Including Cultural Context in Document Translation

Rather than simply translating a document word for word, a proper translation will include anything that will help transfer the meaning of the text in the best possible manner. An ideal document translation will include far more than just words; it will include the cultural undertones that help the speakers associate expressions within their understanding. Having participated in document translation myself, I find that a variety of methods help be to understand it best. I cannot simply use one method of understanding, because it would not be sufficient in helping me take in all that the original author had to say.

The type of text that I would translate would mainly be poetry, which is some of the most difficult text to translate. There is so much more written in between the lines in poetry than in any other written form. As we apply different means of understanding, we can find more ways to connect with people that speak other languages. A language is more than just words to communicate, it truly is a way of life. Language is a governing force of culture, because it involves just about every sense that we have, with the exception of taste and scent. Some would argue that language goes even further to influence the food of that respective culture, including the remaining two senses, taste and smell.

In normal communication, though, we use our ears to decipher spoken words and the tone that is supporting the words. With our eyes, we understand the physical expressions that are being used to deliver the message. Our sense of touch allows us to physically form words. And with an inner sense of feeling, we dig deeper to find layers of meaning that are an essential part of communication. This last is one of the most difficult things for language learners to grasp a hold of; it can take a lifetime for learners to understand the profundity of the messages within the words being spoken. The whole purpose of writing something is to make speaking timeless. When we write, we want the reader to interpret it as though they are listening to the author speak to them, rather than merely interpreting characters that are on paper or screen.

The more speech-like a passage is, the better the message will be understood by the reader. Only the sense of sight is used in written word, whereas speech uses at least two others. This becomes an obstacle for people engaging in document translation. If the passage of text is like a recipe list or it uses very technical terminology, it will be very difficult to interpret any further meaning that the text might contain. However, when the text is very speech-like and contains vocabulary and expressions typical of the time period, more meaning can be relayed to the recipient using many other expressions in the second language.

When the linguist engages in document translation, first they will decipher the individual words, and they will construct what the sentence is trying to say. As the linguist repeats this process, he or she will find common trends from the author. The author’s use of certain words to relay specific meaning will begin to construct a profile by which the reader can understand their personal meaning when the pattern is used again. This is what happens when we read a book by our favorite author. Usually at the beginning of a book, we will have a hard time establishing what they are trying to say. Not until we construct the author’s typical profile in our understanding will we gain an appreciation for the way that they write.

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