Translation as a career
Translation as a career

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Translation as a career

4.2 Semantic vs communicative translation part 2

Translation scholar Peter Newmark (1916–2011) tackled the notion of equivalence by asking if a translation should try to remain as close as possible to the source language or if it should, instead, aim to be free and idiomatic. He called these two approaches semantic translation and communicative translation respectively.

According to Newmark, ‘semantic translation attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original’ (1981, p. 39). Semantic translation has a source language bias; it is literal and the loyalty is to the ST (source text) author. It is readable but remains with the original culture and assists the reader only in its connotations if they constitute the essential message of the text. It tends to be more complex, more awkward, more detailed, and tends to overtranslate – it is more specific than the original in transferring nuances of meaning. Semantic translation relates to the word or the word-group (1981, p. 60).

On the other hand, for Newmark, ‘communicative translation attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original’ (Newmark, 1981, p. 39). Communicative translation has a target language bias; it is free and idiomatic. It attempts to make the reading process easier for the TL reader ‘who does not anticipate difficulties or obscurities, and would expect a generous transfer of foreign elements into his own culture as well as his language where necessary’ (Newmark, 1981, p. 39). It must emphasise the force rather than the content of the message. It is likely to be smoother, simpler, clearer, more direct, more conventional, tending to undertranslate – it uses more generic terms in difficult passages. Communicative translation relates to the sentence (1981, p. 60).

In the following activity, identify which features belong to Newmark’s communicative approach, and which features are part and parcel of Newmark’s semantic translation approach.

Activity 5

For each of the cases below, decide if it relates to semantic or communicative translation.

A translation that attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allows, the exact contextual meaning of the original.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is a.

A translation that makes the target language text smoother, more idiomatic.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is b.

A translation that is concerned mainly with the receptors/readers.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is b.

A translation that is concerned with the author.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is a.

A translation that attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is b.

A translation that aims to recreate the precise flavour and tone of the original.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is a.

A translation used in the case of most non-literary writing, journalism, informative articles and books, textbooks, reports, scientific and technological writing, non-personal correspondence, propaganda, publicity, public notices, popular fiction.

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is b.

A translation that is used in the case of original expression, where the specific words of the speaker or writer is as important as the content, e.g. philosophical, religious, political, scientific, technical or literary (authoritative texts).

a. 

Semantic translation


b. 

Communicative translation


The correct answer is a.

Newmark acknowledged that sometimes a communicative translation worked better than a semantic one. Indeed, he maintained that a semantic translation does not allow for corrections or improvements of the source text and that therefore a communicative translation may be better on occasion since one has the right to: correct logic, clarify ambiguities and jargon, replace clumsy with elegant structures, remove obscurities, eliminate repetition, and normalise badly written texts.

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