Translation (linguistics)

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In linguistics, translation is understood to mean, on the one hand, the transfer of the meaning of a (mostly written) fixed text in a source language into a target language; on the other hand, it is understood to mean the result of this process.

For better differentiation, the product of a translation or interpreting process (a translation ) is also referred to as a translate .

The translation, together with the interpreting , falls under the term language and culture mediation (translation). The main difference between translating and interpreting lies in the fact that the translate can be repeatedly corrected. Repeated correctability usually requires a target text that is fixed in writing or on a sound carrier and can thus be corrected repeatedly, as well as a similarly fixed source text that can be consulted repeatedly. If this can be repeatedly corrected, one speaks of a translation. However, if the source text or the target text is not fixed because it is only presented orally once, one speaks of interpreting. The principle can be illustrated using sight-reading interpreting: The source text is in writing, but the target text cannot be corrected or can only be corrected to a very limited extent, as it is only spoken.

The term mediation is often used in language didactics . In contrast to translation , the term mediation emphasizes that the translator or interpreter, as a mediator, is in a mediating position between two people who do not speak a common language.


The basis for the development of translation is the emergence of language about 100,000 years ago and the emergence of writing about 5000 years ago. Famous translations and places and times of particular translation activity can serve as landmarks throughout history. Little is known about translation in cultures outside of Europe and the Mediterranean region. The history of interpreting, which is almost certainly older than writing and which also promoted cultural exchange in cultures without a written tradition, has not yet been well researched.

247 BC The Septuagint was created , the first translation of the Jewish Bible from Hebrew into Greek, which, according to legend, was completed by 72 translators in 72 days. At around 196 BC The stone of Rosette is dated to the 3rd century BC , the inscription of which, a priestly decree, is carried out in two languages ​​and three scripts: Egyptian in demotic and hieroglyphic script and in Greek. This multilingual document helped decipher the hieroglyphs.

Translations have often played a central role in the transfer of knowledge and cultural techniques between different peoples. At certain times there was an accumulation of translations between certain languages. Such concentrations can in part serve to track historical flows of knowledge. A center of translation activity was ancient Rome , where primarily Greek literature was translated into Latin. Theoretical writings on literature and rhetoric have survived from this period, dealing with the debate about “literal” or “free” translation that was still ongoing centuries later.

A prominent figure in translation history is Hieronymus (approx. 331–420 AD), who was later canonized and is considered the patron saint of translators ( International Day of Translation ). Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to translate the Bible into Latin based on recognized Greek texts. He later re-translated the Old Testament from Hebrew. The Latin Bible that he created, the Vulgate , was the authoritative text for the Roman Catholic Church for a long time.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, a further focus of translation activity arose in Baghdad . Scientific works were primarily translated from Greek into Arabic, for example in the House of Wisdom . These translations were to play an important role in the development of science in medieval Europe, because they formed the basis for another translation center, the " School of Toledo ". Texts of Arabic and Greek origin were translated here from Arabic into Latin and later into Spanish in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Renaissance period , which began in Italy in the 14th century, marked an upswing in translation with its renewed, increased interest in the texts of antiquity, which continued with the increased dissemination of written knowledge through the advancement of the printing press until the Reformation . Many of the reformers were Bible translators and the best known in German-speaking countries is Martin Luther . Luther was of the opinion that the content of the Bible should be expressed using the means of the German target language in such a way that it would be understandable for everyone: in “natural” German that is not tied to the grammatical structures of the source languages. In his “Letter from Interpreting” he explains his interpretation of the translation. The Lutheran translation of the Bible was of great importance for the development and above all for the standardization of the German language.

Another central era for translation in German-speaking countries, whose representatives also gained importance throughout Europe, is the Romantic era . Above all, literary translations from other European languages ​​into German played a role, such as the Schlegel-Tieck translation of Shakespeare that is still being read. (See literary translation ) At the time of Romanticism, many intellectuals also dealt theoretically with translation, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Friedrich Schleiermacher or Wilhelm von Humboldt .

