We know that language is much more than the expression of our thoughts. By analyzing the relationship between a language and a culture, anthropologists have reached to the conclusion that the former is part of the latter, as are ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals and ceremonies, among other things.
In that sense, translators have a huge responsibility in their hands, given that language is their main raw material. How does their daily work impact relationships between cultures?
A Process that Promotes Differences
“Much like any human activity, [translation] takes place in a specific social and historical context that informs and structures it, just like it informs and structures other creative processes. In translation processes, this becomes twice as complicated, since, by definition, it involves two languages and, therefore, two cultures and two societies,” described American linguist Eugene A. Nida.
Since each language has a particular cultural environment formed by historical, anthropological, social and geographical elements in which the speakers of a language live, translation can be understood as a sort of cultural bridge between each of these.
A study on cultural diversity in the world indicates that Chad, in north-central Africa, is home to 8.6 million people belonging to over 100 ethnic groups. Source: Pew Research Center
The simple definition of transfer, correspondence of one word for another, or change from one language to another, it’s not enough to cover all the processes involved in a quality translation. Key concepts such as equivalence and even difference come into play. For example.
In fact, French philosopher Jacques Derrida pointed out that “language isn’t a univocal and well-defined structure between signifier and signified groups, but seems to be a disorderly game in which all kinds of factors interact and exchange, leading to an eternal difference in the signified-signifier relationship.” Translation doesn’t seek to be equal, but instead to enhance the context, the particular aspects that define each culture. This is the best contribution that multilingualism can give.
Translation can also be seen as a way of commenting or even interpreting a piece of text, while always respecting the original meaning, as various authors have pointed out. There is even a creative approach in these interpretations, especially when it comes to literary content.
In short, translators play a key role in interculturality, in relation to the presence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures and the possibility of generating shared cultural expressions. The approach also allows for the coexistence and communication between cultures, which becomes enriching and positive for all parties involved.
Translator Lorena Manaj explains, “Translation has a special merit in communication between two speakers who speak different languages and have different cultures. The merit is related to the exchange of words that carry the meaning and accurately convey a message between two individuals with unmatched tradition, culture and customs. In intercultural communication, during the translation process, translators are free to choose words to describe concepts from source language to even sign language, but this freedom is only allowed by staying true to the meaning.”
“No human being belongs to a single culture: everyone has multiple identities, diverse cultural affiliations, whether or not everyone else is aware of all the shadow selves that lie behind self-pertinence and, thus, become visible in any specific interaction.” Source: Intercultural Dialogue, Unesco
That’s why translators need to at least have three core competencies:
– Intercultural knowledge.
– Emotional dimensions (intercultural sensitivity).
– Connotative dimensions (ability to act in intercultural situations)
These three skills involve perception, thought and feeling, as well as the influence of foreign culture on actions. The interaction of these aspects cannot be avoided in understanding how a professional translator can impact cultural processes.
In times when multilingualism and dialogue between cultures has become a priority, fostering interculturality in all fields is key. And language professionals get to drive that future.