The conflict of double accuracy in translation

Francesco Di Tommaso

Francesco Di Tommaso

The main goal for professional translators in any translation process is the identification of the balance point between a double accuracy that every translation aims to fulfill, which acts as a crossfire on the right linguistic choices. What is meant by double accuracy in translation? First of all, let’s clarify the concept of accuracy with respect to the source text.

A translation is not a text written from scratch, its words are the reproduction in a specific language, called  target or destination language, of the content of a text written in another language, called source language. Due to its nature, a translation is constantly confronted and in parallel with its relevant text in the source language. This comparison is based on the principle of accuracy, i.e. the extent to which the translation reproduces and reflects the content of the source text. Greater accuracy with respect to the source text means greater adherence to the source text both in terms of content, style and lexical choices. A translation that is too literal is a translation that is excessively faithful to its source text. A legal or technical translation, which uses rigid syntactic structures and lexical choices that do not give space to the author’s style, or a translation that does not have to refer to a literary or artistic component of the text is a very accurate translation with respect to its source text.

The accuracy of a translation with respect to its source text is the antithesis to another factor that acts on the translation process: the accuracy with respect to the target language, that is the level of accuracy in respecting syntactic constructions and making lexical and stylistic choices  that are more appropriate in the target language. The translation of a book, a novel, a poem, must respect a certain level of adherence to the target language to best reproduce the emotions and artistic-literary intentions expressed in the source text, with the use of the right equivalent linguistic choices.

Depending on the type of text to be translated, the professional translator will devote more space to one of the two directions.

Double accuracy in literary translation

If the translator has to translate a literary text, he will concentrate on choosing the best stylistic and lexical solutions to reproduce the author’s intentions in the translation; in other words, the translator will have to favor the second accuracy, that with respect to the target language and reader. Expressing the same content, shaping the form so that the meaning and emotions of the original are conveyed adequately and in compliance with the principle of equivalence.

Double accuracy in specialized translation

In the case, on the other hand, of a technical, legal, financial or medical document, which presents a sectoral language, the translator will concentrate more on making the translation as faithful as possible to the source text, sacrificing style and vocabulary for a specialized translation that be as clear and transparent as possible, and leave no room for any uncertainty or abstractness in the content, sacrificing grace and finesse for greater adherence to specialist language. In this second case, therefore, the translator will favor the first accuracy, that which adheres to the source text. The technical, legal or medical content of the text, characterized by a categorical nature, based on classification and specialization, does not give space to virtuosity and linguistic choices that favor more the artistic and creative sphere of the translator.

Although to varying degrees and based on the type of text to be translated, the two opposing principles are nevertheless both present in each translation process, one cannot be separated from the other. It is up to the translator to weigh the two directions to find the balance point on which the translation will focus.

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