In the 20th century, in addition to explosive growth in technical translation in particular, due to the expansion of global economic relations, increasing scientific theory formation, the establishment of training centers for translators and interpreters and their organization in professional associations with the aim of professionalization can be observed. Translatology (translation studies) as an interdisciplinary field is still relatively young.

Older approaches to translation studies tend to believe that the translator should consider all aspects of a source text (such as metaphors and comparisons, highlighting patterns and thematic progression, sentence patterns, linguistic varieties as dialect or sociolect) equally. The more recent approaches in translation studies, on the other hand, demand that the various aspects of the source text must be given different priorities so that the translation exactly meets the requirements of the target text reader, which have to be defined beforehand. These requirements are primarily determined on the basis of “external text factors” such as place and time, the intention of the sender and the expectation of the recipient, and conventions for certain types of text in the target culture.

In March 2018, Microsoft announced that it would be able to use artificial intelligence to translate (in this case from Chinese into English) with the same quality as a professional human translator. This is the breakthrough in machine translation that even Microsoft did not expect so early.


Double bond

The main problem with translation was and is the problem of the translator's “double binding”. The target text should at the same time have a recognizable link back to the source-language text and meet the requirements of the reader of the target-language text. The origin of the concepts of backwards or forwards (source and target language and culture) -oriented translation lies in this double link. Either the reader of the translation should be made familiar with the characteristic properties of the source culture and language, or he should be provided with a text that is inconspicuous in the target culture and language and that fulfills its purpose well.

In literary translation, for example, a grammatical structure of the source language can turn out to be very characteristic of the style of the source text, but a literal translation would result in a style in the target text that is noticeably different from the usual linguistic usage, which irritates the reader.


The translation process always involves subjective factors:

  • when the translator decides between target text variants
  • because the translator is bound to cultural and social backgrounds
  • through reception and interpretation of the source text
  • through different methodological and technical preliminary decisions for the analysis and assessment process
  • through the translator's opinion (on the function, purpose and strategy of the translation)

Philosophical Implications

The translation is the subject of hermeneutics , philosophy of language and epistemology .

Hermeneutics addresses the phenomenon of translation as the experience of distance and otherness ( alterity ). Dealing with tradition and tradition , which is so important for hermeneutics , often includes the need for translation. Various philosophers have drawn attention to the fact that the translator always stands in his own horizon , in which he must classify the product of his translating efforts. Simply transferring the text content from the source to the target language is not possible. The translator has to decide whether to adapt the text, which is necessarily foreign, to his own language and try to cover up its foreignness, or whether he wants to reproduce this foreignness using the means of his own language. Both procedures are legitimate; a decision as to which version is “closer” to the original cannot be made simply by referring to the textual basis.

Regarding the question of the fundamental translatability, i.e. the possibility of a "content transfer", Willard Van Orman Quine , for example, advocates the thesis of the indeterminacy of the translation, which states that no objective ranking can be established between several possible translation variants and that language in general always only Context of experience is interpretable.

In translatology as well as in translation practice, it is assumed that natural languages ​​are fundamentally translatable, which extends at least to the propositional content of an utterance, although possibly not to every connotative meaning.

“[It] shows that in natural human languages, in principle, anything can be expressed. If there are no specific lexemes for certain terms or concepts, they can be expressed in other ways, through morphological structures or paraphrase, paraphrase or recourse to other concepts. "

In the philosophy of language, the problem of translation is of interest due to the thesis that the essence of language, meaning and meaning can be fathomed precisely during the transition from one language to another.

Cultural translation

The concept of cultural translation is based on Walter Benjamin's essay “The Translator's Task”. In post-colonial reading of this text, Homi K. Bhabha defined the translation as “staging of cultural difference”. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak read the theory and practice of translation as a form of political responsibility from a similar perspective. Based on a postcolonial perspective, Federico Italiano and Michael Rössner have described cultural translation as a performative negotiation of cultural differences in a process of de- and recontextualization.

In the German-speaking countries, Doris Bachmann-Medick's book on Cultural Turns placed the emphasis on culture as translation and translation as social and cultural practice. The term translational turn , which she coined, upgrades “border areas and spaces as typical translation spaces”.

