The last two posts looked at reading and critiquing translations. Now we’ll look at reading and analyzing a text from the translator’s perspective.
Do translators read differently than others? Should they? If so, how? What should they be looking for as they read?
Well, translators who are reading something they are about to translate clearly do have different goals and needs than critics, academics, people who are reading for pleasure, or anyone else. In her book, Text Analysis in Translation, Christiane Nord offers a method for reading as a translator that will be helpful to students training to be translators and also for relatively new translators, but I personally find it too detailed and time-consuming for experienced translators, not to mention the fact that people with quite a bit of translation experience probably do much of what she suggests automatically.
Nord recommends a careful analysis of all extratextual and intratextual factors and she writes that doing this will “ensure full comprehension and correct interpretation of the text” and “explain its linguistic and textual structures and their relationship with the system and norms of the source language (SL). It should also provide a reliable foundation for each and every decision which the translator has to make in a particular translation process.”
Examples of extratextual features are the sender (not always or necessarily the same as the producer of the text), the intended audience, the medium, and the reason behind the production and translation of the text (what Nord terms “motive for communication”). Intratextual features include things such as the subject matter, non-verbal elements, and sentence structure.
After an explanation of what these extratextual and intratextual factors are and how they combine and relate in a text, Nord offers lists of questions for translators to consider in regard to these factors. Among many others, there are questions such as “What clues to the ST addressee’s expectations, background knowledge etc. can be inferred from other situational factors (medium, place, time, motive, and function)?” and “Is the subject matter bound to a particular (SL, TL, or other) cultural context?” and ”Which sentence types occur in the text?” and “What model of reality does the information refer to?”
Nord seems to suggest that by answering all these questions as they read a given text, translators can ensure that they have a firm grasp on all essential details related to the text, which in turn helps them make and defend translatorial decisions, and she writes that her system can be used with any kind of document, in any language, at any level. I am not convinced that her method covers absolutely everything, nor that all the questions offered in her text really need to be answered about each document a translator works on, but it is a good start, especially for new translators. As already mentioned, though, Nord’s method of reading and textual analysis does require a lot of time and effort, and that is just not plausible, or even necessary, for experienced, professional translators.
Does anyone use Nord’s system? What other ways of reading and analyzing do translators have?
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