Translation theorists and practitioners have forever been convinced that translation is either an art or science, or even a craft. Ask three different translators to define translation and, in all probability, you will get three difference answers. The title of Eugene Nida’s seminal work succinctly sums up this problem. The title of his 1964 opus is of course Towards a Science of Translating. In it Nida begins, “The polyglot empire of ancient Babylon, with its hard-working core of multilingual scribes sending out official communications on cuneiform tablets to the far corners of the realm, is a far cry from the electronic equipment used today in simultaneous interpretation at the United Nations in New York”. (1964: 1 Towards a Science of Translating; E.J.Brill: Leiden). But is it really so different?
Perhaps from a procedural point of view, the details have changes, but a procedure and system would have most certainly been in place in Babylon as it is in the UN in New York. The organisational structures, the science behind the procedure would have been in place. The title of Nida’s work is symptomatic of the problems plaguing translation and translators. His work is entitled Towards a Science of Translating, not A Science of Translating, nor even A Science of Translation. Eugene Nida implies that one of our aims is to try to move towards attaining the status of a science. However, his title also implies that our aim is to attain the status of science with regard to the process of translation, translating, not within translation itself. The distinction is an important one.
Whereas Nida feels the need to impress on us the importance of having specific procedures within the framework of the translation process, other translation scholars believe translation to be an art. Literary translators often believe translation to be as creative an activity as the initial act of creation, the act of writing. Translation for them is equated more with a gift for creativity. Others still believe translation to be a craft, where the skills needed to be able to translate a learned over the years and honed with experience. Science, art, craft. Which one of these three does our community believe to be closer to the truth? The poll below may help us consider this problem and see the ideas of fellow translators.