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Is there any Algorithm for Literary Translation?

Is it possible to create an algorithm for literary translation? Translation experts are sure that it is not. Translation is creative work, so the process of this activity is beyond the grasp of the mind. This point of view is also shared by the linguists who consider translation to be a kind of literary activity.

In 1966 Boris Vahtin, a famous Soviet linguist, stated that the aim of any literary translation is to recreate the impression in the target language after reading the original text. The impression is entirely subjective, based on the intuition and cannot be logically explained. A decade later Venedikt Vinogradov wrote that we can see the original and the target texts but we cannot observe the thinking process. Years passed since then but this point of view is still shared by translation theorists. Leo Latyishev wrote that the most significant stage in the translation process is mental process which cannot be analyzed. That’s why we can use indirect data only (basically, the experience and suggestions of translation experts).

Of course, we cannot observe the thinking process visually but many linguists insist that even trying is senseless. Their point of view is not correct, because there are other branches in linguistics, e.g. psycholinguistics which provides impressive results in research of the simultaneous interpreting. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about literary translation.

Many linguists tried to perform the in-depth study in this sphere. Chernyahovskaya stated that the translation process must be transferred from the unconscious activity to the conscious one. But it did not happen in literary translation because of some objective and subjective reasons.

First of all, we see a very weak connection between translation theory and translation activity. Anton Popovich, a famous Slovak linguist, notes the absence of the terminological accuracy in theoretical articles written by translation experts because they operate some common terms only.

The lack of terminological accuracy concerns translation theorists as well. For example, the term ‘literary translation’ does not only mean the translation of  fiction. It also implies the aesthetic qualities of this translation. Jovan Yanichievich in 1991 stated that a work of fiction cannot be considered as a work of art in translation only because the original text is art. It must become artistic all over again in the translation process. For example, the translations of Charles Dickens' works performed by the famous translator Lan have nothing to do with works of art. Does it mean that those translations are not literary ones? Obviously, it does not. This is the very case when study of literature opposes linguistics and complicates the problem. First of all, in the theory of translation it would be more logical to rely on the literary translation quality, not on the aesthetics.

Anton Popovich says that translation is studied in different levels and aspects. That is not correct. Unfortunately, there appeared many difficulties during adoption of theoretical works, and translation theorists blamed translation practice teachers in their inability to operate translation theory categories.

But why do questions on creating algorithm for literary translation meet such a negative attitude even among respected linguists? Old stereotypes still take place.

Machine translation appeared  in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. The aim was to create a perfect machine which would not do any mistakes (unlike human translators). The opponents of this idea wrote a venomous anecdote. The English proverb ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ which has an  established Russian equivalent was put into the translation machine. The machine translated it as ‘Слепой дурак’ (a blind fool in English). Since then the notion ‘algorithm’ is associated among translators with  mechanical approach to the translation process resulting in absurd translation.

To solve this problem we have to define the corresponding terminology. In translation theory algorithm means a set of translation operations. These operations are very complicated and cannot be treated as operations in mathematics because the terms and notions in the translation theory may overlap. That’s why we need to create a hierarchial classification of the operations corresponding to the concrete level and aspect of the research. Sadikov wrote in 1980 that we must find out the nature of the actions which translators perform when working. Only then we can set a time sequence of those actions.

Even though the time has passed since then, the problem is still topical and the translators should concentrate their efforts on solving it.

Translated from article written by Vitrenko A.G.  

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