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Translation is the comprehension of the meaning of a text and the subsequent production of an equivalent text, likewise called a "translation," that communicates the same message in another language. The text that is translated is called the source text, and the language that it is translated into is called the target language. The product is sometimes called the target text.

Translation, when practiced by relatively bilingual individuals but especially when by persons with limited proficiency in one or both languages, involves a risk of spilling-over of idioms and usages from the source language into the target language. On the other hand, inter-linguistic spillages have also served the useful purpose of importing calques and loanwords from a source language into a target language that had previously lacked a concept or a convenient expression for the concept. Translators and interpreters have thus played an important role in the evolution of languages and cultures.[1]

The art of translation is as old as written literature.[2] Parts of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, among the oldest known literary works, have been found in translations into several Southwest Asian languages of the second millennium BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh may have been read, in their own languages, by early authors of the Bible and the Iliad.[3]

Developments since the Industrial Revolution have influenced the practice of translation, nurturing schools, professional associations, and standards.[4] The Internet has helped expand the market for translation and has facilitated product localization. Currently, some 75% of professional translators work with technical texts.[5]

Since the 1940s,[6] attempts have been made to computerize the translation of natural-language texts (machine translation) or to use computers as an aid to translation (computer-assisted translation).


Etymologically, translation is a "carrying across" or "bringing across". The Latin translatio derives from the perfect passive participle, translatum, of transfero ("I transfer"—from trans, "across" + fero, "I carry" or "I bring"). The modern Romance, Germanic and Slavic European languages have generally formed their own equivalent terms for this concept after the Latin model—after transfero or after the kindred traduco ("I bring across" or "I lead across").[7]

Additionally, the Ancient Greek term for "translation", μετάφρασις (metaphrasis, "a speaking across"), has supplied English with metaphrase (a "literal translation", or "word-for-word" translation)—as contrasted with paraphrase ("a saying in other words", from the Greek παράφρασις, paraphrasis").[8] Metaphrase corresponds, in one of the more recent terminologies, to "formal equivalence"; and paraphrase, to "dynamic equivalence."[9]

A widely recognized icon for the practice and historic role of translation is the Rosetta Stone, which in the United States is incorporated into the coat of arms of the Defense Language Institute.


History of theory

Discussions of the theory and practice of translation reach back into antiquity and show remarkable continuities. The distinction that had been drawn by the ancient Greeks between metaphrase ("literal" translation) and paraphrase was adopted by the English poet and translator John Dryden (1631–1700), who represented translation as the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, "counterparts", or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language:

When [words] appear... literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since... what is beautiful in one [language] is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author's words: 'tis enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense.[7]

Dryden cautioned, however, against the license of "imitation", i.e. of adapted translation: "When a painter copies from the life... he has no privilege to alter features and lineaments..."[9]

This general formulation of the central concept of translation — equivalence — is probably as adequate as any that has been proposed ever since Cicero and Horace, in first-century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translating "word for word" (verbum pro verbo).[9]

Despite occasional theoretical diversities, the actual practice of translators has hardly changed since antiquity. Except for some extreme metaphrasers in the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, and adapters in various periods (especially pre-Classical Rome, and the 18th century), translators have generally shown prudent flexibility in seeking equivalents — "literal" where possible, paraphrastic where necessary — for the original meaning and other crucial "values" (e.g., style, verse form, concordance with musical accompaniment or, in films, with speech articulatory movements) as determined from context.[9]

In general, translators have sought to preserve the context itself by reproducing the original order of sememes, and hence word order — when necessary, reinterpreting the actual grammatical structure. The grammatical differences between "fixed-word-order" languages[10] (e.g., English, French, German) and "free-word-order" languages[11] (e.g., Greek, Latin, Polish, Russian) have been no impediment in this regard.[9]

When a target language has lacked terms that are found in a source language, translators have borrowed them, thereby enriching the target language. Thanks in great measure to the exchange of calques and loanwords between languages, and to their importation from other languages, there are few concepts that are "untranslatable" among the modern European languages.[9]

Generally, the greater the contact and exchange that has existed between two languages, or between both and a third one, the greater is the ratio of metaphrase to paraphrase that may be used in translating between them. However, due to shifts in "ecological niches" of words, a common etymology is sometimes misleading as a guide to current meaning in one or the other language. The English actual, for example, should not be confused with the cognate French actuel (meaning "present", "current"), the Polish aktualny ("present", "current")[12] or the Russian актуальный ("urgent, topical").

The translator's role as a bridge for "carrying across" values between cultures has been discussed at least since Terence, Roman adapter of Greek comedies, in the second century BCE. The translator's role is, however, by no means a passive and mechanical one, and so has also been compared to that of an artist. The main ground seems to be the concept of parallel creation found in critics as early as Cicero. Dryden observed that "Translation is a type of drawing after life..." Comparison of the translator with a musician or actor goes back at least to Samuel Johnson's remark about Alexander Pope playing Homer on a flageolet, while Homer himself used a bassoon.[12]

If translation be an art, it is no easy one. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon wrote that if a translation is to be true, the translator must know both languages, as well as the science that he is to translate; and finding that few translators did, he wanted to do away with translation and translators altogether.[13]

The first European to assume that one translates satisfactorily only toward his own language may have been Martin Luther, translator of the Bible into German. According to L.G. Kelly, since Johann Gottfried Herder in the 18th century, "it has been axiomatic" that one works only toward his own language.[14]

Compounding these demands upon the translator is the fact that not even the most complete dictionary or thesaurus can ever be a fully adequate guide in translation. Alexander Tytler, in his Essay on the Principles of Translation (1790), emphasized that assiduous reading is a more comprehensive guide to a language than are dictionaries. The same point, but also including listening to the spoken language, had earlier been made in 1783 by Onufry Andrzej Kopczyński, member of Poland's Society for Elementary Books, who was called "the last Latin poet".[15]

The special role of the translator in society is aptly described in an essay that was published posthumously in 1803 and that had been written by Ignacy Krasicki — "Poland's La Fontaine", Primate of Poland, poet, encyclopedist, author of the first Polish novel, and translator from French and Greek:

[T]ranslation... is in fact an art both estimable and very difficult, and therefore is not the labor and portion of common minds; [it] should be [practiced] by those who are themselves capable of being actors, when they see greater use in translating the works of others than in their own works, and hold higher than their own glory the service that they render to their country.[16]

Religious texts

Diamond Sutra, translated by Kumārajīva

Translation of religious works has played an important role in history. Buddhist monks who translated the Indian sutras into Chinese often skewed their translations to better reflect China's very different culture, emphasizing notions such as filial piety.

A famous mistranslation of the Bible is the rendering of the Hebrew word קֶרֶן (keren), which has several meanings, as "horn" in a context where it actually means "beam of light". As a result, artists have for centuries depicted Moses the Lawgiver with horns growing out of his forehead. An example is Michelangelo's famous sculpture. Some Christians with anti-Semitic feelings used such depictions to spread hatred of the Jews, claiming that they were devils with horns.

One of the first recorded instances of translation in the West was the rendering of the Old Testament into Greek in the third century B.C.E. The resulting translation is known as the Septuagint, a name that alludes to the seventy translators (seventy-two in some versions) who were commissioned to translate the Bible in Alexandria. Each translator worked in solitary confinement in a separate cell, and legend has it that all seventy versions were identical. The Septuagint became the source text for later translations into many languages, including Latin, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian.

Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translation, is still considered one of the greatest translators in history for rendering the Bible into Latin. The Roman Catholic Church used his translation (known as the Vulgate) for centuries, but even this translation at first stirred much controversy.

The period preceding and contemporary with the Protestant Reformation saw the translation of the Bible into local European languages, a development that greatly affected Western Christianity's split into Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, due to disparities between Catholic and Protestant versions of crucial words and passages.

The Luther Bible in German, Jakub Wujek's Bible translation in Polish, and the King James Bible in English had lasting effects on the religions, cultures and languages of those countries.

Fidelity vs. fluency

Fidelity (or "faithfulness") and fluency are two qualities that, for millennia, have been regarded as ideals to be striven for in translation, particularly literary translation. Sometimes, especially in inexperienced hands, the two ideals are at odds. Thus a 17th-century French critic quipped about "les belles infidèles" to suggest that translations, like women, could be either beautiful or faithful, but not both at the same time.[17]

"Fidelity" pertains to the extent to which a translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without adding to or subtracting from it, without emphasizing or de-emphasizing any part of the meaning, and otherwise without distorting it.

"Fluency" pertains to the extent to which a translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to the language's grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions.

A translation that meets the first criterion is said to be a "faithful translation"; a translation that meets the second criterion, an "idiomatic translation". In the hands of an expert translator, the two qualities need not be mutually exclusive.

The criteria used to judge the faithfulness of a translation vary according to the subject, the precision of the original contents, the type, function and use of the text, its literary qualities, its social or historical context, and so forth.

The criteria for judging the fluency of a translation appear more straightforward: an unidiomatic translation "sounds wrong", and in the extreme case of word-for-word translations generated by many machine-translation systems, often results in patent nonsense with only a humorous value (see Round-trip translation).

Nevertheless, in certain contexts a translator may consciously strive to produce a literal translation. Literary translators and translators of religious or historic texts often adhere as closely as possible to the source text. In doing so, they often deliberately stretch the boundaries of the target language to produce an unidiomatic text. Similarly, a literary translator may wish to adopt words or expressions from the source language in order to provide "local color" in the translation.

In recent decades, prominent advocates of such "non-fluent" translation have included the French scholar Antoine Berman, who identified twelve deforming tendencies inherent in most prose translations,[18] and the American theorist Lawrence Venuti, who has called upon translators to apply "foreignizing" translation strategies instead of domesticating ones.[19]

Many non-fluent-translation theories draw on concepts from German Romanticism, the most obvious influence on latter-day theories of "foreignization" being the German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his seminal lecture "On the Different Methods of Translation" (1813) he distinguished between translation methods that move "the writer toward [the reader]", i.e., fluency, and those that move the "reader toward [the author]", i.e., an extreme fidelity to the foreignness of the source text. Schleiermacher clearly favored the latter approach. His preference was motivated, however, not so much by a desire to embrace the foreign, as by a nationalist desire to oppose France's cultural domination and to promote German literature.

For the most part, current Western practices in translation are dominated by the concepts of "fidelity" and "fluency". This has not always been the case. There have been periods, especially in pre-Classical Rome and in the 18th century, when many translators stepped beyond the bounds of translation proper into the realm of "adaptation".

Adapted translation retains currency in some non-Western traditions. Thus the Indian epic, the Ramayana, appears in many versions in the various Indian languages, and the stories are different in each. Anyone considering the words used for translating into the Indian languages, whether those be Aryan or Dravidian languages, will be struck by the freedom that is granted to the translators. This may relate to a devotion to prophetic passages that strike a deep religious chord, or to a vocation to instruct unbelievers.[citation needed] Similar examples are to be found in medieval Christian literature, which adjusted the text to the customs and values of the audience.


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Translation types
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Related concepts

The question of fidelity vs. transparency has also been formulated in terms of, respectively, "formal equivalence" and "dynamic equivalence". The latter two expressions are associated with the translator Eugene Nida and were originally coined to describe ways of translating the Bible, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation.

"Formal equivalence" corresponds to "metaphrase", and "dynamic equivalence" to "paraphrase".

"Dynamic equivalence" (or "functional equivalence") conveys the essential thought expressed in a source text — if necessary, at the expense of literality, original sememe and word order, the source text's active vs. passive voice, etc.

By contrast, "formal equivalence" (sought via "literal" translation) attempts to render the text literally, or "word for word" (the latter expression being itself a word-for-word rendering of the classical Latin verbum pro verbo) — if necessary, at the expense of features natural to the target language.

There is, however, no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. On the contrary, they represent a spectrum of translation approaches. Each is used at various times and in various contexts by the same translator, and at various points within the same text — sometimes simultaneously. Competent translation entails the judicious blending of dynamic and formal equivalents.[20]

Common pitfalls in translation, especially when practiced by inexperienced translators, involve false equivalents such as "false friends" and false cognates.


A "back-translation" is a translation of a translated text back into the language of the original text, made without reference to the original text. Back-translation is analogous to reversing (or inverting) a mathematical operation; but even in mathematics such a reversal frequently does not produce a value that is precisely identical with the original. In the context of machine translation, a back-translation is also called a "round-trip translation."

Comparison of a back-translation to the original text is sometimes used as a quality check on the original translation. But while useful as an approximate check, it is far from infallible.[21] Humorously telling evidence for this was provided by Mark Twain when he issued his own back-translation of a French version of his famous short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"; he published his back-translation in a single 1903 volume together with his English-language original, the French translation, and a "Private History of the 'Jumping Frog' Story," the latter including a synopsized adaptation that Twain tells us had appeared, without attribution to him, in a Professor Sidgwick's Greek Prose Composition (p. 116) under the title, "The Athenian and the Frog," and which for a time, Twain tells us, was taken for an independent ancient Greek precursor of Twain's "Jumping Frog" story.[22]

In cases when a historic document survives only in translation, the original having been lost, researchers sometimes undertake back-translation in an effort to reconstruct the original text. An example involves the novel The Saragossa Manuscript by the Polish aristocrat Jan Potocki (1761–1815). The polymath polyglot composed the book entirely in French and published fragments anonymously in 1804 and 1813–14. Portions of the original French-language manuscripts were subsequently lost; the missing fragments survived, however, in a Polish translation that was made by Edmund Chojecki in 1847 from a complete French copy, now lost. French-language versions of the complete Saragossa Manuscript have since been produced, based on extant French-language fragments and on French-language versions that have been back-translated from Chojecki's Polish version.[23]

Similarly, when historians suspect that a document is actually a translation from another language, back-translation into that hypothetical original language can provide supporting evidence by showing that such characteristics as idioms, puns, peculiar grammatical structures, etc., are in fact derived from the original language.

For example, the known text of the Till Eulenspiegel folk tales is in High German but contains many puns which only work if back-translated into Low German. This seems clear evidence that these tales (or at least large portions of them) were originally composed in Low German and rendered into High German by an over-metaphrastic translator.

