How Closely Tied Are Translation & Source Text?

03/26/14

How closely tied are translation and source text? The important thing to note when answering this question is that a translator simply cannot generate an exact and precise translation of the source text into the target language. You, as a translation buyer, should know this prior to obtaining your finished translation project.

Many translation buyers don’t understand that there’s no such thing as an “exact equivalent” when it come to translation.

An example of this would be the French phrase commonly used to introduce oneself. “Je m’appelle…” and then your name would follow. But to translate that, on any verbatim level, into English would render a lot of different possibilities.

“I call myself…”?
“I am called…”?
“I myself call…”?

Obviously, the translation comes to “I’m…” and then your name, or something close to that. All other verbatim (and exact) translations are informal, archaic and tonally unacceptable. This is the problem with exact translations. This is also a common problem with machine translation, but that’s another subject altogether.

Therefore, the answer to the question, “How close should a translation be to the source text?” is, simply: it really depends.

Probably not the answer many people were looking for, but that’s the truth. It just depends. For legal contracts or medical/pharmaceutical records, the answer is “very, extremely, incredibly close.” For marketing and e-commerce things: “Not very close, adapt the translation with your audience in mind.” For a novel, or literary work: “Close enough to convey the same message, but far enough away that it reads as well as the original—or relatively close anyway.”

So you can see the dilemma here. There’s no right way to answer this question. There’s no answer that will yield 100%. Staying too close to the source text will, most likely, be a fatal mistake for most translators who don’t know better.

Your task then, as a translation buyer, becomes differentiating – discussing the need for close or “not as close” verbatim translations with your LSP.

When you work with ITC Global Translations, you can rest assured; we make the right calls when it comes to how closely your translation is to its source text.