Translatorese: the enemy within

By Chiara Grassilli
In Technical Translation
Jan 4th, 2016
1 Comment

Translatorese: the enemy within


It is now widely acknowledged that translation is all about conveying messages from one language into another, meaning that, in most cases, word-for-word translation should be avoided. But how easy, or doable, is that in practice?

I remember back when I was a student, a professor teaching us that nothing is untranslatable: all words, phrases, senses, meanings and so on CAN somehow be translated. He used to warn us though, that we should be extra careful, so as not to get caught in the trap of “translatorese”… you know, that weird language that sounds completely unnatural and results from the inability to produce a translation that complies with the linguistic and cultural particularities of the target language.

With all that in mind, I would say that translation is very much like cooking. You may have all the required ingredients, and may even have a recipe to follow, but that does not necessarily mean that they will make something “tasty”! As in cooking, translation needs not only knowledge and practical tools, but also talent, a dash of instinct, a pinch of personal touch, and a generous portion of love and commitment. Otherwise, it is highly likely that you’ll end up with an enormous linguistic – or culinary – fiasco.

Of course, all of the above is difficult to apply in texts of a more rigid nature like legal documents and technical manuals, as in this case the translator has to be as accurate as possible, aiming always for high terminology consistency. However, unlike this type of text, that often leaves no room for rewording or personal interventions, texts of a more general or literary content are treated differently. In such cases, where the translator’s job is to grasp and communicate effectively the atmosphere and the writing style of the original text, it is absolutely allowable – if not essential – for a translator to act more freely for the sake of achieving the desired outcome.

So, as a reply to those who are struggling to categorise translation either as a science or as an art, I would say that it is neither, and at the same time it is both. Although it displays certain characteristics of both fields, ultimately translation is something more: it is the science of having perfect command of two languages and the theoretical background that will enable you to perform a translation, the science of experimenting by trial and error until you reach the acceptable results; it is the art of knowing by intuition which words to choose, the art of letting yourself be free to “feel” the nuances and the subtle meanings of each and every text; and finally, it is the craft of sculpting the language, giving it form and shape, creating something new. To sum up, whether you are a chef or a translator, one thing is for sure: attention to detail, hard work and passion make up the perfect recipe for a high-quality end result. And keep your eyes open for the “translatorese”: it is always lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to ambush you!

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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

One Response to “Translatorese: the enemy within”

  1. Gabriela Migoya says:

    I loved the way you compared translating to cooking; it is so true! Even with all the ingredients on hand, without passion, creativity and love for the trade, a good outcome is not guaranteed. Also, intuition is vital. This comes from having a complete grasp on both languages and being able to “feel” the best version possible of a text. Thank you.

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