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Translation - art, craft or science?
Thread poster: Raf Uzar

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
May 18, 2009

Another thought-provoking blog post from Transubstantiation at:
http://transubstantiation.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/the-science-of-translation/

It asks the question what translation is: an art, craft or science. I'll be honest, this is SUCH a tough question. I've been mulling over it for a few hours and I still haven't come to any conclusions. Any ideas?


 

LP Schumacher  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:33
Member
German to English
Poll May 19, 2009

Raf Uzar wrote:
It asks the question what translation is: an art, craft or science... I've been mulling over it for a few hours and I still haven't come to any conclusions. Any ideas?



Yes, this is a very interesting question. It came up as a poll about a year ago, and you can view the discussion here:

http://www.proz.com/forum/poll_discussion/105961-poll:_which_statement_best_describes_translation.html

The results of the poll were as follows:

It's a craft 34.9%
It's an art 25.7%
It's a job 17.0%
It's an innate ability 13.2%
Other - N/A 4.7%
It's a science 4.6%


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Poll data May 19, 2009

Liesl,

Thanks!

I wonder if the results will be different. I've just checked out the Transubstantiation poll and at the moment, the results read:
A craft 48%
A science 30%
An art 22%

So pretty different. But let's give the poll another week or two and see if things change.

Raf


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 07:33
English to Croatian
+ ...
Science May 19, 2009

It's science, by my humble opinion.

Argumentation would take too much of forum space, but let's just say I researched/ studied language at such levels, and to me it's science.

p.s. Science isn't devoid of art. The two inevitably interact, especially in deeper and more complex spheres.

I believe syntax is closer to science, while semantics is rather art. ( and in practice/ reality, we deal with a cocktail of syntax, semantics, and many other ingredients)


 

chica nueva
Local time: 17:33
Chinese to English
a performance art May 19, 2009

translation is communication, a performance art (art/skill/craft are synonymous here)

Perhaps translating text might be like performing music. Here is one model.

[ How to appreciate music: Music is an art which reveals people's thoughts and feelings and reflects the real life of society through artistic images formed from organised sound (primarily musical sound). Composition, performance and appreciation are the three aspects of the practice of musical art. ... It often used to be said that there were three stages in musical appreciation: 1. sensual appreciation 2. emotional appreciation 3. intellectual appreciation. ...if you want to appreciate a work comprehensively, from the three aspects, the senses, the emotions and reason, then you need to be provided with the following several aspects of knowledge: 1 Era of the writer and the work; 2 National features; 3 The writer's creative personality; 4 Title; 5 The expressive functions of musical language; 6 Musical form and type (Translated from Wang Qin Yan et al ed., Music Appreciation Handbook, Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, Shanghai, 1983) ]


 

xxxAWa
Local time: 07:33
English to German
+ ...
a mixture of all three May 19, 2009

Translating is

an art, because
- we create a translation that native speakers of the target language can understand easily. If that's not an art, then what is?
(-we are dealing with words and writing. Ever heard of "the art of writing"? When writing an original text is an art, then transferring the content of that text into another language without destroying the meaning must be an art, too)

a craft
- because there are basic tools we use: vocabulary, grammar, all the linguistical bones that form the skeleton of a language. We have to know how to use these tools like a good craftsman needs to know the use of his tools to produce a good result.

a science
- because we have to work out the meaning behind the obvious. We can't just "replace" the separate words of a sentence with words of the target language. We have to understand the meaning, the intention of the original author like scientists work out the scientific phenomena behind obvious events. Scientists record the results of their work in mathematical fomulas, we record ours in the target language.


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Tricky problem... May 19, 2009

Lingua 5B: "I believe syntax is closer to science, while semantics is rather art"
How is this so? Details, please...


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Music? May 19, 2009

lai an: "Perhaps translating text might be like performing music. Here is one model"
Interesting, but how, precisely, does this relate to translation?


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Defining art... May 19, 2009

AWa: I understand the explanations behind craft and science but:

"we create a translation that native speakers of the target language can understand easily. If that's not an art, then what is?"

I'm not sure that's an adequate definition of art. It seems very wishy-washy...


 

chica nueva
Local time: 17:33
Chinese to English
the social purposes of translation ... May 20, 2009

Raf Uzar wrote:

lai an: "Perhaps translating text might be like performing music. Here is one model"
Interesting, but how, precisely, does this relate to translation?


Raf, you are far more expert than I in this, I am sure.

Another peer uses the same analogy here:
http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/94828-one_third_of_proz_translators_never_learned_what_it_means_to_translate-page3.html#768247
A translator who translates the "text as is", with no attention to the ... purposes of communication ... is like a pianist who plays the "score as is". For that you only need the ability to read and play the notes. But music is much more than that, as is translation ... (3rd para from the bottom)

[Edited at 2009-05-20 07:31 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 07:33
English to Croatian
+ ...
One tiny example; but there are hundreds May 20, 2009

Raf Uzar wrote:

Lingua 5B: "I believe syntax is closer to science, while semantics is rather art"
How is this so? Details, please...


