Visual Translation & Interpretation

A New Ray of Light?

To mark the fourth anniversary of transubstantiation (which was actually in June), the passing of the 90,000 hits mark as well as the fact that we were nominated to the Top 100 Language Blogs competition, we feel it is about time to breathe some new life into transubstantiation and give the site a subtle facelift. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, commenting and taking an active part in the development of the blog. Without you, the readers, transubstantiation would never be the success that it has been up to now.

While giving the site a facelift one cannot help consider the importance of the visual medium in translation. How important is the way the text looks? By this we are not referring to the structure, grammar or coherence of a text but rather the font style, font size, page layout, quality of paper and so on. For most translators this is a secondary issue. The primary goal is the communicative role – the goal is always to appropriately convey the message from one language/culture to another language/culture.

All things being equal, the visual aspects of the translation (that is, font, page, paper etc.) will never take centre stage and will always take final position in the long chain of activities within the translation process. However, in today’s visually-oriented world, how one’s work looks has become of greater importance. There are no excuses for poorly-produced work as 99% of translators own a word processor (complete with a spell checker) and printer. In much the same way that today’s students rarely hand in hand-written work to their tutors so to are translators expected to produce high-quality electronic documents.

Unfortunately, this race to ‘look good’ has also had some negative consequences. Many budding young translators have put the cart before the horse when it comes to translating. They focus first on their choice of font style, font size, page layout, paper and only after do they begin with the task in question. For some, the translation locus has shifted. This shift has unfortunately filtered through to our understanding of texts to the extent that an excellent, yet poorly-presented, translation might be poorly-received. On the other hand, a poor translation which is well-presented may have a chance of success.

What is important is balance, of course. Perhaps a useful rule of thumb is for translators to always begin their work by focusing on the content rather than the form. As we are all aware, however, sometimes focusing on form is simply a subtle method of procrastination when a difficult translational problem eludes us. That being the case, focusing on the visual medium will do little to help resolve our linguistic predicaments. A surprisingly useful, if not revolutionary, method for dealing with such procrastination and problem-solving in our computer-filled cosmos is to resort to a much-trusted and highly-underrated tool – the pen.


20 thoughts on “Visual Translation & Interpretation

  1. Really like the new look. 🙂 Talking of look… yes, I also spend a great deal of time formatting every document I hand over. I know it’s not a good thing to do but isn’t that the way of the world. On the other hand, isn’t it nice when a text looks good?

  2. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting your work to look good. In fact it’s something we should strive towards.

  3. If you’re translating a horror story, you’ll probably abstain from using an incredibly cheery layout – it may kill an otherwise perfectly good text.

    Also, sweet layout. Very professional.

  4. Our job is to translate and I certainly don’t think we should spend an overly large amount of time thinking about how the text looks. We’re employed to TRANSLATE the document not to make it look good. I simply don’t have the time to do that kind of thing.

  5. I agree with that article. For me, how a work looks is very important. I think the readers pay attention to layout. When one has to translate a text, it means he or she is expected to hand in a complete work (a text translated and formatted properly). I pay attention to the layout of a translation, an essay or every task one has to do. For me, personally, formatting a text and making it more beautiful is a pleasant task. Honestly, I prefer checking the spelling, punctuation, and formatting an essay than writing it from the very beginning. The same is for translation. Formatting for me isn’t that horrible.

  6. This is a really interesting article, the visual presentation of the text is very important, for example choosing the right font really matters, I cannot imagine a serious text written eg. with the use of Comic Sans typeface. It instantly makes the text looking rubbish and not serious, as it were taken from a comicbook, but I have seen even some CV’s written with that font. Also it is important to combine the fonts with each other correctly, sometimes fonts does not match the content and bad type can ruin the whole work.
    The whole visual side and the form of the text is very important, however I agree that everything we do should be balanced, and we cannot spend all time on formatting the text but rather focusing on the content, the visual aspect shoud be icing on the cake in the translated text making it perfect.

  7. This is really great article. I totally agree that the visual layout is very important nowadays. In my opinion it is as important as the whole translation itself because many serious, official documents have one special structure which we have to keep while writing.
    You said that many young translators first focus on the layout and then on the text itself. I am a young translator and usually my first draft of a translation is hand-written on a piece of paper and after that I re-write it on the computer. But before the writing I first of all think about the visual presentation of this text because I really like when everything is planned and arranged in the correct order because only then the text is clear and easy to read. And I totally agree with Elzbieta that it is only a pleasure and one of the tasks of the translator to take care of the visual side of our translation.

  8. Agreed- even if we take some other examples under consideration, when translating a text where form is a crucial part of understanding it, we even have to use different choices for certain words in order to match the exact meaning of what the author wanted to convey.
    This way, not only is form an important aspect, but it may also strongly influence the translated text, if we are speaking in terms of, for example, word choice.
    Also, just as Elżbieta wrote, the structure of text gives it clarity- if we simply copy the structure of the source text the produced translation will look like a calque of the original text.

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