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Train of thoughts during translation
Thread poster: Bojan Keevill

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
Apr 30

Respected colleagues,

Can you describe the train of thoughts you experience during translation?

I wish to write an essay describing the difference between human and machine translation.

It has been relatively easy for me to gather information regarding the latter, as the various mechanical processes of translation are programmed, rationally computed, and thus well defined. However, I have found no information at all regarding the former, which seems frankly 'irrational' -- perhaps better defined as 'unknowable'.

I would like you to describe, if you can, what goes on in your mind, or what you think, assume, or feel is going on in your mind when performing translation. I have asked myself this question and found it very difficult indeed to give a clear answer. In fact, I have no answer other than to say that I am aware of meaning, and to a lesser extent, grammar and syntax (i.e. the modification and order of meanings).

That is quite general and not very helpful, as I would answer the question "What happens in my mind when performing mental arithmetic?" in almost exactly the same manner, even though I know that we use different regions of our brains to perform linguistic and arithmetical contortions.

I would prefer you to render the kind of simple and intuitive statements that might be made during casual conversation, rather than the formal analytical type of statement that tends to result from writing. Though obviously, you will have to write (hopefully in English!) if you wish to state your opinion here.

If you do choose to respond, please attempt to give me a concise "one-liner", or, since I assume you all to be writers, a paragraphicon_smile.gif

Kind regards,
Bojan


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not usually given to introspection May 2

However, my basic approach to translation is as follows:
1) The source text says X
2) The target text should say Y
3) What is the best way to render this in the context?

To deal with part 3, I usually compare my efforts with other established texts in similar contexts in the target language if possible.


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:22
Member (2008)
French to English
Languageless May 2

I find that in order to transfer the meaning, it's often necessary to read the source text and then kind of retire momentarily into a "languageless" state of mind where you try to put yourself in the shoes, so to speak, of the author, to capture the concept he is conveying. Then the target language suggests itself. This is especially applicable when there are "faux amis" - "false friends" - words or terms that have a direct translation but that don't quite convey the meaning intended.

 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for a very concise train of thoughts May 2

Hello neilmac,

If I understand you correctly, you view x as an apparent set of meanings, and y as a possible 'mirror' of x.
- perhaps a kind of mirror neuron function?

"compare my efforts with other established texts in similar contexts"

- this sounds like some kind of relativistic function, through which your valuation of y (and possibly also x) are modulated by external factors -- relevant but independent context(s).

If I have interpreted your thoughts incorrectly, please let me know. Otherwise, thanks again!

Kind regards,
Bojan


 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Mr. Fossey May 2

I very much like your idea of a
"languageless" state of mind

It is precisely this unmeasurable space which I hope to describe in my essay.
Can you expand this thought?

Kind regards,
Bojan


 

Jan Truper
Germany
Local time: 00:22
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
Method acting May 2

I often translate dialogue-heavy texts (subtitles, games).

For a brief moment I try to become the character (sort of like a method actor) and I speak as the character whose words I am translating in this moment.


 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Mr. Truper May 2

If we assume that method actors empathize with the subject they are re-enacting, may I assume that your brief moments of trying to become the character are somehow similar to the function of mirror neurons?

Kind regards,
Bojan


 

The Misha
Local time: 18:22
Russian to English
+ ...
My thoughts take no trains. May 2

They prefer driving:)

I mean, really, couldn't you think of something more meaningful to research? Like, with more practical implications?


 

Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 00:22
English to Russian
+ ...
Understand it and express it May 2

In terms of a train of thought, I see only two stages that are invariable: understanding the source text and expressing it in the target language. However, even this simplistic model is totally different from machine translation. By understanding I mean understanding the intended meaning of the whole text rather than individual words/phrases, and not only from a linguistic standpoint, but also from the one of the subject field. For example, in order to translate a medical text properly, the translator should understand medicine, otherwise he risks making a dangerous mistake sooner or later. On the other hand, artificial intelligence in general and machine translation in particular are at present organically incapable of understanding anything, they can only fake it reasonably well by taking various shortcuts, which may work in most cases but sometimes fail miserably. We humans do take shortcuts, too (e.g. remembering a phrase already encountered and its meaning), but if we do it without understanding the surrounding text, we expose ourselves to the same pitfalls.

 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Mr. Konashenok May 2

I absolutely agree that human translators understand the source text and express it in the target language, and that machines are incapable of understanding. I also agree that MT differs in function from human translation.

