Psychology of Translation: Factors Which Influence Translation Work

Psychology of Translation: Factors Which Influence Translation Work


Psychology of Translation: Factors Which Influence Translation Work    

In our previous newsletters, we were talking a lot about the usability of translation, about localization and globalization, about differences in fiction and non-fiction translation and also about the way translation influences cross-cultural interaction and business. Today we would like to think about the things that influence translation itself, the psychology of translation.

Psychology of Translation Translation is a complex process of converting a text from one language into another one. Therefore, to provide a good translation, knowledge of two languages is not enough. Translation requires that the meaning and the tone of the original text is preserved. This goes far beyond simplistic word-for-word exchange. Translation has to be natural and appropriate for the target audience, only then it can be called a successful one. However, a good translation does not depend only on the professionalism of the language specialist. There are some factors that affect quality and naturalness of translation significantly, and translators need to keep it in mind.

The Psychology of Translation: Culture

Firstly, culture is a factor that influences the naturalness of translation. It is said that people translate culture and not language. In other words, even great knowledge of two language structures and vocabularies will not help translators provide an adequate translation. So, language is not simply a system of signs and rules. Above all, it has its own history and cultural background, and not every native speaker of a language might know about all the nuances of his/her culture. This means that when you are looking for a professional to translate from, for example, French to German, it is important that you take language varieties of these countries into account as well.

Some languages belong to absolutely different families and, therefore, cultural backgrounds. In this case theorists talk about ‘cultural untranslatability’ as a separate phenomenon. The differences in these tongues are so huge that translators face a lot of problems working with them. As a result, they have to apply more lexical and structural transformations to make the target text look as natural and effective as the source text does.

The Psychology of Translation: Emotions

Secondly, the mood we are in plays a crucial role in translating from one language to another. Certainly, our mood is something very personal and is subject to change. However, it is very important to understand how the effects of mood are reflected in our linguistic expressions. As language is the medium of social interaction, and people’s mood is often a result of social interaction, these two concepts are undoubtedly bound. For example, when describing a social event, people in a positive mood tend to use more abstract linguistic expressions. A negative mood, however, results in a more detail-oriented style with concrete descriptions. As a result, one can provide several different translations of the same text depending on one’s mood, physical condition, etc.

The Psychology of Translation: Gender

One more very interesting factor which affects translation significantly is gender. Men’s and women’s approaches to translation are certainly different. Moreover, a lot of studies demonstrate that even male and female language tendencies are not the same. For instance, men and women differ in their use of questions in conversations: whereas a man uses a question as a request for information, a woman can ask a question to draw people’s attention or to embed some rhetorical meaning into it. It is also interesting that men tend to display conversational dominance and speak more verbosely than women. Women, on the other hand, prefer to group conversational participation to build relationships. For men, conversation is a way to maintain their status in relationships.

It goes without saying that these differences will be reflected in translation, too. For example, women usually build more complex syntactic constructions and get longer sentences. Men, on the other hand, prefer to divide sentences into smaller, more compact segments. Female language in translation is more expressive and abstract, whereas male language is more concrete.

Feminist Translation

Over the last decades culture has been significantly influenced by feminist thought, and this resulted in translation practice, too. Some feminist translators have developed highly visible strategies in order to intervene in the language of the texts they work with. To show their presence they often add translator’s remarks to the text itself, for example, or even eliminate certain passages which they consider to be non-feminist. Feminist translators position themselves as mediators whose role is to make up for the differences between languages. In case they think that it is necessary to give explanations about the writer’s intention, they do it with the help of prefacing or footnotes. Therefore, the feminist approach to translating is a subject of many studies, and today it fills a separate niche in translation practice.

In conclusion, knowledge of a language and translation skills are far from being the only factors that influence translation. We might find a lot of differences if we compare translations of the same text provided by a male and a female translator, provided by one person when he/she was in a good mood or was exhausted and depressed, etc. The world of translation is very complex and versatile. Therefore, it is not just a technique of converting texts into different languages. It is art, and for scholars there is a lot of room for exploring its depth and uniqueness.

Here at LingoStar, we provide high-quality, professional translation, interpretation and localization services into over 100 languages. We cooperate with translators, voice-over talent, and many other language specialists all over the world. For more information, call us today at 604-629-8420 or send us an email at