Literary translation

Literary translation is probably the best known and most discussed form of translation, but it only makes up a small proportion of the translation market. Compared to translators of practical texts, literary translators earn a significantly lower income, which is why the decision for this profession is probably based in most cases on the personal enthusiasm for literature or for a certain language and culture.

Literary translations have played and still play an important role in intercultural exchange , the image of other cultures in a particular language community and the development of national culture and identity. A well-known example of the importance of dealing with foreign literatures is the era of German Romanticism , in which, for example, by August Wilhelm Schlegel , Dorothea and Ludwig Tieck , widely used translations of works by European writers such as Shakespeare or Cervantes were created.

“Translating is a literary activity that rarely gets the attention it deserves. This is due to their nature. In fact, it only receives significant attention when it is so badly done that many notice it. The good translator practices the art of becoming invisible and disappearing: the better his work is done, the less you notice him. The best translation would be one in which the reader or listener does not even notice that it is a translation - because one has the impression that the original author himself is speaking in the translated language, as if it were his own . This ideal goal can never be achieved one hundred percent, one can only approach it. Fame and recognition can only be reaped for the translator if he brings the original author to the fore in an unpretentious, precise and serving function - in a language other than his mother tongue. "

- Heinz Rudolf Kunze , September 2019 in the German edition of the music journal Rolling Stone

See also category: Translation (literature) , ReLÜ

Film dubbing and subtitling

The synchronization of cinema and television films represents a special case as literary translation in the broader sense . The basic problems here meet further restrictions, such as the time and rhythmic limitation of the text, the need to harmonize subtexts with the actors' play. However, also on the possibility of non-verbal conveyance of content through the voice acting imitation of the original. This means that a true-to-the-work translation using synchronization can only take place as a team effort by the text translator, dialogue author , dubbing director and speaker .

In most countries, foreign language films are subtitled , which shifts the problem area mainly to the temporal level. In the case of works with a lot of dialogue, the time window is usually too short to be able to take into account sub-texts, word games or the like in addition to the pure information level.

Technical translation

In technical communication people tend to speak of translation technicians because any artistic note is inappropriate. Technical translators bear a great deal of responsibility for the translated text, its meaning and its interpretation. A misinterpretation by a reader of technical documentation , such as instruction manuals for machines or package inserts for medicines, can have a direct impact on human life or the environment and lead to damage. The key is the source text, which should be formulated as unambiguously as possible. Nevertheless, creative and complex sentence structures are often formed. These make the work of the translation technician unnecessarily difficult and at the same time increase the risk of incorrect translations.

Computer aided and machine translation

With "machine translation", translations are carried out automatically using a computer program - mostly with the help of artificial intelligence.

They are valuable technical aids for human translators.

Examples of machine translators are Google Translate , Yandex.Translate , Babel Fish from Yahoo , DeepL , whose application performed better than the competition in blind tests , such as the Bing Translator from Microsoft.

In March 2018, Microsoft Research presented an artificial intelligence that, according to its own information, can translate from Chinese into English with the same quality as a professional human translator. Translating from Chinese to English is considered to be the most difficult type of translation. According to Microsoft, this is a historic breakthrough that even Microsoft would not have expected so early.


The law applicable in Germany on copyright and related rights (copyright law) indicates in § 3 translations as personal intellectual creations and thus as protected works from "Translations and other adaptations of a work that are the personal intellectual creations of the processor are processed without prejudice to the copyright law Work protected like independent works. "

Quality standards for the translation process

General quality management

As with all other production processes and services, standards can be applied to translation processes, which are intended to ensure a specified level of quality. The best-known example of this are the quality management standards of the ISO 9000 series of standards. This series of standards defines generally applicable elements for comprehensible quality assurance processes. However, specific standards for the translation industry have existed for some time.

DIN 2345: "Translation orders"

EN 15038 translation services

Logo of the German Institute for Standardization DIN EN 15038
Area Translation services
title Translation services - service requirements
Brief description: Project management in the translation process
Latest edition 2006-08

From 2006 to 2016, DIN 2345 was replaced by EN 15038 "Translation Services", which existed as the DIN standard DIN EN 15038, meaning that registration or certification according to DIN 2345 was no longer possible. The client and translator could, however, continue to refer to this text as free contractual partners. In contrast to DIN 2345, the new standard focuses more on project management in the translation process and less on the translation (core process) itself. As a result, as well as a higher proportion of "must" provisions, the standard is more difficult to comply with for individual translators than for translation agencies. EN 15038 partly falls behind the stipulations of DIN 2345 such as the customer's obligation to cooperate and the permitted use of the translation.

