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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Marketing Your Language Services  »  The Communicational Circuit of Translation

The Communicational Circuit of Translation

By Jean-Marie Le Ray | Published  10/5/2007 | Marketing Your Language Services | Recommendation:
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Jean-Marie Le Ray
English to French translator
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French version / version française

Translation = Communication

- Question to businesses: Do you leave your communication to just anyone? - Answer: No, never.

- Related question: Do you leave your translations to just anyone? - Answer: Yes, often.

- Why the disconnect? - Because a large majority of clients still think - against all logic, except the money argument - that if you can babble a few words in a language, you can translate it.

So without batting an eye they entrust their corporate documents and even their commercial correspondence to so-called translators whose only merit is being the lowest bidder, and basing the decision to award the contract on but one criterion: the lowest possible price...

Overlooking skill and quality, and completely oblivious of the fact that translation is a complex operation which follows its own communicational circuit.

* * *

The Communicational Circuit of Translation

I am going to try to clarify things with an explanation of the real communicational circuit of translation as I see it, drawing inspiration from various communications theories and detailing each stage. In September 2004, I created this illustration. In short, combining several communication models, you have:

1. An information source (who)
2. A message to communicate in the form of a signal (says what)
3. A transmitter which will encode the signal (how)
4. A transmission channel which will carry the signal (by what channel)
5. A receiver which will decode the signal to recreate the message and restore the information it contains (to whom)
6. Feedback (with what return effect)

When we speak of interpersonal communication, it is generally accepted that the transmitter and the receiver understand each other because they speak the same language. But this assumption is skewed from the outset when they speak two mutually incomprehensible languages. Such is the daily lot of about 7 billion Earthlings in an infinite number of places and circumstances!

So, if we put aside the technical aspects to concentrate on the path a message takes from emission in Language A by its author to reception in Language B by its receiver - which is a definition of translation - we see the following communication correspondences:

1. An information source (who) (author)
2. A message to communicate in the form of a signal (says what) (message in Language A)
3. A transmitter which will encode the signal (how) (encoding into source message)
4. A transmission channel which will carry the signal (by what channel) (translation)
5. A receiver which will decode the signal to recreate the message and restore the information it contains (to whom) (recipient of the target message in Language B)
6. Feedback (with what return effect) (is there loss - or addition - of information, satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the quality of the translated message)

First comment: Some may be surprised that I have placed language between the author and the source message, or between the target message and the recipient.

The explanation is simple: For the creator, or for the translator, there is never ONE SINGLE way to encode a message, since every language allows for many encoding variants, which are called registers of the language. Between "Would you kindly leave" and "Get out of here", the message is the same but the presentation is a little different...

The encoding of the source - and target - message changes with the purpose of the communication, the recipient, the location, the circumstances, and so on; there are many criteria. Also coming into play are noise (what I call linguistic interference, such as poor mastery of the language, style, syntax, grammar, spelling) and filters (be they cultural, religious, familial, social, etc.), which can potentially modify or disturb the clarity of the information. In this way, every message is influenced by an infinite number of variables, whether conscious or not.

It is not uncommon for an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, or any expert in a field, not to be able to express himself properly in his own language. A translator who has been practicing his craft for a long time is sure to have hundreds of examples on hand where his final text is noticeably more intelligible than the original document.

As for the TRANSLATION process itself, which is based on the intrinsic skills of the translator AND the technical aspects of localization and/or computer-assisted translation (from automatic translation on search engine to translation environments, from terminology management to translation memories, from bitext or multilingual corpuses to online glossaries and specialized search engines), it is the channel which will carry the message from one language to the other.

It is an operation of creating an equivalent message - not equivalent terms or words (a subtle distinction of vital importance which I have detailed in an analysis of professional technical translation) - which for translators consists in “increasing the elasticity of language” and “creating bridges between peoples”, quoth Victor Hugo.

Finally, you will note two breaks in my graphic which can potentially interrupt the message, either upstream if the integrity of the information is not transferred from the source message to the target message because of incomprehension or poor translation, or downstream when the recipient of the message is incapable of judging the correspondence between source and target, or if he couldn’t care less, which is not uncommon either. :-)

That being the case, on the (dis)satisfaction scale, there can be a thousand different situations depending on the (in)competence of either party.

* * *

Conclusion: Choosing a service provider worthy of the name

So if your SME is among the European companies which are “experiencing significant commercial losses for lack of adequate linguistic skills”, and if by some lucky chance you are responsible for ordering translations and you have had the patience and fortitude to read this far, I dare to hope that you will entrust your next translation project or the localization of your corporate website to a service provider worthy of the name.

For in the end, as a general rule, the quality of a translation is always proportional to the price you pay - or are prepared to pay - for it.

Multilingual communication is a craft, and like any craft, it can’t just be improvised!

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