Myths of Translation II

Continuing from the previous post, we can look at the next three myths of translation.

The fifth myth, or myth of machine translation, is that computers are able to produce accurate and appropriate translations. Krzysztof Lipiński believes this to be one of the central myths of contemporary translatology and uses several analogies and stories to counter the idea that computers can produce reliable work. However, this is not entirely true. Within very narrow and specialised fields, computers can produce decent enough translations. To believe that human translation is far too sophisticated and advanced for the computer is underestimating the current lightning-fast development of computers.

The sixth myth, or myth of the descriptability of the world, states that the world cannot be fully described. Wittgenstein believed that: “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for”. However, Lipiński believes that language only describes the world around us and that it exists outside of and separate from language. The world cannot be described completely as every one of us sees it differently. Similarly, every translator interprets the text through the (rose-coloured) spectacles of his or her own world.

The seventh and final myth, the myth of only one truth, can to a certain extent be taken as a continuation and result of all the other myths. There is no one truth and there can never be one truth in translation. There is never one correct answer and even if a so-called correct translation is achieved, time and diachrony show that the translation stands still but the world (and culture) around it change, forever in a state of flux. Language changes and what may have been regarded as canon may within a generation become outdated, outmoded and old-fashioned.

What do these myths tell us? Firstly, that translation, as every field of study, is fraught with complexities, bias and hearsay and not enough is done for us to feel comfortable within a seemingly hermeneutic discipline. Translation should, in other words, be disciplined hermeneutics. If we were to hone the myths that truly plague the translator then perhaps we might condense Lipiński’s ideas into four main oppositions and/or points of view:

1. literal/word-for word translation
2. untranslatable/translatable translation
3. source-/target-text translation
4. comprehensive/concise translation

It is these four points of view which shape our attitude to the source text and, in turn, mould the result of the translation process, the target text.

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4 Responses to “Myths of Translation II”

  1. Anita Ch. Says:

    This text made me wonder whether the term ‘translation’ will ever have one valid definition for it contains so many complex acpects. Moreover, the seventh myth concerning only one truth aptly summarizes this list because it stresses that we can not be certain if some ideas are completely wrong or right. However, discussing translation as a process is always a progress that specifies and sets general rules helping in translation.

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    Good point. At present, the term translation seems to glide from one definition to another.

  3. FAHD EID Says:

    hi everybody,
    though MT has limitation but one can make use of it since it offers a variety of options while processing the translated text.
    MT fails only in some situations where it can’t provide proper translation as in literature, for example.


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