Translation and the Creative Mind

Translation and the Creative Mind

Creativity is a driving force that takes the form of problem solving in many activities. Translation is one of those activities. The “problem” to be “solved” is how to transfer an idea from a source language into a target language that was born of a different culture, landscape, and possibly time period.

Making connections between a word in one language, to a word or phrase in a second language is about conveying true meaning. That’s often more than a simple process of matching-up words. Imagine the impossibility of directly, accurately translating, word-for-word, an idiom, or a unique cultural concept, or a joke.

The creative process of human translation includes assimilation of material, analysis of meaning, intuition about intended meaning, simplification of ideas, elaboration of ideas, research and comprehension of unknown elements, and even copywriting by assembling pieces of ideas into beautiful sentences. These many mental activities done together while conveying texts from one language to another constitute “translation.” To achieve the most accurate, understandable translation possible, the following strategies are used in different measure, depending upon the translator, the text, and the purpose of the translation.*

  • Direct Transfer – Translating something without changing anything
  • Calque – Making a very close translation
  • Direct Translation – A word-for-word translation
  • Oblique Translation – A sense-for-sense translation
  • Explicitation – Making implicit information explicit to explain it in more detail
  • Paraphrasing – Freely translating the meaning of the source text
  • Condensation – Making the translated text shorter
  • Adaptation – Recreating the “effect” of the original text due to references that may not be understood in another culture
  • Addition – Adding to the meaning
  • Substitution – Changing the words used but remaining true to the semantic meaning of a source text
  • Deletion – Leaving out a part of the meaning
  • Permutation – Translating into a different place because of linguistic limitations that require a text to be recreated somewhere else.

Translators are often considered to be artists themselves. The very best of them orchestrate their own talent and skills to create living, breathing texts that could not have existed without them. Because the fact is, the most accurate texts are the products of the set of complex mental tasks that we call creativity.


J. V. McShulskis

* This list was developed by Danish professor Ann Schjoldager