The Use of ‘Accommodation’ In Translation

The Use of ‘Accommodation’ In Translation
By John Z Hadfield

In this article ‘Accommodation’ is considered to be a synonym for adaptation or “free” translation, which in fact means that changes are made so that the target text produced corresponds to the spirit of the source text. Therefore a text is produced which is not a translation in the traditional sense; it is rather a piece of writing that manages to convey more of what was intended by the original author.

As a start we must define translation. Translation consists of providing, in the target language, the closest natural equivalent of the message contained in the source language, firstly in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style.

Various ‘authorities’ have found that translation is a scientific study, others find that it is a technical craft or an artistic endeavour. Is translation a branch of linguistics or of literature? Here such debates about translation as a process or translation as a product give way to the discovery that translation includes so many perspectives: the linguistic, the semiotic, the cultural, the social and the psychological as regards communication. In fact, translation offers a broader concept of what it means to understand and to be understood. We believe translation is not merely a linguistic conversion or a transformation between languages but that it also involves accommodation as regards culture, aesthetics, politics and other factors.

The problem of accomodation occurs for instance in the translation of literary works and most particularly in the translation of poetry. Translating for example a work of the French poet Paul Verlaine:

Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne blessent mon coeur d’une langueur monotone.

Literally would be

“the long sobs of the autumn violins wound my heart with monotonous listlessness”.

Not very beautiful. This is where the “free” translator would come into his (or her) own. A choice would have to be made to change some of the words and the end result might be a little different from what was originally intended by Verlaine, who was using the assonance of the words to create a special affect.

A choice of literal translation or free translation always has to be made. This has been the dilemma, irreconcilable in translation circles, on which no authoritative conclusion has ever been reached. When the culture of a country and its target language are very different from the culture and language of the source language, free translation is almost always necessary in order to transmit the original meaning. The opposite of free translation (or adaptation) is word-for-word translation which in fact is rarely used in practice, apart from in lists and catalogues.

Translators are often divided into different categories. Some translators have a natural fluency in their native language which lends itself to translating poetry, advertising, brochures, etc.. This sort of translation is almost always very free, since the final translation has to be in the popular idiom native to the country concerned.

Other translators have a natural affinity with the more technical aspects of the original text – and when using the word ‘technical’ we can include not only science and industry but also the particular vocabulary of the professions: legal, financial, accounting, information technology, medical and pharmaceutical. In these cases, the translation tends to be less “free” and closer to the original source text.

For technical translation and specialist work, some translation agencies try to use wherever possible people who have worked in the industry or profession concerned. Such people know the technical vocabulary of both the source and the target language and most often also understand how the system concerned works.

A translation agency has to build up a very large database of freelance translators to cover the various specialties. When an approach is made to a translation agency by a new candidate, the translator’s CV has to be assessed and then a test is often made by asking the candidate to translate a page or two of a document.

Of course the document is chosen to accord with the candidate’s specialist knowledge. If the test translation is acceptable, the agency concerned will then usually send a new translator a short document to be translated. That translation is to be paid for and the translation is usually proof-read by another experienced and trusted translator. If the new translator passes this stage, an agency can take him or her on for longer and more difficult work.

John Hadfield spent a lot of his life living in Europe and in the Middle and Far East, working for automotive manufacturers in France, Greece, Lebanon and the Philippines and he then lived for five years in South Korea, administrating a joint venture between one of the largest Korean manufacturers and a French construction equipment company. He started his own translation agency in 1989 in France and also recently formed a translation agency in the UK,

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