Another Translation Metaphor

As we all know translation studies abounds in translation metaphors (see previous post). Comparisons with mirrors and shadows are frequent. Metaphors which talk about the invisibility of the translator or the translation as a reflection of the original can be found in most academic material on the subject.

It it time translators and translation scholars began to approach their subject form a different perspective. Many experts believe that there can only be evolution through revolution and so it may be appropriate to suggest some alternate metaphors which will allow us to think again and look again at this subject of ours. One alternate suggestion (see previous post) has already been put forward. However, there can never been enough suggestions and ideas.

An interesting suggestion which has crept into the literature several times is the idea that translation is a thoroughly alien beast roaming around in a native country. In fact, the idea has also been put forward that the translated text itself is a resurrected ‘native’ creature in an alien body. Taken further we might say that the translation contains (or should contain) a native (text) heart but is enveloped by an alien body.

The idea can be both grotesque and thoroughly off-putting. But that, in essence, is what translators do. They perform linguistic neuro-surgery attempting to re-animate a creature that is not entirely suited to life in a new environment. The linguistic neuro-surgeon needs also to ensure that the new beast not only ‘looks’ like a native but ‘feels’ like a native. Not an easy task.


45 thoughts on “Another Translation Metaphor

  1. that’s a nice idea! if we are supposed to translate a text that is to a great extent culturally specific, the product of our effort will be nothing but a translation-Frankenstein 😉 some would be quite friendly monsters – like a pet – others just the opposite – beating and biting the reader..

    I like this metaphor! Next time I’ll be translating I’ll think of it as a sort of a surgery and of me as a sort of ‘creator’, who should take care of his pet, perhaps calling it “my preciousss” 😉

  2. I really liked the comparison of translator to a neuro-surgeon. The same as the role of surgeon is to save somebody’s life, the role of translator is to save the meaning of the original text.

  3. That is right about the surgeon. Translation of the text is like a complicated operation. You have to consider every possibility, and be ready to create something new or “transplant” some thoughts from one text to the other.

  4. Really, what a wonderful comparison! The metaphor perfectly mirrors the translator’s task. A successful translation may bring to the translator a good name and fame but a poor quality translation may turn to be an author-eating creature.

  5. The metaphor is really well-chosen. Actually, translation is like putting the heart (the original text) into new body (into target language) and adjusting the heart to new conditions (adjusting it to target language grammar, culture, style and so on). If we do not transplant the heart into the new body, we won’t give it a chance to survive (as people would not understand the text if not translated) and it will die in due course(the text, being useless, will be of no value to target audience so they can as well throw it as they will never be able to read it). Really, a wonderful vision of translation.

  6. “translation is a thoroughly alien beast roaming around in a native country”- that’s funny 🙂 though true – a translation will always remain a translation, it can only be beyond recognition if it’s really good

  7. I agree with you Patrycja. I like the comparison of a translation to a “’native’ creature in an alien body.” Actually it is very true. It is hard to create a translation in such a way that nobody would spot that it is a rendition. Nonetheless, translators should try as hard as possible to remain invisible in their final products.

  8. I liked the comparison of translator to a hanting dog.Meybe because I see the biggest problem in absorbing a lot of information and translating them at a “speedy rate”.

  9. this definition definately puts me off. I don’t like the idea of a beast because it embodies a threat to a native culture. I think that translations are not threats but opportunities for people to become enlighted (but not intellectualy conquered)

  10. This neuro-surgery metaphor is really great. It perfectly reflects the main role and function of a translator.I will bear this comparison in mind when translating a text:)

  11. An open heart operation 😉
    It is true that translation is a kind of operation on the text. As translator transforms one form into another and it must have the same quality. It is hard task, anyway…

  12. Taking into account that so far neuro-surgeons haven’t been able to make people feel in a certain way translation is sometimes impossible…People’s feelings and perceptions are so mysterious that neither neuro-surgeons nor translators are not able to control them.

  13. So maybe translation is like cooking following a recipe. You can add some new ingredients that in your opinion will add to the overall taste but at the same time you should be aware that adding too much might spoil the dish. Sometimes even rich dishes are distasteful but all in all our task is to make it edible:)

  14. I love the idea of a translator being a neuro-surgeon. I always wanted to be a doctor, now I can feel like one while translating 🙂 Life is full of surprises.

    I will just have a small dream… I hope I do not create a monster while trying to “rescue” (retain) the original meaning.

  15. native creature in an alien body – that seems to be a sheer truth, as translation is unnatural but we do it because we must, without translation the opportunity for information transfer would be lost.

  16. Too right Emma 🙂
    I think it’s quite the opposite actually. The field of translation evolved from the need of being able to communicate and to me it’s a natural course of events. In what sense you think it’s unnatural Kate?