Similarly, supporters of Aramaic primacy—i.e., of the view that the Christian New Testament or its sources were originally written in the Aramaic language—seek to prove their case by showing that difficult passages in the existing Greek text of the New Testament make much better sense if back-translated into Aramaic—that, for example, some incomprehensible references are in fact Aramaic puns which do not work in Greek.

Literary translation

Translation of literary works (novels, short stories, plays, poems, etc.) is considered a literary pursuit in its own right. Notable in Canadian literature specifically as translators are figures such as Sheila Fischman, Robert Dickson and Linda Gaboriau, and the Governor General's Awards annually present prizes for the best English-to-French and French-to-English literary translations.

Other writers, among many who have made a name for themselves as literary translators, include Vasily Zhukovsky, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Stiller and Haruki Murakami.


The first important translation in the West was that of the Septuagint,[24] a collection of Jewish Scriptures translated into Koine Greek in Alexandria between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The dispersed Jews had forgotten their ancestral language and needed Greek versions (translations) of their Scriptures.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Latin was the lingua franca of the western learned world. The 9th-century Alfred the Great, king of Wessex in England, was far ahead of his time in commissioning vernacular Anglo-Saxon translations of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. Meanwhile the Christian Church frowned on even partial adaptations of the standard Latin Bible, St. Jerome's Vulgate of ca. 384 CE.[25]

In Asia, the spread of Buddhism led to large-scale ongoing translation efforts spanning well over a thousand years. The Tangut Empire was especially efficient in such efforts; exploiting the then newly-invented block printing, and with the full support of the government (contemporary sources describe the Emperor and his mother personally contributing to the translation effort, alongside sages of various nationalities), the Tanguts took mere decades to translate volumes that had taken the Chinese centuries to render.[citation needed]

Large-scale efforts at translation were undertaken by the Arabs. Having conquered the Greek world, they made Arabic versions of its philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, some translations of these Arabic versions were made into Latin, chiefly at Córdoba in Spain.[26] Such Latin translations of Greek and original Arab works of scholarship and science helped advance the development of European Scholasticism.

The broad historic trends in Western translation practice may be illustrated on the example of translation into the English language.

The first fine translations into English were made in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, who adapted from the Italian of Giovanni Boccaccio in his own Knight's Tale and Troilus and Criseyde; began a translation of the French-language Roman de la Rose; and completed a translation of Boethius from the Latin. Chaucer founded an English poetic tradition on adaptations and translations from those earlier-established literary languages.[26]

The first great English translation was the Wycliffe Bible (ca. 1382), which showed the weaknesses of an underdeveloped English prose. Only at the end of the 15th century did the great age of English prose translation begin with Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur—an adaptation of Arthurian romances so free that it can, in fact, hardly be called a true translation. The first great Tudor translations are, accordingly, the Tyndale New Testament (1525), which influenced the Authorized Version (1611), and Lord Berners' version of Jean Froissart's Chronicles (1523–25).[26]

Meanwhile, in Renaissance Italy, a new period in the history of translation had opened in Florence with the arrival, at the court of Cosimo de' Medici, of the Byzantine scholar Georgius Gemistus Pletho shortly before the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453). A Latin translation of Plato's works was undertaken by Marsilio Ficino. This and Erasmus' Latin edition of the New Testament led to a new attitude to translation. For the first time, readers demanded rigor of rendering, as philosophical and religious beliefs depended on the exact words of Plato, Aristotle and Jesus.[26]

Non-scholarly literature, however, continued to rely on adaptation. France's Pléiade, England's Tudor poets, and the Elizabethan translators adapted themes by Horace, Ovid, Petrarch and modern Latin writers, forming a new poetic style on those models. The English poets and translators sought to supply a new public, created by the rise of a middle class and the development of printing, with works such as the original authors would have written, had they been writing in England in that day.[26]

The Elizabethan period of translation saw considerable progress beyond mere paraphrase toward an ideal of stylistic equivalence, but even to the end of this period—which actually reached to the middle of the 17th century—there was no concern for verbal accuracy.[27]

In the second half of the 17th century, the poet John Dryden sought to make Virgil speak "in words such as he would probably have written if he were living and an Englishman". Dryden, however, discerned no need to emulate the Roman poet's subtlety and concision. Similarly, Homer suffered from Alexander Pope's endeavor to reduce the Greek poet's "wild paradise" to order.[27]

Throughout the 18th century, the watchword of translators was ease of reading. Whatever they did not understand in a text, or thought might bore readers, they omitted. They cheerfully assumed that their own style of expression was the best, and that texts should be made to conform to it in translation. For scholarship they cared no more than had their predecessors, and they did not shrink from making translations from translations in third languages, or from languages that they hardly knew, or—as in the case of James Macpherson's "translations" of Ossian—from texts that were actually of the "translator's" own composition.[27]

The 19th century brought new standards of accuracy and style. In regard to accuracy, observes J.M. Cohen, the policy became "the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text", except for any bawdy passages and the addition of copious explanatory footnotes.[28] In regard to style, the Victorians' aim, achieved through far-reaching metaphrase (literality) or pseudo-metaphrase, was to constantly remind readers that they were reading a foreign classic. An exception was the outstanding translation in this period, Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), which achieved its Oriental flavor largely by using Persian names and discreet Biblical echoes and actually drew little of its material from the Persian original.[27]

In advance of the 20th century, a new pattern was set in 1871 by Benjamin Jowett, who translated Plato into simple, straightforward language. Jowett's example was not followed, however, until well into the new century, when accuracy rather than style became the principal criterion.[27]


Poetry presents special challenges to translators, given the importance of a text's formal aspects, in addition to its content. In his influential 1959 paper "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation", the Russian-born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson went so far as to declare that "poetry by definition [is] untranslatable".

In 1974 the American poet James Merrill wrote a poem, "Lost in Translation", which in part explores this idea. The question was also discussed in Douglas Hofstadter's 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot; he argues that a good translation of a poem must convey as much as possible not only of its literal meaning, but of its form and structure (meter, rhyme or alliteration scheme, etc.).[29]

Sung texts

Translation of a text that is sung in vocal music for the purpose of singing in another language — sometimes called "singing translation" — is closely linked to translation of poetry because most vocal music, at least in the Western tradition, is set to verse, especially verse in regular patterns with rhyme. (Since the late 19th century, musical setting of prose and free verse has also been practiced in some art music, though popular music tends to remain conservative in its retention of stanzaic forms with or without refrains.) A rudimentary example of translating poetry for singing is church hymns, such as the German chorales translated into English by Catherine Winkworth.[30]

Translation of sung texts is generally much more restrictive than translation of poetry, because in the former there is little or no freedom to choose between a versified translation and a translation that dispenses with verse structure. One might modify or omit rhyme in a singing translation, but the assignment of syllables to specific notes in the original musical setting places great challenges on the translator. There is the option in prose sung texts, less so in verse, of adding or deleting a syllable here and there by subdividing or combining notes, respectively, but even with prose the process is almost like strict verse translation because of the need to stick as closely as possible to the original prosody of the sung melodic line.

Other considerations in writing a singing translation include repetition of words and phrases, the placement of rests and/or punctuation, the quality of vowels sung on high notes, and rhythmic features of the vocal line that may be more natural to the original language than to the target language. A sung translation may be considerably or completely different from the original, thus resulting in a contrafactum.

