The world of today is characterized by globalization, which apart from bringing markets together is gradually consolidating a new political, economical, and social world order. Today there is debate about the existence of one multicultural world society, and because of this, translations and interpreters are being viewed as much more than simply those who can communicate in more than one language (changing writings and/or speeches from one language to the other). Today is argued that translators/interpreters are, in fact, mediators between different cultures. It is argued that they build bridges between these cultures, thus significantly contributing to the creation of the multicultural society that globalization gradually establishes.
Translation and interpretation are more than simply changing words from one language into another. This is the case precisely because language is more than just words and rules of grammar. With language comes culture, and the same applies to humans. Translators and interpreters are members of a given society, and it is inevitable that they are conditioned by the social, political, economical, and cultural codes surrounding them. For this reason, it is accurate to state that translators and interpreters build bridges between cultures, as they aim at guaranteeing correspondence between both languages (orthographically and grammatically), as well as both cultures. However, it would be inaccurate to state that these “bridge builders” inhabit an abstract “space between” cultures. Translators and interpreters are inevitably conditioned by the medium, in which they are located. They are not located in a “space between” cultures, but are, indeed, active parts “within” a definite culture, and the challenge that they face is the ability to build bridges between their own culture and the other cultures they are familiar with without sacrificing the meaning and implications of the context that they are translating.
When people think about translation and interpretation, they often assume learned individuals, who are knowledgeable in different languages and can easily have words, phrases, and entire paragraphs translated from one language to the other. For the most part, this is a short-sighted conception of translation/interpretation, because the truth of the matter is that translation involves interpretation, at the core. If a paragraph in English were talking and translated literally, word for word, into French, German, or even Spanish, the result would probably be an extended grouping of words with no real meaning. The reason for this is that each language has a different set of conventions and rules. Furthermore, it is always important to remember that each culture has different beliefs, behavioral traits, stereotypes, and overall mannerisms. All of this will ultimately condition the kind of language (language understood as more than simply spoken language) that each society speaks.
If a translation is carried out in the literal sense, without observing the rules, conventions, stereotypes, beliefs, and overall cultural background of the language that the original text is being translated into, it will go across without making any sense, without having any meaning. At the same time, it is equally important to make sure that the source language, as well as its conventions and overall cultural background, are also protected when translated. It is important to remember that translating has to do not just with words, but with ideas and context, as well. Translations carry political, social, economical, and cultural implications, with them. This is the challenge that presents itself when discussing translation and interpretation.
The world is in constant change
With the passing of time, cultures change, and when this happens, translation takes on a whole other meaning. There will be times, in which a translator will be faced with works (texts, recordings, etc.) from the past times. In this case, translating minding current, cultural codes will not suffice. The reason for this is that, despite there is a commitment to preserve the original work’s integrity, there is the matter of the constant change, or evolution, of a society’s cultural codes (including, of course, its language). For example, a text written in English fifty years ago will seldom be written in the same language as written today. This is not only because conventions in terms of written language have changed over the years, but also due to the factor that back in the 1960s they were summarily different from what they are today. Texts written in America, in 1960, would inevitably be conditioned by the political, social, economical, and cultural environment of the time. This global context is incontestably different from the one in present day America.
Contemporary cultural theory, therefore, deals with the relationship between the conditions of knowledge production in one given culture and the way knowledge from a different cultural setting is relocated and reinterpreted according to the conditions in which knowledge is produced. They are deeply inscribed within the politics, the strategies of power, and the mythology of stereotyping and the representation of other cultures (Carbonell, n.d., p. 80).
Clearly, translation depends on cultural theory, which is constantly evolving, as can be seen. Knowledge, as much as language and culture, are subjected to changes, all the time. The reason why knowledge changes is simply because, as it is explicitly mentioned above, the ways in which knowledge is produced (its methods) change considerably over time. Additionally, it is interesting to see the importance that is given to politics and power strategies in the overall power.
