| “Von einer _bersetzung fordre ich, daî sie den Genius der Sprache in der sie geschrieben ist, nicht aber den der Originalsprache, atme.” (Friedrich Schiller)
“I do not think that we can come to a general agreement on a definition of ‘translation’.” (Hans J. Vermeer)
“There is neither unanimity about what equivalence is, nor how to proceed in order to get to an adequate TL text being the result of a translation process.” (Wolfgang Lörscher)
During my work at papers and various textbooks on Translation Studies I came across many different views and theories. It is no understatement to say that there is no general consent about which fields are part of or influenced by Translation Studies and what exactly should be the focus of attention as regards the several disciplines (Translation Studies is now often referred to as an “interdiscipline“) and sub-disciplines. From the very beginning in classical antiquity to modern theories, translation science has undergone several changes in its definition and the way of looking at problems and tasks as well in process, strategies and performance (cf. Cicero, Horaz, Hieronymus, Quintilian, Luther, Goethe, Herder, Hardenberg, Schleiermacher, W. von Humboldt, W. Benjamin, H. -G. Gadamer, G. Steiner etc.).
Because of the complexity of this topic and the great variety of books, papers, treatises etc. on translation theory it is simply impossible to broach, let alone to cover, every aspect of it in a sufficient way. Such a work would undoubtedly consume more space than I have here. Therefore I will concentrate on these crucial questions: What is a perfect translation?, Is such an absolute equivalent achievable?, What is an adequate (i.e. “translationally equivalent“) translation?, Which aspects are to be concentrated on?, How can such an adequate translation be produced?
Hans J. Vermeer stated that he does “not think that we can come to a general agreement on a definition of ‘translation’.” This implies that there cannot be any standard criteria for a perfect translation, either. It is indeed commonly denied that a perfect translation can be produced at all. To answer this question appropriately it is, nonetheless, necessary to have a look at what is meant by the term “translation”. Basically, to translate is to transfer a source language (SL) text into a corresponding target language (TL) text - to mediate between two languages in order to convey all aspects of an SL text to create its equivalent in the target language. A perfect translated text would, thus, have to have the same effect on a reader of the original text and on a reader of its reproduction in the target language.
The law of equivalent effect is, however, not overall advocated. Especially in poetry the conception of a perfect translation differs enormously: a first school proposes “what is called surface translation where elements of the target language are put together - irrespective of their meaning - so that they produce a very similar sound effect to that of the original. Others have claimed that it is entirely impossible to translate poetry, and have therefore confined themselves to rendering the meaning in prose. A third school, somewhere between these two, accepts the possibility of translation but acknowledges that often the translator has to be just as creative as the original poet.“ “G. B. Shaw [for example] claimed that Shakespeare defied translation because no translator could possibly capture Shakespeare’s ‘word magic’ in another language.”
Translation theories in general, can be most controversial. There is, to name just two fundamental conceptions, the sign-oriented and sometimes even morphological approach on the one hand and the sense-oriented or contextual approach on the other hand. Some scholars proposed, however, that translation, in fact, represents a mixture of sign- and sense oriented procedures (cf. 2. 2. 3).
Resulting from that, it can be concluded that an absolute equivalent, i.e. a perfect translation, is impossible to accomplish as regards literary texts. The problem of serving two masters (cf. conflicting conceptions of [a perfect] translation) is and will remain insoluble. Specialist or technical literature may prove to be a little more easily to translate but this depends on whether the translator has a very good command of specialised lexical and technical knowledge, both in the source and the target language, and on several other criteria like the aim and the purpose of such a translation. Certain SL texts tend to be so language- or culture-bound that they become untranslatable; this is often the case with humorous, poetical and rhetorical examples. (cf. Annex 5, 1) “In translation priority has to be given to one factor and the others have to be subjected to it...”; “...a full transference of meaning from one language to another (=total translation) is generally not possible, [...], [therefore the task has to be] to select TL equivalents not with the same meaning as the SL items, but with the greatest possible overlap of situational range.”