My core questions is:
What is it that human minds do during translation?
I shall hazard the guess that your meaningful reply is simply: understand.

However, your reply is ambiguous with regard to 'understanding' -- you have stated:
By understanding I mean understanding the intended meaning of the whole text rather than individual words/phrases, and not only from a linguistic standpoint, but also from the one of the subject field.

- this feels as if you were suggesting that machines are capable of understanding "individual words/phrases". I would argue more simply, that machines are incapable of understanding.

Further, I would ague that
understanding the source text and expressing it in the target language
comprises a statement, not a model.

Understanding surely is key to human endeavors of all kinds -- what do we mean by use of this word?
- by asking "What is it that human minds do during translation?" am I in essence hunting for a model of understanding?
- is understanding synonymous with Mr. Fossey's "languageless state"?

Thanks again for your thoughts,
Kind regards,
Bojan


 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Dear Misha May 2

I like your idea of "driving thoughts" -- in the sense of progression, though unfortunately your analogy with car driving loses the feel of connectivity between carriages of meaning. My thoughts are never independent of others. Are yours?

PONDERANCE
My current question to these fora has been posted under the rubric Translation Theory and Practice.
Please do us the nicety of pondering upon that for an instant -- you may find that your dismissive tone was completely inappropriateicon_wink.gif

PS:
If you do come to some understanding of how to answer my question, please let us know!

All the best,
Bojan

[Edited at 2018-05-02 19:52 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-05-02 19:53 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-05-02 19:54 GMT]


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:22
Member (2008)
French to English
An opinion May 2

The Misha wrote:

I mean, really, couldn't you think of something more meaningful to research? Like, with more practical implications?


I wonder rather whether the topic goes right to the core of the translation process and possibly underlines the major differences between human and machine translation.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:22
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
my train of thought while translating a press release for a client selling high-fashion garments May 2

"hmm now I've fed the cats, and checked my emails, let's get started. Oh it's a press release. So I put the date down there instead of up here, and italics is the norm isn't it.
OK the title: oh that looks pretty straightforward, let's just translate it as it comes, yes that works, oh, except there's a bit of a pun there. Hmm I'll deal with that later.
Ah this bit sounds familiar, yes, looks a lot like what I translated last time. Let's just copy that whole paragraph from my previous translation, maybe I can just tweak it here and there since it looks like that's what they did to the French. Right, I'll get rid of that bit, oh no they just moved it to the end. Looks like it'll work like that in English too. Is my tea cold? no, but I'd better finish it because next time I think of it, it will be.
OK next paragraph. Don't remember that term, must be in my glossary. Yup... oh but doesn't look like it's the same meaning, is it? let's see what linguee says. Hmm yes thought as much. Maybe I should google it, get a pic up to see whether it's the same or not. Oh it definitely isn't. So what on earth is that in English? Oh, I should look on that website, what was it, the one Mary worked on. Ah yes, that looks more or less the same, no it's shorter. Does that matter? they call it an X, let's google, see if they're all the same length. Oh some are even shorter than that. Let's see what the dictionary says, whether the length is crucial to the definition. No, doesn't look like it. Oh hang on, try a more reliable dictionary than that. Yes this one's better. No, still no mention of length. Let's google it again adding the word "long". Oh wow, they're really long. OK so it looks like this term is fine. Hang on why is Word underlining it? silly, you didn't set the spell check to British English. That's better.
What's the kitten up to now? Get down from there before you make it topple and break into smithereens!

... I need coffee."


I think that pretty well reflects the sort of thing that goes through my head apart from the actual words in source and target. Is that what you wanted?


 

Bojan Keevill
Slovenia
Local time: 00:22
Slovenian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Riding shotgun May 3

Kay!

That was lovely. I felt as if I were riding shotgun. Placing the pun you had recognized to simmer on the back burner was a classic move, I wonder what magic happens back there while our eyes are trained on the road ahead? Your justifying negotiation of the right term was priceless and familiar.

Thanks so much!
May I quote you?

Kind regards,
Bojan


 

Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
Writing versus Translating May 3

This doesn't always happen, but there are times when you feel "at one" with the writer of the original text. When this happens with me, I "become" that writer, adopting his or her voice and easily anticipating what the person will say next. It just flows as a natural stream of thought, and I feel that I am actually "writing" more than I am "translating." The more difficult texts to translate are those where you never really get into that voice and struggle to make ideas "fit" when they are the complete opposite of how you would express your own ideas.

 
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