Translation: Art, Science or Craft

Throughout the history of translation studies, the question of whether translation is an art, science or craft seems moot. Some even consider translation as an interdisciplinary branch of knowledge combining linguistics with any other area of science, but not as an independent branch of scientific or theoretical knowledge – such as, medicine, law or physics. Thus, if the area of knowledge combined with linguistics is medicine, for instance, then we are dealing with “medical translation”, and if it is law, then we are talking about “legal translation” and so forth.

Those who think of translation as an art usually refer to the esthetical aspects of a translated work. Nevertheless, such aspects tend to be limited to literary works where a translator is caught on the horns of a dilemma of whether to transfer the “meaning” of original texts word by word for an accurate translation at the expense of the norms of the target language – or to provide a target text that appeals to the target language native speakers at the expense of the meanings of the original text resulting in translation losses or inaccuracies. A 17th century French critic used the phrase “les belles infidels” – “the beautiful faithless ones” – to refer to that dilemma suggesting that any translated work is likened to a woman that can be either faithful or beautiful but not both, absit injuria verbis!

In conclusion, translation does neither seem to be pure science or pure art as it all depends on the text genre and the translation methodology at work; which leaves us no choice but accepting it as a craft supported by knowledge about the relevant language as a sine qua non and an artistic sense to be employed only as far as applicable. The more refined linguistic knowledge and artistic sense, the better the quality of the translation output.


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