Translations of sung texts — whether of the above type meant to be sung or of a more or less literal type meant to be read — are also used as aids to audiences, singers and conductors, when a work is being sung in a language not known to them. The most familiar types are translations presented as subtitles projected during opera performances, those inserted into concert programs, and those that accompany commercial audio CDs of vocal music. In addition, professional and amateur singers often sing works in languages they do not know (or do not know well), and translations are then used to enable them to understand the meaning of the words they are singing.



A competent translator has the following qualities:

  • familiarity with the subject matter of the text being translated;
  • a very good knowledge of the language, written and spoken, from which he is translating (the source language);
  • an excellent command of the language into which he is translating (the target language);
  • a profound understanding of the etymological and idiomatic correlates between the two languages; and
  • a finely tuned sense of when to metaphrase ("translate literally") and when to paraphrase, so as to assure true rather than spurious equivalents between the source- and target-language texts.[31]


A common misconception is that anyone who can speak a second language will make a good translator. In the translation community, it is generally accepted that the best translations are produced by persons who are translating into their own native languages,[15] as it is rare for someone who has learned a second language to have total fluency in that language. A good translator understands the source language well, has specific experience in the subject matter of the text, and is a good writer in the target language. Moreover, he is not only bilingual but bicultural.

As with other human activities, the distinction between art and craft may be largely a matter of degree.[32] Even a document which appears simple, e.g. a product brochure, requires a certain level of linguistic skill that goes beyond mere technical terminology. Any material used for marketing purposes reflects on the company that produces the product and the brochure. The best translations are obtained through the combined application of good technical-terminology skills and good writing skills.

Translation has served as a writing school for many prominent writers. Translators, including monks who spread Buddhist texts in East Asia and the early modern European translators of the Bible, in the course of their work have shaped the very languages into which they have translated. They have acted as bridges for conveying knowledge and ideas between cultures and civilizations. Along with ideas, they have imported, into their own languages, loanwords and calques of grammatical structures, idioms and vocabulary from the source languages.


Interpreting, or "interpretation," is the facilitation of oral or sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between two or among three or more speakers who are not speaking, or signing, the same language.

The words "interpreting" and "interpretation" both can be used to refer to this activity. The word "interpreting" is commonly used in the profession and in the translation-studies field, to avoid confusion with other meanings of the word "interpretation."

Not all languages employ, as English does, two separate words to denote the activities of written and live-communication (oral or sign-language) translators.[33] Even English does not always make the distinction, frequently using "translation" as a synonym for "interpreting."

Machine translation

Machine translation (MT) is a procedure whereby a computer program analyzes a source text and produces a target text without further human intervention. In reality, however, machine translation typically does involve human intervention, in the form of pre-editing and post-editing. An exception to that rule might be, e.g., the translation of technical specifications (strings of technical terms and adjectives), using a dictionary-based machine-translation system.

To date, machine translation—a major goal of natural-language processing—has met with limited success. A November 6, 2007, example illustrates the hazards of uncritical reliance on machine translation.[34]

Machine translation has been brought to a large public by tools available on the Internet, such as Yahoo!'s Babel Fish, Babylon, and StarDict. These tools produce a "gisting translation" — a rough translation that, with luck, "gives the gist" of the source text. Google translate has a "read-aloud feature" that assists pronuciation in learning a language.

With proper terminology work, with preparation of the source text for machine translation (pre-editing), and with re-working of the machine translation by a professional human translator (post-editing), commercial machine-translation tools can produce useful results, especially if the machine-translation system is integrated with a translation-memory or globalization-management system.[35]

In regard to texts with limited ranges of vocabulary and simple sentence structure (e.g., weather reports), machine translation can deliver results that do not require much human intervention to be useful. Also, the use of a controlled language, combined with a machine-translation tool, will typically generate largely comprehensible translations.

Relying exclusively on unedited machine translation ignores the fact that communication in human language is context-embedded and that it takes a person to comprehend the context of the original text with a reasonable degree of probability. It is certainly true that even purely human-generated translations are prone to error. Therefore, to ensure that a machine-generated translation will be useful to a human being and that publishable-quality translation is achieved, such translations must be reviewed and edited by a human.[36] Claude Piron wrote that machine translation, at its best, automates the easier part of a translator's job; the harder and more time-consuming part usually involves doing extensive research to resolve ambiguities in the source text, which the grammatical and lexical exigencies of the target language require to be resolved.[37] Such research is a necessary prelude to the pre-editing necessary in order to provide input for machine-translation software such that the output will not be meaningless.[38]


Computer-assisted translation (CAT), also called "computer-aided translation," "machine-aided human translation" (MAHT) and "interactive translation," is a form of translation wherein a human translator creates a target text with the assistance of a computer program. The machine supports a human translator.

Computer-assisted translation can include standard dictionary and grammar software. The term, however, normally refers to a range of specialized programs available to the translator, including translation-memory, terminology-management, concordance, and alignment programs.

With the internet, translation software can help non-native-speaking individuals understand web pages published in other languages. Whole-page-translation tools are of limited utility, however, since they offer only a limited potential understanding of the original author's intent and context; translated pages tend to be more humorous and confusing than enlightening.

Interactive translations with pop-up windows are becoming more popular. These tools show one or more possible equivalents for each word or phrase. Human operators merely need to select the likeliest equivalent as the mouse glides over the foreign-language text. Possible equivalents can be grouped by pronunciation.

