Translators are writers

It’s that simple. Writing is an essential part of the translation process. By the way, how many steps does the translation process involve? Academics from the translationsphere have come up with different workflows, but I would like to offer my own in plain English:

  1. Reflexive reading of the original
  2. Writing of the first draft
  3. Polishing the first draft into a final copy (composition)
  4. Spell-checking
  5. Reflexive reading of the translation

Now, these are visible steps. There are many more steps going on inside the mind for each of the above. I’ll focus on writing.

I have been reading Daniel Cassany’s book titled La cocina de la escritura, an excellent treatise on the art and discipline of writing.  In chapter 3, Accionar máquinas, Cassany explores strategies to overcome writer’s block. It occurred to me that we hit a block because we assume that we have to write something finished. A writer doesn’t produce a publish-ready copy; he goes through drafts.

A translation is never finished. Writing is even more complicated all of a sudden. Then again, for the sake of deadlines, a more or less finished draft of the translation is delivered.

To avoid digressing and losing my readers here, let me ask you: What do you think happens when you write? Say, an email, a note to your spouse, a holiday card to a relative. If your first thought is ‘to communicate something’, you got it half right. It’s a half answer because communication is the means to an end. If you want me to deliver a package to a client containing television parts and you send me an email telling me so, the purpose of the email is not to communicate, but to direct me to do something. Not to order, command or mandate. To direct, to guide me, if you will, to do or achieve something. That email has a functional purpose. This applies to other forms of functional texts, such as procedures, handbooks, quick start guides, installation guides, building plans, etc.

Let’s slow down when it comes to writing and translating. When we write, we are not just assembling words together, stitching them up to ‘communicate’. We are not slaves of the words, quite the contrary. We command the words, we can slow them down to think about them. No wonder many translators forget about their role as writers.

What I would like to leave you with is this: writing involves condensing ideas, sometimes, very complex ideas, into words that should make sense to the reader. Translation is not that different.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Spanish technical writing, Translation, Translation as writing, Word formation

2 responses to “Translators are writers

  1. Wordsmeet: I am a poet, translator of poetry, and professional writer/editor, and, while I believe in using the simplest, most straightforward process possible, I also know that until inspiration arrives and I’ve gotten “behind” the words to understand & feel their meaning, I’m not done. No matter how respectful of an author I am, I always leave a little of myself behind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a complex and important topic. RT

    • What planted the seeds of what I wrote was the thought that I had to slow down, think about what I was writing as a translation. I also write for other reasons. Writing takes different times to complete according to every individual, and trying to force someone to write faster or deeper against the clock is counterproductive. Thank you for your supportive comments.

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