Therefore, in such a case the translator would have a triple obligation. First, he/she would have the obligation of making an assessment of the original work and determine what its meaning and significance was (at the time in which it was written). Secondly, the translator/interpreter would have the duty of translating the text, maintaining the underlying ideas and implications of the original text, but updating it to reflect current codes and conventions, as well. In other words, the work would have to be rewritten in a modernized language, so that it may retain its original meaning while at the same time reflecting the current situation of the American people, for am example. Finally, after updating the original work to current language, it would have to be translated in a way that it retains its meaning even after being translated into the other language.
Translation and interpretation are true bridges between cultures
It is seldom easy to pick up a message that was created in a given society using a given language, translate it into another language, and deliver exactly the same message to another society. This is the challenge that translators and interpreters have, and in today’s world, which is increasingly integrated. The challenge is largely contributed, due to the driving political and economic forces of globalization, which have been incontestably enhanced by the Internet’s massive technological drive.
Linguistic codes in themselves are arbitrary systems in which the function and meaning of each sign depend mainly on the sign’s opposition to other signs, and not on a supposed objective relation of equivalence with the continuum we call reality. The notion of arbitrariness does not allow the possibility of two linguistic codes placing each and every sign on the same point of their respective scales (Aixelá, n.d., p. 53).
Cultural Speciic Items
There is another important aspect to consider when discussing the role that translators and interpreters have in the consolidation of today’s new world order and its accompanying multicultural society. This aspect is what is known as Culture Specific Items (CSIs). These items (CSIs) are fundamental for translators and interpreters because it is ultimately what leads them in favor of a specific kind of translation. As was already mentioned, translation involves the manipulation of the original work in an attempt to keep the author’s message, so that it can then be translated into another language, in order to avail it to a different society (inevitably, with a different set of cultural beliefs). What determines the extent of manipulation that will be necessitated in order to salvage the original ideas, opinions, and/or sentiments with which a specific work is impregnated, is the existence of the aforementioned CSIs. Traditionally, the way in which a translator/interpreter chooses to translate a text, will depend on the way in which he/she approaches the existing CSIs.
It is possible that, when carrying out a translation, one or several CSIs are identified. In such a case, the translator/interpreter can choose to conserve these CSIs, in order to translate the original text as accurately as possible (maintaining most of its original meaning and implications intact). However, it may also happen that the translator fails to find any strong CSIs that assist in the realization of an accurate translation. It may also be that the existing CSIs are inadequate in the mind of the translator. In either of those cases, the translator may perceive that, for rendering the best translation, he or she should forego the original CSIs (in case any were identified), as well as make the necessary modifications to the original text, in order to render an updated translation of the text that fits better with its meaning and cultural setting (both its original setting and its intended destination of sociocultural environment).
As suggested by the brief discussion on CSIs, the translation is ultimately conditioned by what the interpretation that the translator makes of the original work that he/she is confronted with. Therefore, it is accurate to state that a translation is heavily influenced by the translator’s culture and his/her ideology. Furthermore, it is evident that a translator is also conditioned by his/her surrounding environment. Human beings are social creatures; they are also ‘symbolic animals’ (language being the classic example of a symbol developed by man). Sociocultural, as well as political and economical conditioning is inevitable, so it is safe to say that each translator finds impossible to be truly objective when dealing with a his or her translation assignment. From this perspective, it is inaccurate to state that translators are located somewhere “in between” cultures.
Ideological effects will differ in every class of translation –even in translations of the same text– because of the translator’s particular choices on all these various levels –on the levels of representation of the subject matter, as well as representation of the relevant locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary effects of the source text, and on the relevant locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts in his or her own name as translator. Therefore, the ideology of a translation resides not simply in the text translated, but in the voicing and stance of the translator, and in its relevance to the receiving audience (Tymoczko, n.d., p. 183).
This serves as confirmation of what has been stated thus far in the matter of translators being conditioned not only the text with which they are confronted (and which they must translate), but also by their own choice of voice and stance. Even, though, not mentioned explicitly above, these choices of voice and stance are based on the translator’s own preferences (which in turn depend on the sociocultural conditioning that he/she has received over the years).