Just one example:

1. tree diagrams ( they resemble math principles and geometry)
2. lexical decomposition (resembles art because it's never fully exact, and is subject to perpetual analysis)



[Edited at 2009-05-20 09:23 GMT]


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Pianist May 20, 2009

lai an: Thanks! That makes more sense...icon_smile.gif

Lingua 5B: I understand what you mean now.


 

chica nueva
Local time: 17:33
Chinese to English
appreciating a piece of music or a text Jul 28, 2009

lai an wrote:

translation is communication, a performance art (art/skill/craft are synonymous here)

Perhaps translating text might be like performing music. Here is one model.

[ How to appreciate music: Music is an art which reveals people's thoughts and feelings and reflects the real life of society through artistic images formed from organised sound (primarily musical sound). Composition, performance and appreciation are the three aspects of the practice of musical art. ... It often used to be said that there were three stages in musical appreciation: 1. sensual appreciation 2. emotional appreciation 3. intellectual appreciation. ...if you want to appreciate a work comprehensively, from the three aspects, the senses, the emotions and reason, then you need to be provided with the following several aspects of knowledge: 1 Era of the writer and the work; 2 National features; 3 The writer's creative personality; 4 Title; 5 The expressive functions of musical language; 6 Musical form and type (Translated from Wang Qin Yan et al ed., Music Appreciation Handbook, Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, Shanghai, 1983) ]


@ Raf Here is the full account of the 'several aspects of knowledge' of music. I suppose this sort of approach might be used with texts as well. Lesley

How to appreciate music

Music is an art which reveals people's thoughts and feelings and reflects the real life of society through artistic images formed from organised sound (primarily musical sound). Composition, performance and appreciation are the three aspects of the practice of musical art. The appreciation of music is an aesthetic activity. Gorky said, "By instinct, man is an artist. No matter where he is, he always hopes to bring beauty into his life." The criteria of beauty are determined by the aesthetic tastes of a certain era, a certain nationality, and a certain social class and stratum. Beauty of form is only one aspect of artistic beauty, of even more importance is the beauty of content of a work of art. It often used to be said that there were three stages in musical appreciation: 1. sensual appreciation 2. emotional appreciation 3. intellectual appreciation. Sensual appreciation is primarily satisfied in sweetness of sound (that is, it's nice to listen to), and is a relatively shallow appreciation. If you want to conduct a comprehensive appreciation of a musical work, and from it gain consummate artistic enjoyment, apart from sensual appreciation, you must also enter into emotional appreciation and intellectual appreciation. If you want to appreciate a work comprehensively, from the three aspects, the senses, the emotions and reason, then you need to be provided with the following several aspects of knowledge:

1 Era of the writer and the work A musical work always expresses the composer's impressions of real life. Therefore, if you want to grasp the work's ideological content quite deeply, then you must understand the era-background within which the work was produced and the era-features. For example, Qu Wei's tone poem "Monument to the People's Heroes" mourns and eulogises the people's heroes who laid down their lives since 1840, especially those since the May 4th Movement and in the three-year War of Liberation. However, the writer, firmly based in the socialist revolutionary era, shows the innermost impressions of the people of the New China standing in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes and recalling the revolutionary martyrs. It has clear-cut era-features. Beethoven's heroic works, the Third and Fifth Symphonies, Fifth Piano Concerto, and "Egmont" Overture, were produced under the influence of the French Bourgeois Revolution, and reflect the struggle of the masses resisting autocratic tyranny. On the other hand, his Seventh Symphony and Ninth Symphony respectively, show his mental state and ideological level in the war of national liberation and the Meitehuang reactionary rule periods. The piano works of Chopin's mature period (etudes, preludes, ballades, scherzos, sonatas) reflect his grief and worries about Poland and his heartfelt thoughts of his tragic native land after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising in 1830-1831. Tchaikovsky's Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the "Manfred" symphony, the opera "Black Peach Empress" and many capriccios, reflect the low, hesitant mood and desire for bright happiness of the Russian bourgeois intellectuals of the time under the reactionary rules of Alexander II and Alexander III.

