Lecture 6. Main types of translation


Though the basic characteristics of translation can be observed in all translation events, different types of translation can be singled out depending on the predominant communicative function of the source text or the form of speech involved in the translation process. Thus we can distinguish between literary and informative translation, on the one hand, and between written and oral translation (or interpretation), on the other hand.

Literary translation deals with literary texts, i.e. works of fiction or poetry whose main function is to make an emotional or aesthetic impression upon the reader. Their communicative value depends, first and foremost, on their artistic quality and the translators primary task is to reproduce this quality in translation.

Informative translation is rendering into the target language non-literary texts, the main purpose of which is to convey a certain amount of ideas, to inform the reader. However, if the source text is of some length, its translation can be listed as literary or informative only as an approximation. A literary text may, in fact, include some parts of purely informative character. Contrariwise, informative translation may comprise some elements aimed at achieving an aesthetic effect. Within each group further gradations can be made to bring out more specific problems in literary or informative translation.

Literary works are known to fall into a number of genres. Literary translations may be subdivided in the same way, as each genre calls for a specific arrangement and makes use of specific artistic means to impress the reader. Translators of prose, poetry or plays have their own problems. Each of these forms of literary activities comprises a number of subgenres and the translator may specialize in one or some of them in accordance with his talents and experience. The particular tasks inherent in the translation of literary works of each genre are more literary than linguistic. The great challenge to the translator is to combine the maximum equivalence and the high literary merit.

The translator of a belles-lettres text is expected to make a careful study of the literary trend the text belongs to, the other works of the same author, the peculiarities of his individual style and manner and sn on. This involves both linguistic considerations and skill in literary criticism. A good literary translator must be a versatile scholar and a talented writer or poet.

A number of subdivisions can be also suggested for informative translations, though the principles of classification here are somewhat different. Here we may single out translations of scientific and technical texts, of newspaper materials, of official papers and some other types of texts such as public speeches, political and propaganda materials, advertisements, etc., which are, so to speak, intermediate, in that there is a certain balance between the expressive and referential functions, between reasoning and emotional appeal.


Translation of scientific and technical materials has a most important role to play in our age of the revolutionary technical progress. There is hardly a translator or an interpreter today who has not to deal with technical matters. Even the purely literary translator often comes across highly technical stuff in works of fiction or even in poetry. An in-depth theoretical study of the specific features of technical translation is an urgent task of translation linguistics while training of technical translators is a major practical problem.

In technical translation the main goal is to identify the situation described in the original. The predominance of the referential function is a great challenge to the translator who must have a good command of the technical terms and a sufficient understanding of the subject matter to be able to give an adequate description of the situation even if this is not fully achieved in the original. The technical translator is also expected to observe the stylistic requirements of scientific and technical materials to make text acceptable to the specialist.

Some types of texts can be identified not so much by their positive distinctive features as by the difference in their functional characteristics in the two languages. English newspaper reports differ greatly from their Russian counterparts due to the frequent use of colloquial, slang and vulgar elements, various paraphrases, eye-catching headlines, etc.

When the translator finds in a newspaper text the headline Minister bares his teeth on fluoridation which just means that this minister has taken a resolute stand on the matter, he will think twice before referring to the ministers teeth in the Russian translation. He would rather use a less expressive way of putting it to avoid infringement upon the accepted norms of the Russian newspaper style.

Apart from technical and newspaper materials it may be expedient to single out translation of official diplomatic papers as a separate type of informative translation. These texts make a category of their own because of the specific requirements to the quality of their translations. Such translations are often accepted as authentic official texts on a par with the originals. They are important documents every word of which must be carefully chosen as a matter of principle. That makes the translator very particular about every little meaningful element of the original which he scrupulously reproduces in his translation. This scrupulous imitation of the original results sometimes in the translator more readily erring in literality than risking to leave out even an insignificant element of the original contents.

Journalistic (or publicist) texts dealing with social or political matters are sometimes singled out among other informative materials because they may feature elements more commonly used in literary text (metaphors, similes and other stylistic devices) which cannot but influence the translators strategy. More often, however, they are regarded as a kind of newspaper materials (periodicals).

There are also some minor groups of texts that can be considered separately because of the specific problems their translation poses to the translator. They are film scripts, comic strips, commercial advertisements and the like. In dubbing a film the translator is limited in his choice of variants by the necessity to fit the pronunciation of the translated words to the movement of the actors lips. Translating the captions in a comic strip, the translator will have to consider the numerous allusions to the facts well-known to the regular readers of comics but less familiar to the Russian readers. And in dealing with commercial advertisements he must bear in mind that their sole purpose is to win over the prospective customers. Since the text of translation will deal with quite a different kind of people than the original advertisement was meant for, there is the problem of achieving the same pragmatic effect by introducing the necessary changes in the message.

Though the present manual is concerned with the problems of written translation from English into Russian, some remarks should be made about the obvious classification of translations as written or oral. As the names suggest, in written translation the source text is in written form, as is the target text. In oral translation or interpretation the interpreter listens to the oral presentation of the original and translates it as an oral message in TL. As a result, in the first case the Receptor of the translation can read it while in the second case he hears it.

There are also some intermediate types. The interpreter rendering his translation by word of mouth may have the text of the original in front of him and translate it at sight. A written translation can be made of the original recorded on the magnetic tape that can be replayed as many times as is necessary for the translator to grasp the original meaning. The translator can dictate his at sight translation of a written text to the typist or a short-hand writer with TR getting the translation in written form.

These are all, however, modifications of the two main types of translation. The line of demarcation between written and oral translation is drawn not only because of their forms but also because of the sets of conditions in which the process takes place. The first is continuous, the other momentary. In written translation the original can be read and re-read as many times as the translator may need or like. The same goes for the final product. The translator can re-read his translation, compare it to the original, make the necessary corrections or start his work all over again. He can come back to the preceding part of the original or get the information he needs from the subsequent messages. These are most favourable conditions and here we can expect the best performance and the highest level of equivalence. That is why in theoretical discussions we have usually examples from written translations where the translating process can be observed in all its aspects.

The conditions of oral translation impose a number of important restrictions on the translators performance. Here the interpreter receives a fragment of the original only once and for a short period of time. His translation is also a one-time act with no possibility of any return to the original or any subsequent corrections. This creates additional problems and the users have sometimes; to be content with a lower level of equivalence.

There are two main kinds of oral translation consecutive and simultaneous. In consecutive translation the translating starts after the original speech or some part of it has been completed. Here the interpreters strategy and the final results depend, to a great extent, on the length of the segment to be translated. If the segment is just a sentence or two the interpreter closely follows the original speech. As often as not, however, the interpreter is expected to translate a long speech which has lasted for scores of minutes or even longer. In this case he has to remember a great number of messages and keep them in mind until he begins his translation. To make this possible the interpreter has to take notes of the original messages, various systems of notation having been suggested for the purpose. The study of, and practice in, such notation is the integral part of the interpreters training as are special exercises to develop his memory.

Sometimes the interpreter is set a time limit to give his rendering, which means that he will have to reduce his translation considerably, selecting and reproducing the most important parts of the original and dispensing with the rest. This implies the ability to make a judgement on the relative value of various messages and to generalize or compress the received information. The interpreter must obviously be a good and quickwitted thinker.

In simultaneous interpretation the interpreter is supposed to be able to give his translation while the speaker is uttering the original message. This can be achieved with a special radio or telephone-type equipment. The interpreter receives the original speech through his earphones and simultaneously talks into the microphone which transmits his translation to the listeners. This type of translation involves a number of psycholinguistic problems, both of theoretical and practical nature.



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