Challenges of Translation

Ata Omar

Ata Omer Salih

Interview with Ata Omer Salih:

Interviewed by Aras Ahmed Mhamad

AAM: How would you define translation? What’s the importance of translation in this commercial and technological world?

AOS: Translation can accept many different definitions according to the field it is offered in. Most translation theorists agree that translation is understood as a transfer process from a foreign language—or a second language—to the mother tongue. However, market requirements are increasingly demanding that translators transfer texts to a target language that is not their mother tongue, but a foreign language. This is what Newmark calls “service translation.”

As for the importance of translation, it is undoubtedly one of the most critical jobs in modern society. As the whole globe is coming together based on information sharing and communicative advances, it is only natural that there has been a constant demand and an unprecedented need for translation of ideas from one language to another.

It is also vital for multinational companies in advancing their commercial links and interests through translation of all correspondence exchanges they make when communicating with their different language-speaking partners, customers and even some of their own employees. The closest example to us here in Kurdistan is this ever-more demanding market for translators and interpreters, who are employed in large numbers by multinational companies in almost all sectors of the economy.

AAM: Civilization, the translator’s ideology, history of the source and target languages, and the psychology of the translator play a significant role in translation. How would you comment on that?

AOS: Translation is tricky, particularly with books that are written in a distinct dialect or in a region with a specific history. Moreover, the civilization that a translator was brought up in, the ideology s/he affiliates with and the psychology of the translator all can play a critical or. if not accounted for, maybe damaging role in the process of translation. An utmost neutralism and honesty in terms of excluding personal opinions, in translating political and ideological texts in particular, is vital. For, any compromise in this matter may lead to distortion or even deception.

 AAM: What are the most obvious problems that translators encounter when translating a text from source language into target language?

 AOS: Just as there are no exact synonyms within a language (‘big’ does not mean precisely the same as ‘large’), there are no exact matches for words or expressions across languages.

Three types of translation difficulties in terms of linguistics can be encountered while trying to produce a translated version of a source text:

  1. distinguishing between general vocabulary and specialized terms,
  2. distinguishing between various meanings of a word of general vocabulary,
  3. taking into account the total context, including the intended audience and important details such as regionalisms.

Through my experience as an interpreter and translator I have learned that the consequences of wrong translations can be catastrophic—especially if done by laypersons—and mistakes made in the performance of this activity can obviously be irreparable.

On top of almost endless linguistic problems that are encountered by the translator during his work, the huge difference that culture can attach to any translation unit, reinforces the fact that adequate cultural knowledge in both languages is as important as the linguistic knowledge.

AAM: Is translation a job or an art? What is the bedrock for the act of translation?

AOS: Translation in my opinion can be both. Delisle (1981) illustrates what a subtle form of torture translation is:

“Translation is an arduous job that mortifies you, puts you in a state of despair at times, but also an enriching and indispensable work, that demands honesty and modesty”.

However, according to Professor Jamal Nabaz (1958): “translation is an art in itself, like all the arts it needs aesthetic taste and requires an enduring efforts and special skills”.

The same position is also taken by Sidney Wade (2013), from University of Florida, stating that translation is an art not a science.

AAM: Taxi, ideology, pizza, philosophy: these words have been universalized and the world is getting smaller. What is your expectation for the future of translation?

AOS: This is true, more and more words are universalized day by day. Thanks to globalization and the speedy advancements in communication technology that has made certain words from western languages, especially English, be used and understood globally.

However, these words can be gradually replaced by words from emerging new superpowers as in case of China which is now the fastest growing economy, with its language used by more than one billion people and the enormous influence that Chinese exports can have on every aspects of life on the planet.

As for my expectation for the future of translation, I guess it is getting clear day by day that the computer-assisted translation and machine translations are receiving more attention in terms of research and even usage. Their speed in delivery and low cost has made them and will continue to make the ever-more attractive options in the future.

AAM: Which one is preferable; sense-to-sense or literal translation? Do you think a holy book like the Quran can accept free translation?

AOS: It is the text and the context in my opinion that decides what approach of translation should be taken. While a sense-to-sense approach is always considered a more preferable and sounds more logical approach in translation of literature, media and sociology, the literal translation may sometime be the only accurate and acceptable approach to produce a complete and understandable target text in legal and scientific texts where every single linguistic element may hold important and invaluable information.

With regard to the last part of the question, even for native speakers, holy books are a difficult document. Its archaic language and verse structure are difficult hurdles to cross. Translation only accentuates the complexity.

A free translation approach reproduces the spirit not the words, the sense not the words, the message rather than the form, the matter not the manner. This in my opinion is not the best approach for a text like Qur’an when according to an “impregnable dogma” of early Islam, the Qur’an has the quality of i’jaz, by which its rhetorical beauty in the Arabic language is “inimitable.” And thus the idea of translating the Qur’an in itself is absurd according to many Islamic scholars, let alone taking using a free translation method in producing a target text.

AAM: Meaning is often lost in translation. How does that make you feel as a translator teacher?

AOS: Well, in theory that shouldn’t happen as the translated text in the target language should offer the same level of sense and joy to its readers as it does in the source language.

The loss of meaning to some extent may be understandable when it takes place in assignments carried out by students, but the endless gross mistakes I have seen in media outlets, especially (dubbed or subtitled) movies, and numerous wrong translations seen in public places by guides or sign posts are making me wonder if the people responsible are at all aware of any translation skills!

AAM: The funniest joke in English language may be a tasteless joke when translated, for example, into Kurdish. Can this also be true for idioms, songs, poems, and proverbs? How do you evaluate the role of culture?

AOS: Of course it can! But it can also be even funnier or more beautiful if translated with adequate care and strong background knowledge in both languages in terms of linguistic and cultural skills. The Sorani version of (Mawlawi’s poems) that is translated from Avrami by (Piramerd) is considered as a top-ranking piece of art by almost all Kurdish critics.

AAM: Translation is always connected to language. How fundamental is language for translation?

AOS: Language is in my opinion the first and the most important pillar in the success of any translation process. However, the fundamental role that culture, together with other required skills, can play in translation should never be underestimated.

AAM: Literary, scientific, political, philosophical books have different contents and styles. What do you think is the best approach in translating, for instance, a literary text?

AOS: A sense to sense or a free translation approach is, in my view, the best translation method for a literary text. Furthermore, if a text is translated by someone with adequate background knowledge in the required discipline – i.e.  a poet in poetry, a scientist in science translation, and so on – the product will undoubtedly be richer and more accurate.

Ata Omer Salih was born in Slemani in 1977. He graduated from University of Slemani in 2000 with a BSc in geology. Shortly afterwards he travelled to the UK and stayed there till 2011. In 2003 he gained a (OCN level 2) certificate in public service interpreting at Derby College, UK. In the same year he started work as a qualified interpreter and translator for the National Health Service (hospitals and medical centers) in Derby, UK. In 2006 he obtained Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI –law option) by the Institute of Linguists, London, UK. In the same year he was accepted on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI) and started work in legal settings (Courts, Police and Probation services) in the UK. In 2008 he attained an MSc in Applied Geology from the University of Brighton, UK. In 2011 he returned to Kurdistan and started teaching Translation in English Departments at the Education School in Chamchamal and at the College of Languages, University of Human Development in Qaradax. Currently he is teaching geology and academic debate at the School of Basic Education in Chamachall.

 Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012. He is a columnist for the Kurdistan Tribune and a contributing writer for the and He is the Cultural Analyst at the Kurdish Review Newspaper, the only Kurdish-American newspaper in print. He is also the Editor in Chief of the Sorani section at the

Copyright © 2013

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL