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Writing and Translation

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Writing plays a very important role in any translation. Since a translation happens in a context and implies the transposition of a source text into a target text, this must fulfill the same constraints of an original text written in the target language. (Aksoy 2001)

In translation, a deep knowledge on the source and target language writing system would provide a clear way to decode and properly encode a message. In fact, writing is important for translating, just as important as reading is. Since the former one helps the translator to express the ideas of the source language and the latter one to comprehend the whole message.

Writing should not be understood as a series of words in a page, even when a simple word can work as a complete sentence. It should not be understood as a series of sentences or a series of ideas, but it should be understood as the organization of ideas by means of interjections, words or sentences fixed in a writing system.

If a superficial analysis on the Spanish and English writing system is done, the punctuation aspect would be the first which presents specific as well as notorious differences. For instance, Spanish requires an initial question mark as well as an exclamation mark. In a dialogue, the change of character, in Spanish, is normally introduced by a long hyphen while in English it is introduced by inverted commas or quotations.

On the other hand, there is a sign which is inexistent in the Spanish system and that is the very used one in English, i.e. the apostrophe. Both languages have their own way to call for attention. In Spanish, strange words can be highlighted by quotations, parenthesis or script writing; in English we normally use inverted commas. ( Newmark 1988:171)

In dressing the ideas in sentences, each language organises the words in different form and length. English texts normally have short sentences structured in a passive form and with a compulsory subject/pronoun. Further more, in a very rigid structure. Spanish, on the other hand, uses large sentences, explanatory clauses joined by connectors, using indistinctly active structure or the reflexive passive and a complete omission of pronoun unless for emphasis.

These differences go further, in paragraphing Spanish requires larger paragraphs than English. While a paragraph is quite laconic in English, it is more explicative in Spanish. A paragraph in Spanish normally starts with a verb, a reflexive pronoun or any other element, while in English it almost always starts with a subject, an object, a personal pronoun or a gerund. Stylistically, a paragraph in Spanish is always justified while in English it is not a rule.

However, not everything is difference in both languages, and there are, at least three common elements: agreement, coherence, and cohesion. For a text to be understood it must not lack any of these three elements or it would be weird to the reader, and it would represent a great challenge for a translator to translate the message from the source text into the target text.

As a sum, to properly translate, it is necessary to know both writing systems (English / Spanish), be familiar with similar and different use and usage of punctuation marks, translate ideas instead of words, sentences or structures, but fixed in the appropriate writing constraint, write the whole translation in accordance to the target language system, and “[e]very translation should sound as if it never existed in a foreign language.” (Brockbank 2001)


Aksoy, Berrin. (2001). ‘Translation as a rewriting: the concept and its implications on the emergence of a national literature’. Translation Journal. Vol. 5, No. 3 [On line]. Available at: http://accurapid.com/journal/16prof.htm [Accessed on: April 8,2005]

Brockbank, Eileen. (2001). ‘The translator is a writer’. Translation Journal. Vol. 5, No. 2 [On line]. Available at: http://accurapid.com/journal/16prof.htm [Accessed on: April 8,2005]

Newmark, Peter. (1988) Approaches to translation. Cambridge: University Press

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