See also


  1. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, pp. 84-87.
  2. ^ By contrast, interpretation (the facilitating of oral or sign-language communication between users of different languages) is doubtless much older than written language. For example, incantations in unwritten Evenki language were interpreted into unwritten Sakha language.[citation needed]
  3. ^ J.M. Cohen, "Translation", Encyclopedia Americana, 1986, vol. 27, p. 12.
  4. ^ Andrew Wilson, Translators on Translating: Inside the Invisible Art, Vancouver, CCSP Press, 2009.
  5. ^ M. Snell-Hornby, The Turns of Translation Studies: New Paradigms or Shifting Viewpoints?, Philadelphia, John Benjamins, 2006, p. 133.
  6. ^ W.J. Hutchins, Early Years in Machine Translation: Memoirs and Biographies of Pioneers, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 2000.
  7. ^ a b Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 83.
  8. ^ Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 83.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 84.
  10. ^ Typically, analytic languages.
  11. ^ Typically, synthetic languages.
  12. ^ a b Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 85.
  13. ^ Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", pp. 85-86.
  14. ^ L.G. Kelly, cited in Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 86.
  15. ^ a b Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 86.
  16. ^ Cited by Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", p. 87, from Ignacy Krasicki, "O tłumaczeniu ksiąg" ("On Translating Books"), in Dzieła wierszem i prozą (Works in Verse and Prose), 1803, reprinted in Edward Balcerzan, ed., Pisarze polscy o sztuce przekładu, 1440–1974: Antologia (Polish Writers on the Art of Translation, 1440–1974: an Anthology), p. 79.
  17. ^ The comparison was first used by the French philosopher and writer Gilles Ménage (1613-1692), who commented on the translations of the humanist Perrot Nicolas d'Ablancourt (1606-1664) and stated, "Elles me rappellent une femme que j'ai beaucoup aimé à Tours, et qui était belle mais infidèle". Quoted in Amparo Hurtado Albir, La notion de fidélité en traduction, Paris, Didier Érudition, 1990, p. 231.
  18. ^ Antoine Berman, L'épreuve de l'étranger, 1984.
  19. ^ Lawrence Venuti, "Call to Action", in The Translator's Invisibility, 1994.
  20. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "The Translator's Endless Toil", pp. 83-87.
  21. ^ Crystal, Scott. "Back Translation: Same questions – different continent" (PDF). Communicate (London: Association of Translation Companies) (Winter 2004): 5. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  22. ^ Mark Twain, The Jumping Frog: In English, Then in French, and Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil, illustrated by F. Strothman, New York and London, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, MCMIII [1903].
  23. ^ Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature, pp. 193–94.
  24. ^ J.M. Cohen, p. 12.
  25. ^ J.M Cohen, pp. 12-13.
  26. ^ a b c d e J.M. Cohen, p. 13.
  27. ^ a b c d e J.M. Cohen, p. 14.
  28. ^ For instance, Henry Benedict Mackey's translation of St. Francis de Sales's "Treatise on the Love of God" consistently omits the saint's analogies comparing God to a nursing mother, references to Bible stories such as the rape of Tamar, and so forth.
  29. ^ A discussion of Hofstadter's otherwise latitudinarian views on translation is found in Tony Dokoupil, "Translation: Pardon My French: You Suck at This," Newsweek, May 18, 2009, p. 10.
  30. ^ For another example of poetry translation, including translation of sung texts, see Rhymes from Russia.
  31. ^ *Christopher Kasparek, "Prus' Pharaoh and Curtin's Translation," The Polish Review, vol. XXXI, nos. 2–3 (1986), p. 135.
  32. ^ At the dawn of European thought about art, such a distinction would have been thought ludicrous. The word art derives from the Latin ars, which was a translation of the Greek τέχνη (technē). Technē in Greece—ars in Rome and in the Middle Ages, and even as late as the Renaissance—meant skill. It was the skill to make an object, a house, a statue, a ship, but also the skill to command an army, measure a field, sway an audience. All these skills were called arts: the art of the architect, the geometrician, the rhetorician. A skill rests upon a knowledge of rules; there was no art without rules: the architect's art has its rules, which are different from those of the sculptor, the general, the geometrician, the rhetorician. Doing anything without rules, merely from inspiration or fantasy, was not, to the ancients or to the Scholastics, art: it was the antithesis of art. When, in earlier centuries, the Greeks had thought that poetry sprang from inspiration by Muses, they had not reckoned it with the arts. Władysław Tatarkiewicz, A History of Six Ideas, pp. 11-13.
  33. ^ For example, in Polish, a "translation" is "przekład" or "tłumaczenie." Both "translator" and "interpreter" are "tłumacz." For a time in the 18th century, however, for "translator," some writers used a word, "przekładowca," that is no longer in use. Edward Balcerzan, Pisarze polscy o sztuce przekładu, 1440–1974: Antologia (Polish Writers on the Art of Translation, 1440–1974: an Anthology), 1977, passim.
  34. ^ Journalists' junket to the Netherlands gets lost in translation Jerusalem Post
  35. ^ Vashee, Kirti (2007). "Statistical machine translation and translation memory: An integration made in heaven!". ClientSide News Magazine 7 (6): 18–20. 
  36. ^ J.M. Cohen observes (p.14): "Scientific translation is the aim of an age that would reduce all activities to techniques. It is impossible however to imagine a literary-translation machine less complex than the human brain itself, with all its knowledge, reading, and discrimination."
  37. ^ Claude Piron, Le défi des langues (The Language Challenge), Paris, L'Harmattan, 1994.
  38. ^ See the annually performed NIST tests since 2001 and Bilingual Evaluation Understudy


  • Balcerzan, Edward, ed., Pisarze polscy o sztuce przekładu, 1440-1974: Antologia (Polish Writers on the Art of Translation, 1440-1974: an Anthology), Poznań, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1977.
  • Berman, Antoine, L'épreuve de l'étranger, 1984, excerpted in English in Lawrence Venuti, editor, The Translation Studies Reader, 2002 (2nd edition, 2004).
  • Cohen, J.M., "Translation", Encyclopedia Americana, 1986, vol. 27, pp. 12–15.
  • Darwish, Ali, "Towards a Theory of Constraints in Translation," 1999. (@turjuman Online)
  • Galassi, Jonathan et al., "Como Conversazione: On Translation," The Paris Review, 2000, no. 155, ISSN 0031-2037, pp. 255–312. Poets and critics Seamus Heaney, Charles Tomlinson, Tim Parks and others discuss the theory and practice of translation.
  • Gouadec, Daniel, Translation as a Profession, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, 2007, ISBN 978 90 272 1681 6.
  • Kasparek, Christopher, "The Translator's Endless Toil", The Polish Review, vol. XXVIII, no. 2, 1983, pp. 83–87. Includes a discussion of European-language cognates of the term, "translation".
  • Kasparek, Christopher, "Prus' Pharaoh and Curtin's Translation," The Polish Review, vol. XXXI, nos. 2–3 (1986), pp. 127–35.
  • Kelly, L.G. (1979). The True Interpreter: a History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West. New York, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-82057-7. 
  • Miłosz, Czesław, The History of Polish Literature, 2nd ed., Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983, ISBN 0-520-04477-0.
  • Muegge, Uwe (2005). Translation Contract: A Standards-Based Model Solution. AuthorHouse. ISBN 1-4184-1636-3. 
  • Parks, Tim, Translating Style: A Literary Approach to Translation—A Translation Approach to Literature, Manchester, St. Jerome, 2007, ISBN 1-905763-04-2.
  • Piron, Claude, Le défi des langues — Du gâchis au bon sens (The Language Challenge: From Chaos to Common Sense), Paris, L'Harmattan, 1994.
  • Rose, Marilyn Gaddis, guest editor, Translation: Agent of Communication (a special issue of Pacific Moana Quarterly, 5:1), 1980.
  • Schleiermacher, Friedrich, "Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens", 1813, reprinted as "On the Different Methods of Translating" in Lawrence Venuti, editor, The Translation Studies Reader, 2002, 2nd edition 2004.
  • Simms, Norman, editor (1983). Nimrod's Sin: Treason and Translation in a Multilingual World. 
  • Tatarkiewicz, Władysław, A History of Six Ideas: an Essay in Aesthetics, translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1980, ISBN 83-01-00824-5.
  • Venuti, Lawrence (1994). The Translator's Invisibility. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-11538-8. 

External links




  • [1] Havana Recommendation (13 December 2008)
  • [2] Nairobi Recommendation (1976)

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Translation is a difficult job, but it has many rewards. A good translator can open dialogue, foster understanding and improve cooperation in cross-cultural multilingual settings. This learning project tackles translation from the bottom up starting with crude and simplistic methods, for and by inexperienced translators. Hopefully people who know what they are doing will join the effort.

