The Linguistic Approach to Translation

Published: 17th October 2011
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Different languages give different ways to look at the world but translation provides us the opportunity to explore and interact with these different views of the world. Translation refers to carrying the meaning of a text from one language to another. This process involves interpretation of meaning of the text and producing the same meaning in another language. Translation as an activity is actually as old as written language or text itself. However as a discipline of study it is comparatively new.
Since all word of one language may or may not have a corresponding word in the other language, Linguistic study becomes essential for the purpose of
translation. Linguistics pertains to scientific study of language. Linguistic approach to translation focuses primarily on the issues of meaning and equivalence (same meaning conveyed by a different expression). Linguistics thus tries to discover ‘what’ the language actually means. It is then the work of the philosophy of linguistics to understand ‘how’ the language means.
Language has certain features like meaning, reference, truth, verification, speech acts, logical necessity etc. it is through these feature that the linguists try to understand the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the text. Any language uses a particular set of signs and symbols to convey a particular meaning or idea. These signs and symbols are ‘signifiers’. The meaning or idea that is being conveyed by these ‘signifiers’ is called ‘signified’. All languages are used in a particular social and cultural context. So the ‘signified’ for a particular ‘signifier’ may change from culture to culture and society to society. For example, for signifier ‘yellow’ in America, the signified is cowardice ("yellow bellied"- a popular saying) for Japan yellow signifies courage whereas for Indians it signifies joy. Thus the translator has to understand what the author of the original text actually wants to convey.
Beyond doubts language is the most vital component in translation. Translation can actually be understood as transferring the meaning or the idea from one language to another. It thus becomes imperative for a translator to understand the meaning of the source text (text to be translated) in the context in which they are said or written.
Language is formed of grammar, words, syntax etc. this form the structure of the language and pertains to structural linguistics. However beyond the structural approach the context also becomes important as said before. This aspect of linguistics approach is termed as functional linguistics.
There has been a historical debate in the field of translation between ‘word to word’ (literal) and ‘sense to sense’ (free) translation. Linguistic approach can enter both these aspects of translation. However the ‘sense to sense’ translation is understood to actually carry to the same meaning as of the source text. So the translator is expected to maintain a linguistic equivalence between the source and the target text. Doing so involves an understanding of grammar, convention, idioms, etc in the social, political, economic and cultural context in which the text is written.
Thus it can be concluded that a Linguistic approach to translation covers all forms of translation. It is the right way to move forward towards better language translation.

Aunes Oversettelser AS has been in the business for 26 years, and we are specialized in technical translations. We are specializing in the Nordic languages, and can offer services into Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Icelandic. The premier translation agency for Norway and the Nordic region! Technical translation services for businesses in the Nordic countries and translation agencies world wide.

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