A common misconception among many people who have little to do with translation (and even, surprisingly, among many translators themselves) is that any piece of text that is ‘shifted’, ‘moved’ or ‘transformed’ from one language into another is a translation. Nothing could be further from the truth. John Dryden, the poet, playwright, literary critic and translator eloquently divided the types (or problems) of translation into three categories:
metaphrase, where an author/translator translates word for word
paraphrase, where an author/translator translates sense for sense
imitation, where an author/translator abandons the original text
Additionally, Roman Jakobson distinguished three types of translation, although he focused more on the systemic nature of language and symbol systems:
intralingual translation, or interpretation of verbal signs by means of others in the same language
interlingual translation, or interpretation of verbals signs by means of some other language
semiotic translation, or interpretation of verbal signs by means of a non-verbal sign system
Translation is often used as an umbrella term for all these different phenomena, which makes a discussion of translation extremely difficult. We can safely say that most of the work undertaken by the majority of translators is Jakobson’s interlingual translation, however, it is not as easy to make the same clear-cut distinction when it comes to the categories put forward by John Dryden way back in the 17th century.
Most translators would like to think that their work is a type of paraphrase but more often than not it includes large chunks of imitation or even metaphrase. A wonderful oft-quoted example is the subtitling mistake found in several comedy programmes that had been translated from English to Polish in the 1990s. “you’re pulling my leg” was translated (literally) as “ciągniesz mnie za nogę” much to the bewilderment of English-speaking Poles.
A ‘translation’, therefore, is not always a translation.