Q&A on Translation
Q: Why do we need a human to translate since a translation programme has already been invented?

A: Translation programmes compare the words entered with the words kept in its memory and generate an output. In practice, words spoken do not have only one meaning and some are attached to other words or come in a phrase, so translation produced by the programmes are not 100% correct.

In 2003, one of my friends at Chula was thinking of working on legal terminology as part of his thesis. It seemed interesting to the lecturer so he was advised to do something different. His work was to focus on collecting legal terms in the form of phrases. It works the same way.

Q: Why do some translated books have footnotes?

A: It depends on translators and publishers. As far as I know, most publishers like to have footnotes in the translation as readers will get to know more about the text. Now the question is whether the footnote cited by the translator is correct. I once came across this kind of mistake in a book. The footnote said that Picasso was born in Malaga, Malaysia which is wrong as we all know that he was born in Spain in a city with the same name. A way to ensure that the correct information is given is to get information from a reliable source.

Some people don't like to insert footnotes in the translation because it looks messy on the page. Neither do I. When I was doing a project regarding translation of art article, I didn't use this technique as the target reader was the general public who didn't need to read something written with academic terms.

Q: How would readers thoroughly understand the translation if no footnote is inserted?

A: Well, if you are afraid that they wouldn't understand your translation, insert a footnote then. Here's a continuation from the above. Once I decided I didn't want any footnotes in my work, I had to look for other ways to help readers. I ended up adding my understanding of the word or phrase into the translation. I assumed the readers had no knowledge about art so the translation had to be detailed. The result was that some sentences were translated into five or ten line sentences. I know this affects writing style but I placed more importance on the readers than the author (just for this piece) as the translation purpose was to teach people about the principle of art.

An example of this technique is the word 'Lima'. Manunya (yes - famous Manunya Thanabhumi) didn't put a footnote to explain this but added a phrase saying 'the capital city of Peru' after it.

Q: What about puns?

A: You need to know why the writer uses puns. A lecturer gave an example of a French word starting with 'corn' and she translated into Thai begining with 'ta' which means eye as the character saying the 'corn' words meant to satirize another character who is old and can be called 'ta' (a Thai word meaning an old man).

Q: What impact does culture have on translation?

A: Some words widely used and known in a target culture cannot always be used. We have idioms relating to 'chang' (elephant) but this cannot be used in the Western context as you know that elephants in Western culture don't have the same cultural significance.

This is the same when translating from Thai to English for example, the Thai translation of 'The Mask' compared the Mask with Khun Paen. We know that Khun Paen does not exist in Western culture. Upon seeing the word 'Khun Paen', readers will think of a Thai character wearing traditional costume.

In a movie, a character yelled to her son 'What about tea?'. The translation was 'namchaa (tea)?' which was not exactly the right meaning. Australians don't have tea in the afternoon but their tea means dinner.

Q: Is it a big deal if a translator got a meaning wrong?

A: 'To err is human.' remember? Despite that, it's not forgivable sometimes. A book about Andy Warhol, the Campbell Soup promoter, translated the word 'endangered species' as dangerous animals. Above the caption, there were pictures of a turtle, a frog, a zebra, an eagle etc. And you know these animals are not dangerous. I suppose the translator didn't look up the word in the dictionary but he might have thought himself that those words looked similar so they should have the same meaning.

Q: Should we criticize translation work?

A: It depends actually. If one is to criticize, he should make it constructive. Personally, I don't agree with posting defective translations on the website. I would instead email the publisher, asking if they wanted to review the work.

Additionally, several factors must be taken into account when a translation work is criticized. You cannot say that a translated book is not well translated just because it lacks aesthetics. You may need to consider the translation purpose, the target reader, the time the text was written etc. Some texts are translated using the adaptation technique (of Peter Newmark).

To me, the most important thing is 'for what purpose do you criticize the translation?'. If the answer is justifiable, then go ahead.

Q: Which one should a translator go for - coinage, neologism or transliteration?

A: Coinage and neologism are pretty similar in practice. Let's take a look at an example from my work. There's a Thai coinage for the word 'cubism' but I chose to transliterate it, as the original word is commonly known among Thais. If I used the word 'buang bask niyom', I am sure readers will think of a rope.

However, a lecturer prefers that we use coinage. As an educator, she has a good reason - if we don't use coinage, how would that coinage be known? She translated the word 'personification' using Thai coinage. Readers who took a course in literature would understand the Thai coinage right away. Others gave her a call asking for clarification which was not a problem for her.

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Sawaddee ka. My name is Nat. I am a certified translator. I have been in the translation industry since 2004.

I graduated a master degree in English-Thai translation from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.

I have the following accreditation:
- NAATI Accreditation for EN < > TH translation (Australia)
- Court Expert Registration for EN < > TH translation (Thailand)
- Member (MCIL), Chartered Institute of Linguists (U.K.)

See details about my services here http://www.nctranslation.net

For a quick quote, email your document to natchaon@yahoo.com.

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