Thinking Spanish Translation
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Thinking Spanish Translation

A Course in Translation Method: Spanish to English

Louise Haywood, Michael Thompson, Sándor Hervey

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eBook - ePub

Thinking Spanish Translation

A Course in Translation Method: Spanish to English

Louise Haywood, Michael Thompson, Sándor Hervey

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About This Book

The new edition of this comprehensive course in Spanish-English translation offers advanced students of Spanish a challenging yet practical approach to the acquisition of translation skills, with clear explanations of the theoretical issues involved.

A variety of translation issues are addressed, including:

  • cultural differences

  • register and dialect

  • grammatical differences

  • genre.

With a sharper focus, clearer definitions and an increased emphasis on up-to-date 'real world' translation tasks, this second edition features a wealth of relevant illustrative material taken from a wide range of sources, both Latin American and Spanish, including:

  • technical, scientific and legal texts

  • journalistic and informative texts

  • literary and dramatic texts.

Each chapter includes suggestions for classroom discussion and a set of practical exercises designed to explore issues and consolidate skills. Model translations, notes and suggestions for teaching and assessment are provided in a Teachers' Handbook; this is available for free download at

Thinking Spanish Translation is essential reading for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students of Spanish and translation studies. The book will also appeal to a wide range of language students and tutors through the general discussion of the principles and purposes of translation.

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1 Preliminaries to translation
as a process

It is often said that skill in translation cannot be learned and, especially, cannot be taught. Underlying this attitude is the assumption that certain people are born with the gift of being good translators or interpreters, whereas others simply do not have this knack; in other words, skill in translation is an inborn talent: either you've got it or you haven't.
Up to a point, we would accept this view. No doubt it is true, for instance, that some people take to mathematics or physics, whereas others have little aptitude for such subjects, being more inclined towards the humanities. There is no reason why things should be otherwise for translation; some are ‘naturally’ good at it, others find it difficult; some enjoy translating and others do not.
The twin assumptions behind this book are that it will help its users acquire proficiency in translation, and that we are addressing ourselves to people who do enjoy translating, and would like to improve their translation skills. Indeed, enjoyment is a vital ingredient in acquiring proficiency as a translator. This, again, is quite normal: elements of enjoyment and job satisfaction play an important role in any skilled activity that might be pursued as a career, from music to computer technology. Note, however, that when we talk of proficiency in translation we are no longer thinking merely of the basic natural talent an individual may have, but of a skill and facility that requires learning, technique, practice and experience. Ideally, translators should combine their natural talent with acquired skill. The answer to anyone who is sceptical about the formal teaching of translation is twofold: students with a gift for translation invariably find it useful in building their native talent into a fully developed proficiency; students without a gift for translation invariably acquire some degree of proficiency.
Since this is a course on translation method, it cannot avoid introducing a number of technical terms and methodological notions bordering on the theoretical. (These are set in bold type when they are first explained in the text, and are listed in the Glossary.) Our aims are primarily methodological and practical rather than theoretical, but we believe that methods and practices are at their best when underpinned by thoughtful consideration of a rationale behind them. This book is, therefore, only theoretical to the extent that it encourages a thoughtful consideration of the rationale behind solutions to practical problems encountered in the process of translation or in evaluating translations as texts serving particular purposes.
Throughout the course, our aim is to accustom students to making two interrelated sets of decisions. The first set are what we shall call strategic decisions. These are general decisions, which the translator should make before actually attempting a translation, in response to such questions as ‘what are the salient linguistic characteristics of this text?’; ‘what are its principal effects?’; ‘what genre does it belong to, and what audience is it aimed at?’; ‘what are the functions and intended audience of my translation?’; ‘what are the implications of these factors?’; and ‘which, among all such factors, are the ones that most need to be respected in translating this particular text?’. The other set of decisions may be called decisions of detail. These are arrived at in the light of the strategic decisions, but they concern the specific problems of grammar, lexis and so on encountered in translating particular expressions in their particular context. We have found that students tend to start by thinking about decisions of detail which they then try to make piecemeal without realizing the crucial prior role of strategic decisions. The result tends to be a translation that is bitty and uneven. This is why, in the practicals, students will usually be asked first to consider the strategic problems confronting the translator of a given text, and subsequently to discuss and explain the decisions of detail they have made in translating it. Naturally, they will sometimes find during translating that problems of detail arise that lead them to refine the original strategy, the refined strategy in turn entailing changes to some of the decisions of detail already taken. This is a fact of life in translation, and should be recognized as such, but it is no reason not to elaborate an initial strategy: on the contrary, without the strategy many potential problems go unseen until the reader of the translated text trips up over the inconsistencies and the obscurities of detail.

