A Translator Is First Of All A Writer

By Chiara Grassilli
In Writing and Translation
Feb 4th, 2013

Why A Translator Has To Be First Of All A Writer


A translator is first of all a writerTranslators become translators because they’re passionate about languages and writing. Writing well, I mean. We generally love grammatically correct, accurate, fluent and smooth texts that are pleasurable to read.

We can spend one hour looking for one term that condenses the idea of a whole sentence, because when you know the power of words you don’t need too many. We select and cut until the text says exactly what we want it to. We do this as writers, and even more as translators.

The stereotype is that translation is just the mechanic act of transforming text A into text B as we would do with a mathematical equation. This is called literal translation, or word-for-word translation.

Let’s break the stereotypes and say: if you are a translator and you think the same about your work, you’re confusing yourself with Google Translate. This tool tries to recognise the function of each word according to its position in the sentence, giving you a potential translation.

But what about those languages in which the word order is not fixed, thus allowing me to write the same sentence in dozens of ways? A computer program is not sensitive, it can easily misunderstand the meaning. And above all, it’s not able to write.

Whereas, translators have many elements to work with to tune the text; word order, text and sentence structure, and a wide range of terms. We play with words as a painter plays with colours.

That’s why I really believe we not only translate the meaning of texts, but we build a scenario: we translate, transform, and re-write. We have to convey the original meaning, but we are also able shape it until we create a text with its own identity. Thus, in doing so we are not only translators, but writers too.

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About "" Has 116 Posts

Since an early age I have been passionate about languages. I hold a Master's degree in Translation and Interpreting, and I have worked as a freelance translator for several years. I specialize in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web and Social Media. I love blogging and I also run the blog www.italiasocialmedia.com

4 Responses to “A Translator Is First Of All A Writer”

  1. Good thoughts, and a clear and simple way of presenting them!!!

    The stereotypical view that a translation should be like a “mirror-copy” of the source is a slavish one, and unnatural as well. We are well-aware of the fact that languages grow in very different environments and reflect wide-spread linguistic as well as cultural differences. As such, it is unnatural to PREACH that a translator must be able to copy the exact form and content of the original text. Any such attempt would lead to monotony, misrepresentation of actual meaning, and ambiguity/confusion, and would only serve to highlight the linguistic and cultural divide between the source and the target language. The right path to adopt is to capture the ‘sense’, not the ‘form’, of the source text. And, in doing so, a translator first has to be an active READER of the source text, and then the WRITER of the target text. He/she is not a mere slave to the original source; rather, he/she is a linguistic and cultural MEDIATOR, and a CREATIVE WRITER, who first comprehends the apparent as well as inner meaning/s of the source text, and then captures and moulds it so creatively in the target language that the resultant text appears to be an original work of writing, which has fluency of thought and grammatical and stylistic taste of the target language. I, however, would like to add that the translator should never detach himself/herself totally from the source text, adding, subtracting, and moulding expressions for no reason, and they should not try to CREATE a translation whose theme/meaning has nothing to do (or has very loose bondage) with the original. Some sort of theoretical framework is needed, which I suggest should be based on the following factors: “theme”, “meanings”, and “style” (but, to repeat, not “form”). The translator needs to understand these from a source text, and then recapture them in the target language. There are obviously more complex determining factors involved in the process, but, of course, they should come under discussion in heavy academic debates and research — for which I do not consider myself quite qualified at the moment:).

    In short, it was an interesting read, and I liked the clarity of your thoughts on translation.



  2. I agree with every concept of this post. My best wishes for your new blog, Chiara. I will lead your articles. P.S. Sorry for my bad english, i’m trying to improve it.

  3. […] Linguistic brilliance: You rarely see a top quality translator to translate into several languages. A skilled translator should have mastered her mother language and the target language from the start of her educational history, and develop their writing ability to create a text that’s pleasant to read. Ultimately, a translator is also a writer. […]

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