As mentioned above, there is no general concept of what in particular a perfect translation is. Consequently, the views on what an adequate equivalent is, differ as well. “It comes to no surprise then that equivalence [...] is also a complex concept having linguistic, subject (or content), and transfer (or comparative) aspects. In fact, the intensive search for, and hopefully successful choice of one or rather a sequence of ’equivalences’ is the result of a trade-off between linguistic (including stylistic) options, subject preferences, and transfer alternatives. The logic of our complex approach makes it unlikely that equivalence is achieved by any single competence [aspect]. [...] What rightly appears to be linguistically equivalent may very frequently qualify as ‘translationally’ non-equivalent. And this is so because the complex demands on adequacy in translation involve subject factors and transfer conventions that typically run counter to considerations about ‘surface’ linguistic equivalence. [...] Equivalence can never rest entirely on linguistic pillars.”
Of crucial significance are the “exactitude of rendering the content and the effect of the whole.” (cf. law of equivalent effect) “In a kind of tour de force the translator skips L1 [SL] literalness and recreates a new L2 [TL] textual hologram that receives its justification from the new arrangement of words in structure. There is no surface identity. Linguistic equivalence is skewed. But the overall effect of the L2 elements, grammatical and lexical, exhibit a connectivity that is translationally equivalent to the source text.” “SL and TL texts or items would be translation equivalents when they are interchangeable in a given situation. The fact that [often] [...] feelings and associations cannot be communicated is not a shortcoming of translation but one of its natural limitations; a limitation which also applies to language in general.“ For an adequate and successful translation the cultural-social component is another crucial aspect. This will be discussed in section 2. 2. 2.
As there are different conceptions of equivalence and adequacy there are, consequently, also different opinions about which aspects are to be concentrated on in order to produce an adequate translation. Equivalence could be seen as a “hierarchical concept with the different levels of hierarchy depending on the goal(s) of the translation”. Accordingly, the translator would focus on certain aspects and express them in an optimal way. “A translator, [...], is not only supposed to know his words and transcode text line by line into a target language, for which he will need at most a good dictionary and grammar book; a translator is made co-responsible for the success of a communicative act, because he, the translation expert, is the crucial factor in it.” The choice of important aspects for the translation does, thus, not only depend on the goals of the translation but also on the ability of the translator to determine them and to estimate the situational/linguistic/contextual range within which he can operate. (cf. translation competence, 2. 2. 3)
It is often stated “that in the field of literature the translator‘s duty is to be faithful to the wording of the source text, the surface structure of a text [and] [...] to show a meaning objectively contained in the text itself. [...] [but it] is well known that the task of the translator is not fulfilled with the mere linguistic transcoding of a message on what is generally called the object level [surface identity]. His more important task is twofold: first, to convey an intended meta-meaning [“meta“=aim, end (lat.)] in such a way that the ultimate aim (’skopos’) of the communicative act is achieved. [...] The second task of the translator is to transform the form and meaning of the message on its object level into a target text in such a way as to make this target text fit the intended skopos.” This requires “that he fully understands what the purpose of the communication is and takes into consideration the cultural circumstances into which the target text is supposed to fit.”
Since the translation has to have the same effect as the original it is supposed to convey the same tone, mood, standard of language etc. and to render the “meta-meaning“ - the “ultimate aim of the communication“. But the uniqueness of the original text is also brought about by its “form and meaning [...] on its object level”: the choice of words, sentence patterns and the text structure, stylistic devices etc. This has to be part of the translation as well. As Schiller had pointed out, a translation should be written in the current target language even if the original is much older; there are, however, different views on that matter. Additionally, the translation should not be noticeable being a translation instead of an original. It is also said that an incoherent SL text may even be “improved” in order to produce a coherent TL text, which fits the conventions of the target culture.
The question how such an adequate translation can be produced will be discussed later in section 2. 2. 3. Generally it can be said that that a translator must always know the goals and the purpose of the translation since they are of eminent relevance for the choice of those aspects he has to concentrate on in order to produce an adequate translation. Because “translation is primarily a problem-solving activity, which involves problem recognition as well as decision-making” a certain degree of translation experience and expertise is required or this process. Thus, novices are often thought to be unable to produce adequate translations (cf. translation competence, 2. 2. 3). Others have claimed that all bilinguals can translate and that “the bilingual’s translation competence develops to the same degree as and parallel to their competence in the two languages involved.” It goes without saying that the translator has to understand the text completely, even better than the author him/herself. In order to fulfil the criteria for an adequate translation he has to be able to interpret every aspect and nuance of meaning in the text so that he can render them into a corresponding TL text. Strategies used to solve reception or production problems in translation depend on the goals and the purpose of the translation and on the translator’s competence in recognising and estimating these problems.