Creative Translation

Is it a crime to be creative? In some professions, perhaps, yes. Let us take the phrase creative accounting which is a euphemism for cooking the books or illegal accounting. Here, creativity is seen to be negative.

Is creativity something to be avoided in translation? Some may say that a healthy dose of creativity is important. As we established in a previous post (see here), the translator can often be regarded as an co-author and so without creativity any form of translation could prove difficult.

There are those, however, who believe over-creativity to be a danger to translators. Knowing when to use a dictionary equivalent and when to throw caution to the wind and choose something unique is the difference between an average translator and innovative translator (perhaps also between a safe translator and maverick translator). The line between neologism and creative equivalent is indeed a fine one. A few examples will serve to illustrate the point

Let us take the Polish word łże-elity which has been variously translated as ‘lying elite’, ‘false elite’ or even ‘decepto-eltite’ (see previous post). Both all and none of these can be regarded as appropriate yet the word needs an equivalent. We can form a contiuum of equivalents from safe through to maverick (creative) and then choose which one best serves our purposes.

Another example which is often difficult to translate into English is the Polish skrót myślowy whose equivalents, when placed on a continuum, can range from ‘brachylogy’, ‘shortcut in thinking’, ‘mental shortcut’ to the (creative) ‘thought-cut’.

Our ability as translators to be creative is most certainly what sets us apart, and likewise, what differentiates the average (mundane) translation from the interesting (maverick) one.


9 thoughts on “Creative Translation

  1. A translator is in some sense an author of the target language text, so he has to be also a “creator”. However, it is important to remember that exaggeration is not a good solution, the most important thing is to render the meaning of the source text and its style.

  2. There are some things which can’t be exactly translated, which is obvious. There won’t be the same associations in one language and the other, which is also obvious. There won’t be a perfect translation, which probably is obvious. But one thing is for sure. We have to be aware of the changes in language and try to keep up with them. If not, our defeat will be obvious. 🙂

  3. I believe that one must be very careful when translating texts. I think what we need is a golden mean. I am sure that every text needs some creativity, it makes it more interesting. But as it is said in the “Creative Translation” – over-creativity can be a dangerous. And that is what we should keep in our minds.

    To conclude, let me tell you something that I thought was quite interesting. About five weeks ago I was at the Balice Airport where passengers can use plastic bags to protect their feet while their shoes are being scanned. Next to the entry one can read: “Plastykowe oslonki na stopy” and under that “Plastic slippers for foot”. Now, is that creativity?

  4. creativity is as a breath in the body of translator. a translator needs a dictionary just for abstract words not dynamic. dictionary is not a key of prosperity for translator for the limit areas of words but creative mind of translator can give the readers or others the best enjoyment and satisfaction. creativity cant be teachable .famous poets like saadi&Hafiz(Persian poets) never had gone to academical school ,by the way,creativity is born with you and never die until your translation is based on it

  5. Depending on the field, creativity can be a crime. It can be an excellent weapon to create the equivalent meaning in the TL in a literary or advertising field, however there is a very fine line between translating creative writing and stiring translators’ own creativity into the author’s one. For this reason I had to stop being a translator and start a new career as a creative: it was a fair decision for me and my clients.

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