Nowadays, we translators face a dilemma: idiomatic or pragmatic when translating to the foreign language (s) we have command of? I have been pondering about it as I have seen that many translators do not respect what many authors call in Spanish "el genio de la lengua", which means to try to imitate as much as possible the way the other language is written so that the target reader does not see it is a translation, and instead, stick to a pragmatism that, at times, seems to kill and dissect the language, stripping it off its soul, in exchange for speed and time-gaining.
Copyright © ProZ.com, 1999-2019. All rights reserved.
When I was studying at the Modern Language School at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Italian and English translation professors insisted on this point and used to say that the form is as important as the meaning for the reader. Some of the authors I have read argue that English is more like a movie where you see throughout all the movement and Spanish is more like a photo where you only can make out the result of the action. Therefore, expressions such as “a bird flew through into the room” in English are not possible to be translated into Spanish as “un pajarito voló por la ventana hacia el cuarto”, as in English you care more about the HOW the action is made, and not as much as on the result of it, as in the case of Spanish, where the correct and more idiomatic way to say the same information should be “un pajarito entró a la habitación,” where the whole picture of the flying and the window is not described, as happens in English above. In Italian, things are described more in a bureaucratic high-brow way that would sound very strange in Spanish. And so, when you say in Spanish “los exámenes que ella realizó en esta institución”, you say in Italian “gli esami da lei fatti presso quest’istituzione,” instead of the conventional “gli esami che lei ha fatto presso quest´istituzione.”
Surprisingly, however, I found myself in a world where nobody cares about the “genio de la lengua”, as it has been replaced by a dissecting pragmatism that has progressively killed the spirit of the language, in exchange for an easy-way to find the answer and continue with the translation. So, it is of course easier to think of the Italian translation “Io sono stato quello che ha mangiato la torta” for the English “It was me who ate the cake,” than thinking in a better and more idiomatic way such as “sono stato io a mangiare la torta” or “la torta me la son mangiata io.” And what is even worse: clients do not seem to care about it, as long as they have a translation in the target language that conveys the meaning accurately. But poor of you if you dare to miss a comma or misspell a word, because you will suffer their wrath because you are “assassinating” the other language!
Maybe it is due to the short deadlines we translators usually have for the delivery of projects. Maybe it is because sadly but truly many translators do not read enough and as often as they should (for we translators must read a lot) to try to adapt their structures and syntax to the ways of the other language. And more worrisome is the fact that it tends to happen in THEIR own language as well, as they do not worry so much on real structures in their own language, and care more about conveying the meaning, even if it sounds unnatural in that language.
So, should we, not only as translators, but also as paladins and representative of our languages, and of the other language (s) they translate in (in many cases, even if some do not want to admit it), not try to keep the soul of the languages we work with, or, on the contrary, we should dissect them and render them equals in all the senses and as plain as possible without the idiomatic things that even a Spanish manual can have and that differentiate it from an English manual (because otherwise Google translator would be very capable of doing it by itself without us, would it not?)?. So the question should be, are we going to defend our languages or are we going to sacrifice them over a standardization that seems criminal in all terms?