Translation And Interpreting Methods And Approaches
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The disciplines of language translation
and interpreting serve the purpose of making communication
possible between speakers of different languages.
In the past there has been a tendency to perceive
interpreting as an area of translation, but from
the second half of the 20th century differentiation
between the two areas has become necessary.
As supported by many researchers, translation and
interpreting can be perceived as the process that
allows the transfer of sense from one language to
another, rather than the transfer of the linguistic
meaning of each word.
Firstly it is necessary to understand the difference
between the concepts of linguistic meaning and sense.
According to the definition given by Bolinger and
Sears, “the word is the smallest unit of language
that can be used by itself” (Bolinger and Sears,
1968:43). Each unit has a lexical meaning, which
determines the value and the identity of each word
in a specific language. However this does not necessarily
mean that lexical units also correspond to the basic
meaningful elements in a language, as meaning is
usually carried by units that can be smaller or
larger than the word.
Furthermore each word corresponds to a phoneme.
However a phoneme can carry several linguistic meanings,
depending on the way it relates to the rest of the
speech. For example, the Italian translation of
the English phoneme /nait/, isolated from its context,
can be either “cavaliere” (knight) or “notte” (night).
However if the speaker talked about a “chivalrous
and courageous knight”, there would be no hesitation
in choosing the Italian translation “cavaliere”,
rather than “notte”.
Therefore Seleskovitch points out that when drawing
a difference between linguistic meaning and sense
it is important to remember that in speech words
lose some of the potential meanings attached to
their phonemic structure and retain only their contextual
However even whole utterances that have a clear
linguistic meaning can raise problems if isolated
from the context. Therefore during the act of communication
the listener automatically attaches his previously
acquired knowledge to the language sounds, which
immediately clarifies the sense of the utterance.
This cognitive addition is independent from the
semantic components of the speech and represents
another fundamental difference between linguistic
meaning and sense.
This cognitive process is significantly reduced
in translation compared to interpreting, especially
when dealing with ancient or unfamiliar texts, as
the translator can take his time to analyse every
single word or phrase, preventing consciousness
from immediately identifying the sense of the utterance.
Interpreters instead are restricted by the immediacy
of the process of communication and have to grasp
the meaning regardless of the equivalence at the
Memory is another fundamental part of communication,
as the listener retains his previously acquired
knowledge to grasp the sense.
Seleskovitch also adds that sense is always conscious.
When we speak our own language the choice of words
is not deliberate. All we do is to convey the message
in the best way we can, so the result can change
from one speaker to another. As a consequence, there
can be several ways to express the same idea but
all the utterances produced with that purpose would
reflect a particular shape, which results from the
semantics of a specific language.
Nevertheless different languages do not express
the same idea with the same semantic components
and that is why a simple conversion of one language
into another cannot be satisfactory in translation
Seleskovitch argues that words are meaningless unless
there is a cognitive addition on behalf of both
the sender and the recipient of the message. Words
become meaningful only when referred to a specific
object or concept. However words that have the same
meaning in different languages do not associate
with the same words in more complex contexts designing
the same thing in different languages. This is because
languages only reveal part of our knowledge, thus
leaving implicit concepts unsaid.
Therefore the cognitive addition is necessary.
For example, the literary English translation of the Italian phrase:
Il presidente del Consiglio si è recato a
The President of the Council went to Moscow.
This translation would misinterpret a crucial information
in the speech. In fact “Presidente del Consiglio”
is one of the ways to designate the Prime Minister
Thus in most cases if the translation or the interpretation
was carried out only on a word level it would either
produce utterances that sound very unnatural to
the native speaker of the target language or it
would distort the meaning.
In support of this statement I would like to show
an example of how a word-by-word translation from
Italian into English can produce misleading utterances.
Let’s take into analysis the following Italian phrases:
Fammi avere tue notizie ogni giorno.
A back translation into English would produce:
Let me have your news every day.
Although the word news (notizie) can be used in
both languages in a similar way the English translation
sounds extremely unnatural. In English we can have
news from somebody, but not your or his or their
news. However, even if the utterances was translated
Let me have news from you every day,it would not
A native speaker would probably say:
I’d like to hear from you every day.
Therefore both the grammatical structure “fammi”
and the semantic components used in the original
version would be replaced by more appropriate alternatives
There are other cases where the lexical meaning
of the word “notizia” would not have an equivalent
I giovani d’oggi non fanno più notizia.
A word-by-word English translation of this phrase
The youth of today do no make the news anymore.
In English the same linguistic meanings cannot convey
the sense of the original sentence. If translated
The youth of today does not appear in the news anymore,
the sense conveyed by the Italian “fare notizia”
would be misinterpreted. A more faithful translation
The youth of today does not shock us anymore.
This shows that translation and interpreting go
beyond the transfer of the linguistic meaning of
each word from one language to another.
About the Author:
The author is a partner at Axis Translations
http://www.axistranslations.com. He specialises
in the management of Italian
translation and technical projects.
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