According to EN 15038, the requirements for translation service providers extend to the following areas:

  • the purpose and scope of the translation
  • the documentation
  • the human and technical resources
  • the quality and project management
  • the contractual framework
  • the work processes
  • any additional services offered

Translation service providers can have themselves certified by various accredited certification service providers with regard to EN 15038. In addition, especially in Germany, there is a database managed by DIN CERTCO in which companies are listed for a small fee that have submitted a declaration of conformity to comply with the EN 15038 processes. They then receive a notification of registration and are allowed to advertise with the DIN CERTCO logo. However, in contrast to certification, there is no test by DIN CERTCO. The offer of registration is viewed critically by many companies in the branch and by branch associations, as it is easy to confuse registration with certification.

An important advantage of the standard was that it was available in 29 countries and can thus facilitate international cooperation. The norm was not undisputed. In the section "Agreement between the customer and the translation service provider ", EN 15038 defines the service specification .

ISO 17100 translation services

In 2015, the ISO 17100 standard, which is based on EN 15038, was adopted by the European Committee for Standardization as a replacement for EN 15038 and published in Germany in 2016.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See also Joachim Heinzle (Ed.): Translate in the Middle Ages. Cambridge Colloquium 1994. Berlin (= publication by the Wolfram-von-Eschenbach Society. )
  2. AI translates as good as a human , of March 16, 2018
  3. “Historical breakthrough” - AI translates Chinese as well as a human , of March 15, 2018
  4. Willard Van Orman Quine: Translation and Meaning , § 16. Quoted from Wunderlich: Arbeitsbuch Semantik. 2nd edition 1991, p. 19.
  5. Michael Dürr, Peter Schlobinski: Descriptive Linguistics. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 978-3-525-26518-5 , p. 174.
  6. ^ Bhabha: The Location of Culture. 2004, p. 325.
  7. ^ Spivak: The Politics of Translation. In Venuti: The Translation Studies Reader. 2004, pp. 369-388.
  8. ^ Italiano Rössner: Translatio / n. Narration, Media and the Staging of Differences. 2012
  9. ^ Bachmann-Medick: Cultural Turns. 2009, p. 253
  10. Heinz Rudolf Kunze: The boss as a matter for the boss. - For the first time Bruce Springsteen has released his lyrics for a compendium including detailed analysis. Heinz Rudolf Kunze, who translated the lyrics into German, on translation in general and in particular. In: Rolling Stone , German-language edition, edition 299, September 2019, pages 80 and 81, ISSN 1612-9563 - For the German-language book Like A Killer In The Sun - Songtexte by Leonardo Colombati, Kunze wrote 101 lyrics by Bruce Springsteen translated into the German language authorized by Springsteen for this publication .
  11. Wolfgang Sturz: From collector to thought leader ( Memento from July 28, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). In: technical communication , issue 05/13
  12. Mark Twain: The terrible German language .
  13. Machine translators: DeepL competes with Google Translate., August 29, 2017
  14. Microsoft's Bing Translator , viewed January 8, 2018
  15. AI translates as good as a human , of March 16, 2018
  16. “Historical breakthrough” - AI translates Chinese as well as a human , of March 15, 2018
  17. Source: urhg
  18. Manuel Cebulla: DIN EN 15038 from a legal point of view: How far is it to the industry standard? In: MDÜ: trade journal for interpreters and translators . 53rd vol., No. 1, 2007, ISSN  1618-5595 , pp. 18-22.
  19. Valerij Tomarenko: DIN EN 15038 and the four-eyes principle Improper discussion . In: MDÜ: trade journal for interpreters and translators . 58th vol., No. 3, 2012, ISSN  1618-5595 , pp. 38-41.
  20. one of the few academic studies to date on the standards of literary translation