Translations for the publishing sector require a flair for linguistic creativity with a healthy addition of cultural common sense. For example, it does no good to know that ‘mkate’ is the generic word for ‘bread’ in Swahili, if we also fail to realise the author’s intention for using that word in a particular setting. Perhaps the term is being used in a figurative sense, meaning money or sustenance. Then again, the intended meaning could refer to any one of a myriad of references to ‘bread’ that may be part of a nation’s cultural heritage but not necessarily of another, or not in the same way.
When pioneer computer scientists had the idea to create an automated ‘translator,’ they figured that all they would need would be to input the data of an English-Russian bilingual dictionary into a database and then come up with an algorithm that would correctly pinpoint the corresponding terms between the two languages. They then input the biblical phrase, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The scientists fed the newly computed data in the Russian language back into the machine and this is what came back after retranslating into English, “the vodka is good, but the meat is rotten.”
Translators need linguistic finesse to get ‘under the skin’ of an author or publisher and catch the many nuances and cultural references that are sure to be in the text and subtext of the piece of narrative or other editorial publishing up for translation. The gleaned and gathered linguistic information must then be conveyed into another language keeping intact the same level of detail and creativity of the original text, while adapting it to the styles and formalities that are native and natural to the target language. One cannot accomplish this feat without a high level of knowledge and expertise that goes far beyond raw talent or anything a computer program could hope to do. It involves unerring technique and dedication to the creation or perhaps one should say recreation of a cogent body of textual work that is perfectly suited both stylistically and culturally to the audience it means to reach. Be it a short story, brochure, advertisement, newspaper article, or press conference release, its translation must be equally alive and relevant, and just as effective.
The creative component of the translating profession is the foundation of all that is to follow, but it is also just the beginning. Nowadays, we have sophisticated computers, specialised software, and web publishing tools that convey text in ways that nearly instantaneously reach readers and news and information hounds across the globe. Today’s translators have electronic tools at their disposal that they need to be able to master in order to keep up with the demands of an increasingly complex publishing and communications world. Publishing layouts and templates, formatting protocols and text handling tools, to cite only a few, all have their rules and modes of operation that in and of themselves constitute a field of expertise. Competences that, just as translating does, require maximum care and precision, and for which skills are constantly developed and kept up to date at SMG in order to deliver a valuable and viable translated text every time. Just as the World Wide Web has made communications much faster but at the same time more complex, the editorial world has diversified into many different branches, each with its own lingo and target audience.
Education and academics, news and the press, journalism, marketing and advertising, technical manuals, fiction and essays, cinema and magazines, websites, newsletters, blogs and even tourism and cultural events represent some of the publishing fields that the linguists at SMG Languages delve into with passion and know-how on a daily basis. Because the spirit is willing, but the vodka is good!