Part of the reason why there is so much debate over whether translation is an art, science or craft stems from the fact that there is no real accurate definition of the concept. What is translation? Can it be accurately defined? There are articles, theses and books which attempt to explain the concept of translation but they all effectively blur the picture as they enumerate a whole host of processes that are said to be a part of translation but fail to get to the core of what translation is.
As an exercise in mental dexterity in an effort to limit one’s mental manoeuvrability and force one to choose a constrained (and therefore necessarily concise) definition of translation, two four-word lists are given below. The exercise hinges on the fact that the reader is forced to choose ONE word from the first list and ONE word from the second list and then to compare his/her choices. This should give the reader an idea what he/she understands by the term ‘translation’. What is more, comparing one’s results with other people tells us whether there is general agreement to what translation is or whether it is a more personal activity.
The exercise makes no claims to be the best method of defining translation, however, it does allow us to re-evaluate our own understanding of the concept and perhaps the general view of translation. What does the exercise give? As with every definition, it seeks to explore the core of what lies behind a given concept. With each of the lists, we are forced to rank the definitions and make a decision concerning what is most important to us in translation. By working with two lists, we are led to examine the relationship between our two choices and are then led to consider taking one more step, to fill the gap, in a process of what might be called mental triangulation. Does our definition of translation lie with one of these two choices or is a third word necessary?