Translation Insights – Fidelity vs. Transparency

Legal Translation ServicesTranslations today are all about making sense.

This means that no one translates word-for-word as it is not needed anymore. Before standard translations, there were two ideals in translation, fidelity (also known as faithfulness) and transparency.

These two features can not be found in a translated text because, as a 17th-century French critic stated, translations, much like women, can either be faithful or beautiful, but never both. All jokes aside, this is a very accurate description of these features.

A faithful translation is one that accurately renders the meaning of the source text.

A transparent translation is when the text is made to look as it was written by a native of the target language while respecting its grammar, syntax and idiom.

Transparent translations are also called idiomatic. The criteria by which the fidelity of a translation is being judged varies according to the text and its destination.

Judging the transparency of a translation is much more straightforward because an idiomatic translation sounds wrong, while a transparent one actually makes sense.

These two features are also formulated in forms of “formal equivalence” which corresponds with metaphrase, and “dynamic equivalence” which corresponds to paraphrase.

“Dynamic equivalence” shows the essential thoughts and ideas of the source text even if the translation needs to sacrifice the original sememe and word order. By contrast, “formal equivalence” attempts to render the text “word for word” even if this means the expense of features natural to the target language.

There was never a sharp boundary between these two. A translator can use either way to translate in the same text where ever he sees a need to do it. That’s how translations are being done today. Some of them are very accurate and use both features to really catch the idea of the text while keeping it true to the source.

This standardized document translation, however, should not be confused with adaptation. A good translation is one that captures the meaning of the text and renders is accurately.

Don’t forget: If you are reading this and you require legal translation services you can either check the home page or click here: legal document translation services.

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