a certain word. For example (Baker 1992:50), the collocational range of the English verb shrug is quite limited; it can only select the complement NP shoulders; by contrast, there are words with vast collocational ranges, such as run, which can co-occur with car, business, nose, water, company and so on.

Collocational markedness is the situation in which the writer or the speaker creates an unusual combination of words. ‘Marked collocations are often used in fiction, poetry, humour, and advertisements precisely for this reason: because they can create unusual images, produce laughter and catch the reader’s attention'(Baker 1992:51). Baker exemplifies this idea with the sentence in (8):

(9) War normally breaks out, but peace prevails.

In example (9) it is suggested that the two situations are extreme opposites: while war is temporary and undesirable, peace is normal and desirable. And in the following example, the sense is reversed:

(10) Could real peace break out after all? (John Le Carr”, ‘The Russia House’, 1989:102).

According to Baker, unlike collocations which are quite flexible, idioms are fixed structures (Baker 1992:63). The writer can change the structure of the idiom only when making a joke, but usually the structure is observed (for example, jump the gun – ‘to be doing something early’ ‘ does not bear variation).

So we saw the difference between collocations and idioms, but what about idioms and fixed expressions? Unlike idioms, fixed expressions are more transparent in meaning. Some examples of fixed expressions would be the following: Ladies and Gentlemen, as a matter of fact, as it follows, all the best, Merry Christmas. Proverbs can be classified as fixed expressions as well.

(11) Better late than never.

Going back to the concept of idioms, we should be aware that not all idioms are fixed, some are more flexible than others. When dealing with a translation which involves idioms, a translator might find himself in the position of not identifying the idiomatic expression. ‘The more difficult an expression is to understand and the less sense it makes in a given context, the more likely a translator will recognize it as an idiom'(Baker 1992:65). But knowing this, the translator should pay more attention when he finds such problematic expressions.

Baker also talks about the difficulties a translator might encounter when it comes to idioms and fixed expressions. She claims that there are idioms which have no equivalent in the target language, idioms with similar counterparts in the target language, but different contexts of use, or idioms used with both their literal and idiomatic meaning at the same time. She then suggests various strategies of dealing with these problems.

Baker suggests using a target language idiom which is similar in terms of meaning and form to the idiom in the source text. For example, we can translate the English idiom to take someone for a ride by the Romanian idiom a lua pe cineva ”n c”ru”; both mean to fool someone.

A second strategy would be using an idiom with similar meaning but different form than in the source text. For example, to rain cats and dogs can be translated as a ploua cu g”leata.

We could also translate idiomatic expressions by paraphrasing: to be wet behind the ears can be translated as a fi neexperimentat or a fi novice.

3.3 Grammatical equivalence

Baker discusses how differences in grammatical structure influence translation (Baker 1992:83).

One grammatical category which does not have uniform behaviour in all languages is number (Baker 1992:87). While the singular and the plural are clearly differentiated in English, there are languages in which there is a distinction ‘between one, two and more than two’ (Baker 1992:87), such as Arabic and Slavonic languages. In addition, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese are languages which express the difference between singular and plural lexically or not at all. So the translator has two options: he/she can omit the relevant information on number or he/she can lexically render the information by adding an adjective like “various” or a numeral. The Romanian singular and plural are clearly differentiated as well, just like in English.

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