Source text oriented vs. target recipient oriented translations

  Thomas   Jul 11, 2014   Intercultural consultancy   0 Comment

Source text oriented or target oriented? That is the question. In fact, this has been the question for a long time. Both approaches have their advocates. While some assert that a translation is mainly a ”copy” of the original and it should clearly reflect the structure, tone and  linguistic microstructures of the source text, others maintain that the main function of a translation is to convey the information contained by the source text to a target readership so that is fully comprehensible to the latter. I have to admit that I have always been a strong supporter of the target oriented approach. But this was not without consequences for me. Ten years ago, during the high-school graduation exam (Bacalaureat) we were supposed to translate a text from Romanian (my mother tongue) into English (although the role of this translation was to assess grammar knowledge, I still consider this task inappropriate for a high-school examination). My approach to this translation was ”unorthodox” for the Romanian education system of those days, because I re-wrote the text in order to make it sound as good as possible in Romanian. Since my text had nothing in common with the reference translation (yes, assessors had a reference ”standard” translation) provided by the Ministry of Education, I was quite heavily penalized. Luckily, afterwards I attended one of the best translation schools in Romania where we were taught the principles of functionalism (which, among others, highlights the importance of target oriented translation).

But why is the target oriented approach more suitable for translation? Well, in order to find the answer to this question, we should start by acknowledging the very purpose of a translation: to make a text written in a foreign language accessible to an intended target audience. This target audience should not be aware of the fact that they’re reading a translation. The text should read as smoothly as possible and be completely adapted to their culture. And if this requires altering the original structure, merging two sentences into a single one or even changing the style of the text, then so be it! The only thing that cannot and must not be changed is the message. You might think that translating in these circumstances is very easy. On the contrary, having so many options entails a high degree of responsibility. Clearly, the translator is responsible for every choice he makes. And for this reason, not only does s/he need to have a clear insight of the target culture, but also s/he needs to know what the cultural guidelines of writing a certain text genre are. A translated contract should look exactly like a contract written directly in the target language. An instructions manual should use adequate language, the kind of language the readers are familiar with in such a context. Translators who use the source text as an excuse for their inadequate translations are not professional translators. And will never be!

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Freelance translator and intercultural consultant working from English, French into Romanian.

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