2 National features The Russian composer Glinka said, "The people create the music. The composer just writes it into a tune, that's all." Every musical work has its roots in national folk music, therefore they all have their own national features. Some works embody certain traits of the national music language in broad outline, while others retain a close link with specific national folk tunes. For example, the musical language in Qu Wei's tone poem "Monument to the People's Heroes" is closely linked to the tunes of North China folk songs. The first theme, showing the fighting spirit of the people's heroes, incorporates certain tunes from the North Shaanxi folk song "Xintianyou", and the second theme, showing the magnanimous mind of the heroes, incorporates certain tunes from the Shanxi folk songs "Dongshan shang dian deng" and "Hao ba lu". This work not only has a strong flavour of the era, but at the same time it has clear-cut national features.

3 The writer's creative personality Because of the differences in composers' life-eras, environments, accomplishments, experiences and artistic tastes, composers reveal all sorts of different creative personalities. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Schubert's Unfinished Symphony are works of the same period, they have the same type of era-background, however, the creative personalities are different, and the styles of the works are also very different. The Ninth Symphony is a solemn, grand play, whereas the Unfinished Symphony is a sorrowful and moving romantic lyric poem. Another aspect of this is that the creative personality and style are also changing and developing. Similarly, Schubert's works, from the sad, grieved Unfinished Symphony to the Ninth Symphony (in C major), dignified in bearing, and heroic in manner, indicate shifts in the writer's creative thought and creative style.

4 Title Instrumental works can be divided into titled music, or programme music, and untitled music. Title means a piece of written text explaining the content of the work, such as the "Explanation of the music" for the violin concerto "Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai", but it can also sometimes be a title, such as "Monument to the People's Heroes". To appreciate programme music, you must understand the work's programme content.

5 The expressive functions of musical language When composers write music, it is the same as when writers write poetry, or novels and short stories; there is a system for expressing feeling and conveying meaning, and that is the musical language. Musical language includes many key elements: melody, rhythm, metre, tempo, dynamics, range, timbre, harmony, polyphony, mode, diaoxing. The thought content and artistic beauty of a piece of music can only be expressed though all the various key elements.

Melody…
Rhythm…
Metre…
Tempo…
Dynamics…
Range…
Timbre…
Harmony…
Polyphony…
Mode and diaoxing (pitch of the main tone of the mode)…

When the various key elements of musical language are in concert with each other, they have ever changing expressive power. Even although melody is the soul of music, when there is a change in the other key elements, then the musical images will change to a greater or lesser extent. In certain situations, the other key elements can even have a major effect. For example, in He Lu Ting's orchestral piece, "Sen ji de ma", the first section is slow and gentle, and uses extended chords and setoff parts (as in part singing) to throw the melody into sharp relief. At the beginning a paired reed flute and long flute play a tune full of pastoral flavour, and against the contrast of the chords from the strings, the timbre, or tone colour, seems soft and quiet, depicting the beautiful scenery of the vast Mongolian grasslands. Later on, one after the other, the French horn, violin, and trumpet play the melody, and the colouring gradually becomes brighter. The second section is fast and strong, and the strings sing out the brisk, lively accompaniment figure of the string performance. The melody is the same as in the first section, and the tone colour has not changed greatly. However, because the tempo, the dynamics, as well as the rhythm of the accompanying instruments changes, it therefore expresses a different musical image, reflecting the Mongolian people's joyful singing and dancing life.

6 Musical form and type Musical form is the style, or pattern, into which the musical material is arranged, and it is also in fact the structural arrangement of the music. Type is the variety of the music, and it is formed in the cultural life of various eras, various nationalities, and various classes and strata of society. Musical forms include the one-section form, two-section form, three-section form, four-section form, rondo form, variation form, sonata form, rondo sonata form, composite form, cyclical form, and so on. In music which is written using the three-section form (for example, Qu Wei's "Flower Drum", or the repeated three-section form (for example, Li Huan Zhi's "Spring Festival Suite"), each musical image is very often made up of view-form contrasts and comparisons; music which reflects customary life often uses this type of form. The sonata form, on the other hand, is a type of dramatic construction (for example "Monument to the People's Heroes", and the violin concerto "Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai"), which very often expresses the tension and conflict of musical images.

All the different types, for example song, dance, march, scherzo, ballade, nocturne, overture, symphonic poem, concerto, symphony, suite, and so on, have their own different characteristics, suited to expressing different thematic content, and this is also necessary to know when appreciating musical works.

Wang Qin Yan et al ed., Music Appreciation Handbook, Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, Shanghai, 1983


 

Raf Uzar
Poland
Local time: 07:33
Polish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Is translation music? Jul 28, 2009

Lesley, this is absolutely wonderful!icon_smile.gif

Many, many thanks,

Raf


 

chica nueva
Local time: 17:33
Chinese to English
Why? Jul 30, 2009

@Raf Why 'wonderful'. Can you elaborate. It seems to have 'struck a chord'. (This is one of the music and literature-related translation pieces I did for BA papers in Russian culture and Chinese film a few years back.)

[Edited at 2009-07-30 08:13 GMT]


 
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