Create translation table

We're going to do things the hard way, using OmegaWiki as a place to start. We create a translation table with the words, create, translation and table in their connotations for making a data table for translation:

Afrikaans ? vertaling ???
Armenian ? ?? աղյուսակ
Belarusian ? пераклад ???
Bengali তৈরি ?? ???
Bokmål ? oversettelse ???
Breton ? troidigezh ???
Castilian crear traducción tabla
Catalan crear traducció ?
Danish kreere oversættelse tabel
Dutch creëren vertaling tabel
English create translation table
Esperanto ? traduko ???
Finnish ? käännös taulukko
French créer traduction tableau
Georgian შექმნა ?? ცხრილი
German kreieren Übersetzung Tabelle
Greek ? μετάφραση πίνακας
Hebrew ? ?? טבלה
Hungarian ? fordítás ???
Icelandic ? þýðing ???
Italian creare traduzione tabella
Japanese 創造する ?? ???
Lithuanian ? ?? lentelė
Neapolitan crià ?? ???
Persian ? ترجمه ???
Portuguese ? ?? tabela
Russian ? перевод ???
Swahili ? fanyiza tafsiri ?
Swedish skapa översättning tabell
Vietnamese ? ?? bảng
Volapük ? tradutod ???
Xhosa ? inguqulo ???
Zulu ? ukuguqulwa ???

We find those here, here and here. Notice that the tables not only come short of having all the words but they can reveal extra words. For example create in Dutch could also be scheppen and in German could also be erstellen, erschaffen, or schaffen. As an English user, I know that create could be substituted with make, produce, build and several other words without altering the meaning all that much. It is important to collaborate extensively in multilingual translation projects.

Seeding and expanding a translation table

The following translation table from meta was created by native French speaker and meta-wikipedian, Sam. It began as a tool for he and other Wikipedians who didn't comment their changes, leaving the comment line blank. Sam reasoned it might have been because they weren't sure of how to spell words correctly, use grammar, punctuation, etc. Originally named Wikispeling, the table began in his user space at the French Wikipedia and emerged at meta in the form of Wikispelling. Here's its genesis on 10 December 2004:

de Deutsch Korrektur (Korrekturen) kleine Korrektur (kleine Korrekturen) Rechtschreibung
en English correction (corrections) minor correction (minor corrections) spelling
fr Français correction (corrections) correction mineure (corrections mineures) orthographe

And here is the version 5 years later as of 31 July 2009:

en English [minor] correction
([minor] corrections)
spelling grammar punctuation typography please help with [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
af Afrikaans [kleine] verbetering
([kleine] verbeteringe)
spelling grammatika interpunksie tipografie Help asseblief met [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]!
als Alemannisch [chlini] Verbesserig
([chlini] Verbesserige)
Rächtschriibig Grammatik Interpunktion Typografie Hilf bitte mit [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]!
ar العربية [طفيف] تصحيح
([طفيفة] تصحيحات)
إملاء قواعد علامات ترقيم مادة طباعية من فضلك ساعد في [[m:Wikispelling|إملاء الويكي]]
ast Asturianu [pequeña] correción
[pequeñes] correciones
ortografía gramática puntuación tipografía por favor, echanos un gabitu con la [[m:Wikispelling|Wikiortografía]]
ba Bosnian [mala] ispravka
([male] ispravke)
pravopis gramatika interpunkcija tipografija Molimo Vas da pomognete sa [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
bg Български [малка] корекция правопис граматика пунктуация оформление
br Brezhoneg reizhadennig [vihan]
(reizhadennoùigoù [bihan])
reizhskrivañ yezhadur poentaouiñ tipografiezh Mar plij, skoazellit ac'hanomp gant ar [[m:Wikispelling|wikireizhskrivañ]]
ca Català [petita] correcció
[petites] correccions
ortografia gramàtica puntuació tipografia Si us plau, ajudeu amb el [[m:Wikispelling|Viquiortògraf]]
cs Česky [drobná] oprava
([drobné] opravy)
pravopis gramatika interpunkce typografie pomozte prosím projektu [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
csb Kaszëbsczi
cy Cymraeg cywiriad [bach]
cywiriadau [bychain]
orgraff gramadeg atalnodi teipograffeg cyfrannwch at brosiect [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], os gwelwch yn dda
da Dansk [mindre] ændring
[mindre] ændringer
stavning grammatik tegnsætning typografi hjælp [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
de Deutsch [kleine] Korrektur
([kleine] Korrekturen)
Rechtschreibung Grammatik Interpunktion
Typografie Bitte hilf mit [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]!
el Ελληνικά διόρθωση ορθογραφία γραμματική
στίξη τυπογραφία
eo Esperanto korekto [malgranda]
korektoj [malgrandaj]
ortografio gramatiko interpunkcio tipografio bonvolu helpi per [[m:Wikispelling|Vikiortografio]]
es Español [pequeña] corrección
[pequeñas] correcciones
ortografía gramática puntuación tipografía ayúdenos con el [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], por favor
et Eesti [pisi] parandus
([pisikesed] parandused)
õigekiri grammatika kirjavahemärkide tarvitus tüpograafia Palun aita [[m:Wikispelling|Vikiõigekirja]] projekti
eu Euskara ortografia gramatika puntuazio
fi Suomi korjaus oikeinkirjoitus kielioppi välimerkitys
fo Føroyskt stavseting mállæra
fr Français correction [mineure]
(corrections [mineures])
orthographe grammaire ponctuation typographie Aidez-nous avec ([[m:Wikispelling|l'orthographe]] SVP.
gl Galego corrección [menor]
(correccións [menores])
ortografía gramática puntuación tipografía Axuda no [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], por favor.
ga Gaeilge ceartúchán [beag]
(ceartúcháin [bheaga])
litriú gramadach poncaíocht clóghrafaíocht Cabhraigí le [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], le bhur dtoil
gv Gaelg kiartaghey cairscreeu lioar ghrammeydys
punkaghey clougraafeeaght
he עברית תיקון [משני]
תיקונים [משניים]
כתיב דקדוק פיסוק טיפוגרפיה אנא סייעו ב-[[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
hi हिन्दी
hr Hrvatski (manje) ispravke pravopis gramatika interpunkcija slovoslaganje
Molim, pomozite [[m:Wikispelling|projektu Wikipravopisa]]
hu Magyar korrigálás
nyelvtan írásjelek tipográfia
Kérem segítsen a [[m:Wikispelling|Wiki projekt helyesírásánál]]
hy Հայերեն ուղղագրություն քերականություն կետադրություն
ia Interlingua correction [parve]
(correctiones [parve])
orthographia grammatica punctuation typographia adjuta con [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], per favor!
id Bahasa Indonesia koreksi ejaan tata bahasa tanda baca tipografi Bantulah kami dalam mengoreksi kesalahan [[m:Wikispelling|ejaan]] di Wikipedia!
it Italiano [piccola] correzione
([piccole] correzioni)
ortografia grammatica punteggiatura tipografia
per favore, aiutateci con il [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
ja 日本語 校正 綴り
文法 区切り タイポグラフィー [[m:Wikispelling|ウィキスペリング]]にご協力ください。
ko 한국어 맞춤법 문법
ksh Kölsch / Ripuarisch en [kleijn] Fobäßerong
([kleijn] Fobäßeronge)
et Boochstavveere de Jrammatik de Zëijschesäzong de Typpojraffi Sidd_esu joot, dooht dem [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]] hellefe!
ku Kurdî / كوردی serastkirina biçûk rastnivîs rêziman
la Latina erratum correctum orthographia litteratura punctus typographica
lb Lëtzebuergesch
jbo Lojban cmalu dragau valsi dragau gerna dragau pandi dragau pe'u ko sidju fi la'o gy. [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]] gy.
ml മലയാളം
ms Bahasa Melayu pembetulan [kecil] ejaan tatabahasa tanda baca tipografi Bantulah kami dalam membetulkan kesalahan [[m:Wikispelling|ejaan]] di Wikipedia!
nds Plattdüütsch
nl Nederlands [kleine] correctie
([kleine] correcties)
spelling grammatica interpunctie typografie Help alsjeblieft met [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]!
no Norsk [liten] korreksjon
[små] korreksjoner
rettskrivning grammatikk tegnsetting typografi hjelp [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
pl Polski [drobna] poprawka
([drobne] poprawki)
pisownia gramatyka interpunkcja typografia pomóż poprawiać: [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
pt Português correcção [menor]
(correcções [menores])
ortografia gramática pontuação tipografia ajuda [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]] por favor
ro Română corectură ortografie gramatică punctuaţie tipografie
ajutǎ-ne la [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]], te rugǎm
ru Русский [незначительное] исправление
[незначительные] исправления
орфография грамматика пунктуация типографика Пожалуйста, помогите проекту [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
scn Sicilianu [piccola] correzzioni
([piccoli] correzzioni)
ortugrafia grammatica puntigghiatura tipografia
per favori, aiutati-nui cun lu [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
sh (Serbo-Croatian) ispravljanje ortografija
gramatika interpunkcijski
sl Slovenščina manjša poprava
pravopis slovnica ločila tipografija Prosim, pomagajte [[m:Wikispelling|Wikipravopisu]]
sq Shqip ortografi
hyrje në shkencë
sv Svenska [liten] rättning
([små] rättningar)
stavning grammatik interpunktion typografi Hjälp till med [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]!
th ไทย แก้ไข[เล็กน้อย] การสะกดคำ ไวยากรณ์ เครื่องหมายวรรคตอน การเรียงพิมพ์ มาร่วมกันช่วย [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
tr Türkçe [küçük] düzeltmeler yazım
dilbilgisi noktalama tipografi [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]'e yardım ediniz!
tk Türkmençe [ujypsyzja] düzedişler orfografiýa grammatika punktuasiýa tipografika [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]e hemaýat beriň!
ur اردو
uk Українська виправлення правопис граматика пунктуація друкування Будь ласка, допоможіть [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
vi Tiếng Việt sửa chữa chính tả ngữ pháp đánh dấu chấm câu cách trình bày xin trợ giúp [[m:Wikispelling|Wikispelling]]
wa Walon [pitit(s)] coridjaedje(s) ôrtografeye croejhete pontiaedje tipografeye Vos nos ploz aidî avou l' ([[m:Wikispelling|ôrtografeye]].
zh 中文 [小]修正 拼写 语法 标点 排版 请帮助完善[[m:Wikispelling|维基拼写]]

