The risk of cultural meaning being diluted when translating translations

by Pisana Ferrari – cApStAn Ambassador to the Global Village

High quality translation is vital in order to avoid a widening of social strata between those who can afford language education and those who can’t, says the author of a recent article for the Irish Times. As not all language combinations are easily available, indirect translation is often used for “small” languages: in this case one translation renders a text from the small language to a large one, and then that translation is used as the basis for all subsequent translations. In fact it is with indirect translation that neural machine translation (NMT) engines tackle the lack of interconnecting data between small languages: if a text exists in multiple languages they can infer which parts in one language correspond to the parts in the other language. If, however, there are not many examples of parallel texts the system has little to “learn” from and the quality of the translation will suffer.

Additionally, in translating translations, there is the age-old issue of cultural meaning being diluted. Every time you translate, says the author of the article, you produce a new text, and that new text is underpinned by certain cultural and linguistic assumptions that are particular to how that language in particular works and relates to the people who speak it. Recourse to indirect translation can also of course lead to positive results e.g. for works from peripheral/distant cultures.

The project described in this article aims to find ways to train translators and program NMT systems to produce translations of the highest possible quality in the many contexts that rely on small languages, often the most impoverished. 

Source: The importance of being earnest in translation – https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-importance-of-being-earnest-in-translation-1.3923291

Photo: Some of Nobel prize winner Haruki Murakami’s works, which appeared in German, were translations from English and not Japanese (e.g. “South of the Border”), encouraged by Murakami himself. These were later re-translated from Japanese.