Translation is an extremely complex job which requires skills that go well beyond the ability to speak more than one language. All translations are intercultural in nature, which is why knowing the context around a translation is crucial if meaning is to be fully conveyed in a different language. But what do context and culture really mean?
Context and Culture
You will often hear translators say that they need more context before they can do their job. Translators are not dictionaries. Meanings are attached to the particular situation in which they were stated, and these situations are affected by a writer’s cultural background. Culture frames our perception of reality and acts as a filter through which we see the world because the schemas that we use to interpret information evolve from the view of reality that society imposes on its members. (Alptekin, 1993). Culture is related to language and communication in that it brings our understanding of the world, codes and symbols into the communicative exchange (Ramirez, 2018).
Translators are language experts, but they also need to be interculturally competent in order to translate both words and context. There are different types of context in the field which need to be taken into account at all times:
What are we to do, then, when a translator asks for context? First, find out if the text belongs to a larger body of work. Content for translation is often extracted from a website or exists as part of a collection of manuals, guides, PowerPoint presentations, etc. Other texts related to the translatable content will surely help linguists decide on a particular term or the meaning of a phrase.
When texts are processed for translation through translation software, the phrases and sentences are turned into segments or strings. Often, these can be out of order or make less sense when stripped of their location or function on the page, leaving translators wondering: is this a headline? A button? To solve this problem, access to screenshots of the original, formatted, published content can be provided.
Some CAT tools such as memoQ lets project managers and clients add what is famously known in the industry as “reference material”. This material can include links, screenshots and videos, and offer translators their much needed context. Offering reference material does not mean that translators will not need any further clarification, but you will find that good translators can answer a great number of questions themselves when provided with reference material in anticipation of their needs for context.
There Is No Text Without a Context
- Alptekin, C. (1993). Target-language culture in EFL materials. ELT Journal: English Language Teaching Journal, 47(2), 136. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=55933634&site=eds-live
- Ramirez, E. S. (2018). Literature Review: The Intercultural Dimension. In The intercultural dimension in language classrooms in Aotearoa New Zealand: A comparative study