  17. I liked the last two metaphors (‘native creature’ and ‘neuro-surgery’) although at first they may seem a bit scary;) I’ve never thought about translation this way (‘a resurrected ‘native’ creature in an alien body’ or ‘linguistic neuro-surgery’), but I think those two comparisons are really aptly chosen. ‘The linguistic neuro-surgeon needs also to ensure that the new beast not only ‘looks’ like a native but ‘feels’ like a native.’ – so rightly put; that’s just the quintessence of translation to me. ‘Not an easy task.’ – also true, but what a challenge!:)

  18. native’ creature in an alien body
    – good one

    I never thought that the translator is as important as neuro-surgeon. I’ll make sure to attend some surgery classes next semester;) However the approach to the matters of translation is interesting, but I wouldn’t go as far as comparing translator to neuro-surgeon (would you like to have a brain surgery performed by the translator-cause I wouldn’t!;)

  19. ‘They perform linguistic neuro-surgery attempting to re-animate a creature that is not entirely suited to life in a new environment. The linguistic neuro-surgeon needs also to ensure that the new beast not only ‘looks’ like a native but ‘feels’ like a native. Not an easy task.’ – I love this comparison. From now on I will think of myself as a surgeon when translating a text!

  20. I really like the metaphors defining translation: “a thoroughly alien beast roaming around in a native country” and “a resurrected ‘native’ creature in an alien body”. They describe translation in a very figuarative way. I particularly like the word ‘resurrection’ in relation to translation as all translators aim at resurrecting the source texts in ‘an alien body’ and make sure that “the new beast not only ‘looks’ like a native but ‘feels’ like a native”.

  21. hmm,all has been said, but right the comparison that ‘the translation contains (or should contain) a native […] heart but is enveloped by an alien body’ is very appropriate. Also, I agree with Pawel that we may treat the act of translating as a recipe so that we can add some ingredients if we find it will do(maybe a bit down-to-earth comparison), but if the ‘native creature’ is hardly breathing, we should have the right to intubate it.

  22. I will not be original – I also think that this comparison of translation to the alien beast is interesting, funny and full of truth. We should remember that as translators we are creators, and our translation should contain this “native (text) heart”…

  23. I like the idea that translation is an alien beast roaming into the native country, because it is interesting and funny. It is important to do a good translation, that is to convey meaning (heart.) Such translation could be called a pet and not a beast or Frankenstein, what someone else mentioned.

  24. “They perform (translators) linguistic neuro-surgery attempting to re-animate a creature that is not entirely suited to life in a new environment.”

    It’s a nice idea. Translators bring to the translation their own cultural heritage and their reading experience. I think that this process can be treated as the act of re-animation:) The translation gets a new lease of life when the translators take into consideration the entire cultural milieu.

  25. The way the author describes a process of translation is unusual, funny, and very clever at the same time. All the metaphors he/she uses are perfect, they make readers imagine the process of translation as something visible and tangible whereas in reality it is much more abstract… Fantastic comparison! I’m impressed!

  26. I really like the idea of a translator being a neuro-surgeon:) It is so true that a translator has to somehow save the meaning of the original text while putting it in a new environment to create a good translation.

  27. I agree with the author. Not only style and correctness is significant in a translation, but also the cultural background. It will surely help readers to better understand a text.

  28. The word ‘beast’, in my opinion, presupposes that translation is always a kind of ‘violation’, something which is not smooth and easy but always connected with negative associations, like doing against nature. I don’t know if the author meant it to sound that way but that is what struck me when I was reading the article.

      1. perhaps. unfortunately, translation always entails some kind of a loss or malformation. translation is a kind of a transformation (at least only at the surface layer) and as such cannot achieve total equivalence. furthermore, translation deals in semantics. and semantics deals in, what i like to call, in mutual sets of various meanings which a word takes on in specific situations. this is the main source of puns and wordplays which, being next to impossible to teleport into another culture/language fully (meaning-wise), are living proof that, apart from academic texts, translation of a text in its entirety is impossible. thus, such a situation demands we be practical and start to negotiate the meaning to an extent that won’t do harm, that will do right by both the author and the recipient/reader.

        and speaking beast-wise… remember that film “predator” or later “alien vs predator”? for me translation is like that gadget which makes that predator nearly invisible. we can see that it bends our sight perception to an extent that we can nearly see through/around it but not enought to be invisible completely. that device, similarly to translation, is a kind of “blend in”, “be conspicous and absent” device as both of them have such objectives.

  29. “translation is a thoroughly alien beast” – nice 🙂 sometimes I have the impression that some of translations really are ‘beasts’. After reading this text I wonder how many of them I have created myself 😉

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