Translation as a process

The aim of this preliminary chapter is to look at translation as a process — that is, to examine carefully what it is that a translator actually does. Before we do this, however, we should note a few basic terms that will be used throughout the course. Defining these now will clarify and simplify further discussion:
Text Any given stretch of speech or writing produced in a given language and assumed to make a coherent, self-contained whole. A minimal text may consist of no more than a single word — for example,‘¡Basta!’ — preceded and followed by a period of silence. A maximal text may run into volumes — for example, Benito Pérez Galdós's Episodios nacionales.
Source language (SL) The language in which the text requiring translation is couched.
Target language (TL) The language into which the original text is to be translated.
Source text (ST) The text requiring translation.
Target text (TT) The text which is a translation of the ST.
With these terms in mind, the translation process can, in crude terms, be broken down into two types of activity: understanding a ST and formulating a TT. While they are different in kind, these two types of process occur not successively, but simultaneously; in fact, one may not even realize that one has imperfectly understood the ST until one comes up against a problem in formulating or evaluating a TT. In such a case, one may need to go back to square one, so as to reconstrue the ST in the light of one's new understanding of it (just as a translation strategy may need to be modified in the light of specific, unforeseen problems of detail). In this way, ST interpretation and TT formulation go hand in hand. Nevertheless, for the purposes of discussion, it is useful to think of them as different, separable, processes.
The component processes of translation are not qualitatively different from certain ordinary and familiar processes that all speakers perform in the normal course of their daily lives. In this sense, translation is not an extraordinary process. For a start, comprehension and interpretation of texts are commonplace processes that we all perform whenever we listen to or read a piece of linguistically imparted information. The act of understanding even the simplest message potentially involves all the beliefs, suppositions, inferences and expectations that are the stuff of personal, social and cultural life. Understanding everyday messages is therefore not all that different from what a translator must do when first confronting a ST -and it is certainly no less complicated. It is, however, true that messages may be understood with varying degrees of precision. For instance, suppose that a mother asked her son to get the blue pen from the top left-hand drawer of the bureau, and he responded by giving her a black one that happened to be handy. She would be justified in thinking that he had not understood her message fully, as he had evidently not paid attention to a number of details in it. Yet he could not be accused of a total lack of comprehension, because he did register and respond to the one salient fact that he had been asked for a pen, according a much lower priority to the other components of the message.
In everyday communication, evidence that a message has been understood may come from appropriate practical response. Another measure of how precisely a message has been understood is appropriate linguistic response. Appropriate linguistic response includes such basic things as returning a greeting appropriately, giving a satisfactory answer to a question, or filling in a form correctly. While none of these are translation-like processes, they do show that the element of comprehension and interpretation within the translation process involves what can be a perfectly ordinary, everyday activity requiring no special skill or power of intellect, only an average native command of the language used. Consider a US court case:
Defense counsel: The truth of the matter is that you are not an unbiased witness, isn't it? You too were shot in the fracas?
Witness: No, sir. I was shot midway between the fracas and the navel.
(Jones, Sevilla and Uelman 1988: 99)
This example shows the importance of understanding or decoding the message content in communication. The witness is intimidated by the formality of the court setting, and assumes that the unfamiliar word, ‘fracas’, is a polite euphemism. The first step in effective translation is precisely this: ensuring an accurate grasp of the content of the ST, and acting upon it effectively.
One everyday activity that does resemble translation proper is what Roman Jakobson calls ‘intersemiotic translation’ (1971: 261), that is, translation between two semiotic systems (systems for communication). ‘The green light means go’ is an act of intersemiotic translation, as is ‘The big hand's pointing to twelve and the little hand's pointing to four, so it's four o'clock’. In each case, there is translation from a non-linguistic communication system to a linguistic one. To this extent, everyone is a translator of a sort.
Still more common are various sorts of linguistic response to linguistic stimuli which are also very like translation proper, even though they actually take place within a single language. These sorts of process are what Jakobson (1971: 261) calls ‘intralingual translation’. A brief look at the two extremes of intralingual translation will show what its major implications are. Take the following scenario: Jill is driving Jack through the narrow streets of a small town. A policeman stops them. As he leans in to speak, Jill can see over his shoulder that, further on, a trailer had tipped over and blocked the road. At one extreme of intralingual translation lies the kind of response typified in this exchange:
Policeman: There's been an accident ahead, Madam — I'm afraid you'll have to turn left down St Mary's Lane here, the road's blocked.
Jill: Oh, OK. Thanks.
Jack: What did he say?
Jill: We've got to turn left.
The policeman's essential message is ‘Turn left’. But he does not want to sound brusque. So he mollifies the driver with a partial explanation, ‘There's been an accident’, and then cushions his instruction with ‘I'm afraid you'll have to …’. ‘Down St Mary's Lane’ gives a hint of local colour and fellow-citizenship; but he does add ‘here’ just in case the driver is from out of town. Finally, he completes his explanation with the information about the road being blocked.
When Jack asks what he said, however, Jill separates the gist of the policeman's message from the circumstantial details and tonal subtleties, and reports it in her own words. This type of intralingual translation is called gist translation. The example also shows two other features which intralingual translation shares with translation proper. First, Jill's is not the only gist translation possible. For instance, she might have said ‘We've got to go down here’. Among other things, this implies that at least one of them may not know the town: the street name has no significance. A third possibility is ‘We've got to go down St Mary's Lane’: if Jack and Jill do know the town, the policeman's gist is accurately conveyed.
The other feature shared by intralingual translation and translation proper is that the situation in which a message is expressed and received affects how it is expressed and received. By ‘situation’ here we mean a combination of three elements: the circumstances in which a speaker and addressee find themselves (such as being stopped in a car and having to take a diversion or being a witness in a law court), the accumulated experience they carry with them all the time (knowing or not knowing the town, familiarity or unfamiliarity with conventions for giving and receiving instructions; liking or disliking the police, etc.), and the linguistic context. ‘Context’ is often used metaphorically in the sense of ‘situation’ (and sometimes even in the sense of ‘meaning’). In this book we shall use it specifically to denote the rest of a text in wh...

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