Is Translation Interpretation?

As we know, translation metaphors abound. Some bring us closer to the truth, some confuse and confound. The nature of translation makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon, hence the countless number of metaphors which are often contradictory. On the one hand, translators are asked to be as faithful as possible, but on the other hand, they are told to never translate word-for-word. Translators are told to mirror the text often in an almost mechanical way, yet the very task of translation is itself extremely creative.

Thus, the question that really interests translation theorists is whether the translation process is a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ process. Is translation ‘creation’ or is it ‘recapitulation’? If, on the one hand, we assume that translation is a ‘primary’ process then the question of authorship is paramount – the translator is the ‘creator’ of the text, a ‘co-author’ of sorts. If, on the other hand, the process is ‘secondary’ then the ‘creativity factor’ is of less import and, in effect, the focus is on the source rather than the target text.

This is not necessarily an ‘either-or’ choice. Translation theorists and translator practitioners tend to favour one approach over the other often basing their judgements on the kind of text being translated, rather than on the translation process per se. The paradox within translation studies is that general theories are not always able to encompass all texts and a more detailed approach often exemplifies the true intricacies involved.

So, is translation interpretation? Regardless of whether we believe the process to be primary or secondary, it is difficult to not agree with deconstructionists who maintain that all forms of reading a text are forms of interpretation and re-interpretation and thus ‘creation of a new meaning’. If this is the case, every reading of a text (that is, every translation) can also be classified as an interpretation (or re-interpretation) of a source text in which case we can also conclude that there is an element of creation involved. If so, translation IS primary and therefore the translator is both a (co-)creator and (co-)author.


28 thoughts on “Is Translation Interpretation?

  1. When we translate cultural texts, we interpret it. I have recently translated a culturaltext, which comprises of many terms like :Młoda Polska. I had to add some additional information about that terms, otherwise the foreign adresee would not understand them.


  2. When we translate, the most important is to make the translation inteligible to the readers. Being as faithful to the source text as possible, we have to interpret it in order to make it accesible and interesting.

  3. We have to find the most appropriate equivalent in target lanuage so that the target reader would understand and the sense of the text will be same.
    Like for example: Catholic says ‘bread’ for bread as it stands in the Bible, but Eskimo’s bread is fish so we cannot translate a text for him using word ‘bread,’ because he donesn’t know it and he won’t understand it.

  4. In my opinion, translation process is a ‘primary’ process because translator is always a creator of a new text. We are often said that we should not focus on words but on the content of the source text so translators create a new text basing only on the original and then, as a consequence, translators are co-authors and translation is primary.

  5. I think this whole argument depends on what kind of text we are translating. Of course if we can translate the text word for word and it sounds natural and good in the target language than we shoild obviously not complicate things by deliberately changing something, just to be “creative”.

  6. To make it understandable, person who translates the text should find the most suitable equivalent so the sense of the text will be the same

  7. to my mind translator always creates text because s/he puts it other words, add some information or omitt something. it is also important that many subjects and problems we can understand hence interpret in different ways so the translated text is full of translator’s spirit.

  8. Well, translation is to some extent interpretation. Why? Because translator is at the same time a reader. The whole translation will be based on his understanding and interpreting what he/she read. Therefore, we have good and bad translations. It depends how good translator is in recognizing the “spirit” of the text. Of course translator had to some point interfere in the text because not everything can be easily explained especially when two different cultures ar taken into consideration. We have to rememeber that most texts are written for the target readers and not everyone will be able to understand it. Above all, translation is more a creation, rather that interpretation.

  9. yes, that article talks about the main problem I always have while translating something…people say: ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’. but i always want it like that. both. and there is a problem. because there’s a very thin line between being as faithful to the original text as possible and being as creative as possible. so how to combine both of these things to make it the best translation possible?

  10. it is translotor task to choose what should be translated, how, and why, or why not. the translator is responsible for this.unfortunately:)

  11. Somebody here said that it is impossible to “have a cake and eat a cake” and that translators have to deal with it. Indeed, the theroys of translation say that translation is impossible…It means you will never produce a perfect trnsaltion what means that to some extent it has to be a cration.
    As well, it depends what text do you translate. For sure translating an instruction how to use a microwave would be less creative than translating a literary work…

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