You can see that manually generated and maintained wikitables can be worth all the trouble in the long term.

Computer-assisted translation

Computer-assisted translation.

This Wikiversity page is under construction. If you see a Red link, turn it into a Blue link. If you see something that needs Translation, translate it. If you don't agree with something or have a question, simply go to Talk:Translation with your concerns. This is a wiki!

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Database error article)

From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de


Translation f.

  1. translation (motion without deformation or rotation)

This German entry was created from the translations listed at translation. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Translation in the German Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) April 2008


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection


On hiring out professional translation

Quality – Cost

The cost and quality of a translation can vary. For professional products especially, you are advised to be wary of extremely low-cost translations, as professional translation is a service that takes time and effort, something a translator would charge for if they are in fact spending the necessary time and effort on it. When publishing a text with an otherwise large total project cost, it would be unwise to save a few dollars on translation and end up with an awkward text. Keep in mind that for the foreign market segments, the translator is just as crucial as your copy-writers. A translation will also need proof-reading and a final review. It is imperative that this be performed independently from the translation.

Professional translators will normally advise against translation into any language other than the translator's mother tongue. If you want something translated into German, you should ask a person whose native language is German. The same applies to French, Russian and English. To a certain extent this also applies to American, British and Australian. Large differences exist between Spanish spoken in Europe as opposed to Latin American Spanish, or between standard European French as opposed to the French spoken in Quebec. The unabridged version of this guide book can be found on tips about translation.

Finalize the text before starting the translation

No matter how tempting it might be to start the translation work parallel with the authoring, this will invariably turn out to be more expensive than providing a final text for translation. And even worse; it presents a greater risk that there will be errors in the completed product. Sometimes you might not have a choice; the deadlines are so short that the translating has to begin as soon as possible. In such a case, be sure to see to it that all versions of the originals are referenced by version numbers and dates, and that all changes to the text are clearly marked. Time is money, and the time needed to manage changes and correct translations because of errors in the original document will be expensive.

Because translators place your text under close scrutiny, you might try to make use of this opportunity to make sure your original text is comprehensible. Encourage the translator to ask questions, this may reveal any unclear sections and possibly enhance the quality of your text. Perhaps ask for comments back so you can revise it before sending it in for a translation, but this is a service not all translators will provide and will probably cost extra.

That said, take care to have realistic expectations concerning what a translator is able to do, or to fully communicate what you are asking of them. The translator will usually translate one sentence at a time. Re-working the text, considering the document as a whole, and to a certain degree, authoring a totally new and better text will invariably take more time than merely translating it, thus costing more.

Inform the translator of the purpose of your text

A speech is not the same as a web page. A marketing brochure is not the same as a user’s manual or a catalogue. A press release is not the same as an offer of shares for public subscription. You should also consider how the text will be read and interpreted. On one hand there are scientific papers in which each sentence will be thoroughly scrutinized and assessed by critical peers, while on the other hand there are magazine articles that are read only for entertainment, or web pages that are merely browsed for general content.

Everything; style, wording, and sentence construction will vary according to where the text will be presented and the purpose it is intended to serve. Paying attention to these issues will assure you maximal impact in terms of your message. This may have substantial influence on the price. A glossy brochure in which every word and sentence is “polished” may understandably be more expensive than a rough translation of an internal memo.

Provide enough time for the translator to perform her/his work. Today, no one can afford to sit around waiting for a job that will arrive "probably on Tuesday, maybe not until Wednesday". Most translators are freelancers, working late evenings as well as weekends. They will appreciate very much receiving early notification of when the job will arrive, so that they can plan their own schedule.

Technical issues

It is a well known fact that last minute changes, headings, abbreviations, line breaks or other changes to the words may ruin an otherwise perfect text. Always be careful about making changes over the telephone. This often results in misunderstandings.

Typographical conventions vary from country to country; the use of the apostrophe, quotation marks, numbers, and comma varies. Paper sizes also vary – in Europe the sheet is called A4 while other countries use Legal or Letter. These sizes are somewhat different, and thus they will not hold the same amount of text per page. A very common problem is that the space for text in text boxes and figure call-outs is too limited. In cases where everything is packed into a limited space, one has to use abbreviations, a practice that does not result in a clear text.

