Letter to the Editor

Translation: An Intellectual Pursuit | Jesse Tomlinson

Jesse Tomlinson’s article, “Translation: An Intellectual Pursuit” (September-October), is succinct, thorough, and hits to the core. It sets the bar for the profession.

I’ve observed that a step often omitted in the process of translation is the translator first reading the source text in full to gain a complete understanding of what is being said. Again, this is not a word-by-word reading, but rather a conceptual understanding of the message. Only after that can he or she question words that either don’t fit or don’t add clarity to the message. This confusion, found more often in written English these days, is the first barrier for a translator. And yes, these unclarities are often subtle, which is where the intellect of the translator first comes in: when reviewing the source document.

There is an investment of the mind and the heart. This article highlights the value of such investment to those who need to have their documentation translated into other languages. Not as a sloppy and robotic exercise, but as two intellectual and cultural minds, one in the source and one in the target, creating a bridge to a smooth and polished translated text that appears as if it had been originally written in that language.

It takes heart because it takes caring. Caring to use our intellect and abilities to express well, research, and continually learn. These are all skills that fit in with our profession so well.

As Jesse said, the translator needs to be equally adept in both languages and cultures and to make up for anything lacking with research and learning. And of course, the linguistic team of editors and proofreaders is what brings in additional intellect, research, knowledge, and experience to make an integral result.

The human factor in general has been devaluating over many decades, and this is mirrored in the lack of value for good, human, intellectual translations. It’s unfortunately a sign of the times. Fortunately, there are still clients/organizations who value people, and the high level of communication that these people deserve when reading their source documents in translated form.

It’s up to each translator to hold the fort and ensure that while software tools are aids, the intellect applied and integrity for the work remains inviolable.

—Mary Jo Smith-Obolensky | Glendale, California

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