On the importance of the Translator's Notes (NTs) in Translation.

In a previous article, there was a discussion on Linguistic Gaps. and here there is a discussion on Cultural Gaps instead.

In Set Theory, linguistic gaps would be the cases in which our sets have nothing in common (no intersection), and cultural gaps would be the cases in which there is some intersection.

In a situation involving linguistic gaps, it is impossible to find a linguistic match: the notes have to explain the meaning of the expression of the origin-language in the target-language.

With the cultural gaps, there are always linguistic matches, and pressure to use those matches without writing any notes.

If there are no notes, the translated version of the text may be understood in an unexpected way.

The nature of the NTs tells if the gap is of linguistic or cultural order.

If the notes are created to translate the expression from the original text into the target-language, there is a linguistic gap; if the notes are created to make the expression of the original text become a proper match, therefore to refine it, there is a cultural gap.

With The Sorites, the concern is with how much must be added to the world reference Y in order for us to be allowed to label it X, X being a sigmatoid that has some of its possible world references listed in our lexicons, and Y being initially labeled ~ X (Y could be 'one grain of sand', and X could be heap. ~ X would then be non-heap).

In the same way, in the cultural gap problem, the concern is with how much is missing for an expression of the origin-language (in the cultural context of both the origin-language, and the location where the document has been written) to match the expression of the target-language (in the cultural context of both the target-language, and the location where the document is supposed to be used) and vice-versa.

It is a problem of fine-tuning.

Sometimes there is a distance that is unbelievable between the expressions, a distance not necessarily mentioned in the lexicons. So, at least sometimes we find an expression that seems to mirror the origin-language expression to best, like, according to the lexicon, we cannot actually find anything more suitable. However, when we put that expression in context in the target-language, we notice that there is a lambda that needs to be addressed, like a lambda that is definitely not irrelevant.

Consider the pair (pensao; pension) for the couple (Brazilian Portuguese; Australian English).

While in Brazil a pensão may be the result of having a father who was from the armed forces, and died, pension seems to be a result of being tagged as either unemployable or widow in Australia.

The implications of translating pensão into pension, and not writing any notes to better explain the situation may be as tragic as making an absolutely employable individual (perhaps also extremely young) be treated as an invalid person for matters of work.

This case is interesting because there is no better match, and there is not even an alternative match in the target-language for the expression, yet pensão should not be replaced with pension, for that could attract suits (imagine the individual does not get a job for ten years in a row, and they finally find out that the reason for that is the translated version of their document (in which one clearly sees the translator's signature and stamp)?).

Translators could win these disputes quite easily, but even rumours may injure.

The minimum thing in favour of translators is that there is no linguistic alternative, and some of the dictionaries support our choice (the Longman Dictionary, however, makes us understand that we need to write notes if ever translating pensão into pension).


Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, ISBN 1-405-80673-7, 2005
(The websites were visited on the 4th of March of 2013 by the author)

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Essential Notes
Author: Marcia Pinheiro
inglés al portugués translator
By Marcia Pinheiro
Published on 03/4/2013
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