To avoid ambiguity, write dates using the ISO/ANSI standard yyyy-mm-dd, i.e. 2005-04-02 for April 2, 2005 (this format is also adopted by the UN). Also remember that eight o’clock might be AM or PM, so please use the twenty-four hour clock: 08:00 and 20:00. Why? If you write a date as 02-04-05 (02/04/05), it may mean April 2, 2005 or February 4, 2005, or April 5, 2002. Historically, it may also mean April 2, 1905.

Typography regarding numbers, such as 10,000.00 and 10.000,00 differ from country to country; not to mention the meanings of words regarding numbers, such as “billion”. One ”milliard” (1 000 000 000) in Norwegian means one billion in the US, whereas one ”billion” (1 000 000 000 000) in Norway means one trillion in the US.

Professional Translation and Computers

File formats

Large translation agencies will normally receive all kinds of formats, graphics, drawings, and faxes.

Please note that there is considerably more work required in translating single words spread over a graphic image than translating a free-flowing text in MS Word format. If it is possible to give the translator a clean text file for translation and then later place the text where it is supposed to be in the printed material, this will result in overall savings.

Special fonts or intricate formatting will also add to the translator’s work load. Do you really want the translator to spend time on graphic specialties that are routine tasks for the DTP specialist? If funded, you can save money / meet your needs better by using the appropriate 'craftsman' for the specific task to be done, and if you are working on a budget, your pockets will benefit if you save these minor, yet complex tasks for yourself after the translation.

Normally you will achieve the best and most cost-effective result by supplying your translator with Word-files. PDF-files have to be converted and formatted before translation, and they may, expectedly, charge you a fee for this.


These days, almost all documents are exchanged via e-mail. Be aware that one cannot count on E-mail messages reaching the addressee in every case. It may arrive tomorrow or a few days after. It may get tangled up with other e-mails, or it may disappear entirely. There have been instances where mail servers have lost thousands of e-mails without notifying either party. This is an unfortunate occurrence, but it does happen from time to time. One way to deal with this is to send follow up e-mails.

Machine translation – Computer Assisted Translation

Some people are looking for software that can translate the text directly on their PC. In case you need to translate a segment of text solely for your own use, machine translation may be of some assistance, though if you use it for presentational or communicative purposes of your own intent to others, it can make you seem to be expressing confidently something you didn't mean to say.

That said, if you do want to translate what others said, keeping in mind it may not be entirely accurate/understandable, it is quick and inexpensive; some services are even free of charge. Like

Again, these are usually not suitable for serious translation of a text you want to send someone else – the result will make you appear to be inarticulate or stupid. For an amusing trial run, you might try to have your PC translate some text from English into a foreign language and then back into English. Having seen the result, I can guarantee that you will not want to use that text for any sort of occupational purposes.

Careful editing of a machine translated text by a skilled translator is an alternative, but it will not save you any expenses overall. Most translators will tell you that a machine translated text is so bad that it would be quicker and less expensive to do the job over again manually.

Several software companies, of which Trados, Déjà Vu and WordFast, are the best known, have developed software to assist translation agencies and translators in their work. In addition, few companies, provide cheap translation solutions like CAT LangaugeProz.

Such software can be valuable time-savers when translating repetitive texts. The greatest advantage though, is that the software makes it easier to ensure consistency throughout the translation, i.e. repeated terms or expressions will be translated the same way in all documents. CAT (Computer Assisted Translation)

Processes of professional translation

Does back translation work?

First, you translate from language A to language B. Then, as a measure to assess quality, you translate the text back to the original language A, which allows you to compare the result with the original. This seems like an attractive method for checking the translation, but actually the translator will have far too many synonyms from which to choose, so back translation will be a futile exercise in terms of quality assurance. People who have participated in such experiments, generally agree that it provides useful experience and some new knowledge for the translator; however, as a quality check it is of little value. In this respect, structured checks and proof-reading will prove to be more efficient and considerably less expensive.

Think internationally from the start - Localizing

Localizing means more than just translation; it also means that the text content will be adapted to the culture of the country/geography in question. The translator will need to know how local telephone numbers and addresses should be treated. Should they be replaced by addresses in the target country or should country codes in addition to ”the official name of the country” be added? What about given names and names of places used as examples in the text? Should, for example, ”Knut Hansen” be replaced by ”John Smith”, and ”Kongsberg” by ”Detroit”?

Regarding addresses linking to web sites, are these the same for the English, Norwegian, and German editions? For websites, inform the translator of how screen menu items are to be treated. Are they intended to remain in the original language on the screen, or are they to be displayed in the target language?

To facilitate localization, culture-specific phrases should be avoided as far as possible. References to national sports are often misinterpreted or not understood at all in a foreign language, and the same goes for literary and cultural phrases/sayings. Always exercise caution when referring to parts of the human body; these have widely different interpretations in different cultures. Also be careful when using humor, as it may backfire unintentionally. It would be wise to avoid metaphors or puns that are specific to your country or your language; these will force the translator to add elaborate explanations or paraphrases.

Some examples:

”…hook, line and sinker” may be found in English, but what about German and French? The same goes for ”The full Monty”, a phrase indicating nudity which will be totally incomprehensible to Japanese readers. ”Time-out” is a popular expression that will be meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with American sports. ”We’ll hit them for six” is an expression from the sport of cricket that will confuse everybody but the British (In American the expression will be “The whole nine yards”). ”A baker’s dozen” means thirteen. The expression ”Der ligger hunden begravet” (literally ”That’s where the dog is buried”) works fine in Norwegian, but how does one say this in Spanish? When Electrolux launched a sales campaign for a new vacuum cleaner in the USA, they used the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. The expression had another effect than intended. Ford Company failed to break into the Spanish-speaking market with their Nova car (in Spanish “no va” means “does not work”).

Careless and haphazard use of local idioms is rarely funny. Many people may even be offended. Local coloring may be retained if deemed necessary; however you might want to check with the translator as to what is possible and/or sensible. The translator may well be given free rein, but please keep in mind that if they do provide this service, it may be expensive, as you are asking a lot of thought, time, and creativity of them.


When you have hundreds of pages of text to be translated, take a moment to consider the situation. Is it actually necessary to translate all of the pages, or would it be possible to translate an abbreviated version? A quick consultation with your contributors (if you're not the author) to decide what information is indispensable is always a good idea.

A little effort at an early stage may save considerable expenses later on. Elaborate descriptions and bombastic statements on internal affairs can often improve a text by being deleted. Internal trade terminology should always be used sparingly unless you are 100% certain who your target readership is.

Last year a large technical company sent a 500-page user’s manual to a company named TransLogic, asking them to have it simplified and finalized. The result was a reduction of some 230 pages before the translating itself had started, and the outsourcer was surprised to find that the manual turned out to be an even better product following the trimming.

Simple English

Translation means to copy writing or speech from one language into a different language.

The people who do translation are called translators. A translator who is copying a book into another language may use a language dictionary to find out how a word is written in another language. A translator who works with the spoken word is also called an interpreter.

In computer technology translation from a programming language to a machine language is called compiling. There are free translators on the internet.

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