Thursday, April 22, 2010

Should A Translator be a Native Speaker of Target Language?

This is the question my juniors were asking last day from me. They are actually having a course titled Translation Studies in their second semester of Masters in Applied Linguistics. And this was the assignment topic they got from Javed Sahab. I was moving to my class room when they surrounded me and asked Shakir bhai we need your help. And after knowing about the topic I tried to convince them why a translator should be a native speaker of the target language.
There may be other cases as well, like native speaker of source language but having good proficiency in target language. But my point of view was that in today's world, translation agencies and firms restrict recruitment of only those translators which are native speakers of the target language. I am a native speaker of Urdu and Punjabi and work as a freelance translator from last 3 years, so I know the rules of the business. Why they do so? What are the advantages of all this restriction? I tried to explain in the light of my personal experience. And below I'll try to summarize the points I discussed with them.
  • Translation studies moved from a textual focus to contextual focus and now a days having a focus on culture and cultural meaning and information. If the translator is a native speaker of the target language it would be easy for him to understand his own context and to select appropriate structures while translating.
  • Cultures have differences. While I am a native speaker I can work better to bridge these differences because I know my culture very well than any one else who may be proficient in my language but may not be equally aware of the culture.
  • We have two kinds of knowledge of language: productive and receptive. I am a native speaker of Urdu and I have thousands of words for expressing my thoughts in Urdu, but at the same time I know English very well, but as compared to Urdu I do not have that such a wide range of words and vocabulary available to express my thoughts in English. There is a certain kind of hesitation. I personally prefer to translate from English to Urdu rather than Urdu to English (even the reverse is done by me several times, but again the preference is the first choice). So I have very good productive knowledge of Urdu but not of English. So I take help of dictionary to help me in understanding English and then I translate it to Urdu.
  • Being a native speaker of Urdu, I have the communicative competence. Although the same I have for English as well but the knowledge of usage, idiomatic expressions, phrases etc which I have for Urdu, I cannot have for English because I am not a native speaker. So I would always have more than 1 choices available while translating from English to Urdu which would be less likely true in case of Urdu to English. And I would choose best word or expression according to context and formality level.
  • One of the participants was disagreeing with me, she had the opinion that to understand the sense of the word we should be a native speaker of source language. While this may be helpful to understand the sense, again the point is the cultural knowledge, productive knowledge and usage conventions are the areas where a native speaker proves his superiority over a second or foreign language speaker.
Nothing is perfect in the world and so are the translations. We have to risk one thing for another. Meaning can never be conveyed 100%, there are always connotations, associations and hidden meaning which are left behind in the source language. But the goal of a translator is to get the maximum out of source language through the process of translation. This is the essence of translation.

    1 comment:

    Maya Shah said...

    Aoa... GREAT

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