On Translators and Translation

In the past few months, we, at MCIS, have been focusing a lot on the social impact of translation. We have been reflecting on this topic, asking ourselves how is it that we influence the world around us through our work. We have Facebook page dedicated to the issue, and a story contest will be launched soon. In the meantime, enjoy this article by our translator, Adrijana Jerkic.

Translation has always had a significant role in society. Alongside with interpretation, translation bridges communication between individuals from multilingual civilizations. Translators actively bridge the communication gap and blur borders, allowing for people to cooperate, collaborate and understand each other.

The Linguistic Society of America estimates that there are roughly six thousand extinct languages in the world, out of which, approximately one thousand are written. Without translation, communication would not be possible, especially not on sophisticated levels. We would not be able to understand and comprehend other cultures, their complexities and similarities and differences from our own society. Therefore, as Edith Grossman, a renowned literary translator, would put it, “translation expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless, indescribable ways.”

Since the 1950’s, translation has slowly become a professional and regulated field and trained language professionals are trying to raise consciousness about the importance of translation-specific knowledge. Therefore, translators are trained professionals acting as social agents and mediators.

Although there is still a great division, especially in prestige, among literary and technical translation, it is clear that the latter one is more common and marketable, as well as it allows for a more direct and immediate social impact on behalf of translators. Through it, translators can have an impact on their communities and the well-being of individuals and families, their health and development, etc. This, of course, applies even more to countries with high levels of immigration and/or power asymmetries. Translators can help communities or individuals express themselves in writing in a new environment, help them understand the host culture, comprehend any governmental, legal or medical documents that they might receive, as well as help translate brochures and manuals for matters of social importance that might help the well-being of a community. Even in settings where individuals speak the language of the host country, they still might have a better grasp of the matter once it is rendered in their mother tongue, and therefore be able to perform their civil duties, exercise safe medical practices or be able to just enjoy the host city in a fuller and more complete manner.

Furthermore, technical translation, that encompasses translation of personal, scientific and legal documents, as well as marketing and promotional materials, has a significant role in international exchanges that involve a growing need for communication. Cross-cultural marketing opens doors for companies that want to export their products to other countries, and potentially help in the development of certain areas of knowledge and/or areas of life.

Translators also acknowledge different dialects and sociolects, thus preserving these important and valuable linguistic nuances of different social groups. Needless to say that the acknowledgment of these linguistic differences also helps the client (whether it is the individual/group/organization speaking the source language or target language) respect the end consumer of the translation and make them feel safe in the new environment.

So, translation can be necessary in any given social setting, and it can make an enormous difference in how someone understands or perceives the information that is being conveyed.

Nonetheless, a translation can have a zero effect, a negative effect or a positive effect. In order to ensure that positive and desired effect is obtained, it is essential to make sure that translators have the possibility to be properly trained, as well as to ensure a fluid communication between the client, and the translator or the agency for which the translator is working for.

By Adrijana Jerkic