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by Feb 22, 2020

Douglas Hofstadter, the Voice of Cognitive science, and Translation

Douglas Hofstadter, the Voice of Cognitive science, and Translation

As I stepped in this multifaceted world of translation, the only question that kept me awake at night was ‘If my translation is CORRECT?’ Fidgeting over every word, scanning it scrupulously, checking all the possible resources, and comparing my translation to countless examples of others was my main routine. As exhausting and at times tiring as it was I enjoyed each time when I saw the product of my ‘labor’ and was enormously proud of myself when I noticed some kind of progress in the way I was doing my job.

But as more time passed, my insatiable craving to be CORRECT turned into a hump on my path of professional growth.

Naturally, I started discovering more and more odd details, mysterious I would say, in uncountable ways professional (with solid names) translators worked with texts and this question ‘If my translations is CORRECT?’ shortly was replaced with another, global question ‘What is a TRANSLATION?’

Is it a ‘word-in-word’ retelling? Can be! Is it the same like it is for anthropologists who dig out bare bones, arrange them into semi-order and then try to gather piece after piece the information to know the story those very bones keep? Or is it something else?

Cognitive Scientist and the proud Stanford son, Douglas Hofstadter.

On the example of the poem written by Clément Marot (French Renaissance poet), Hofstadter demonstrated that any written piece (be it a poem, or a simple prose) can have more than just one acceptable translation. Dozens and dozens of professionals worked their miracle over Marot’s poem, sending their translations back but each and every of those translations was different. It was still Marot’s poem, undoubtedly so, but everyone had his/her own (unique) way of translating it.

Is not it interesting, I thought?! And indeed, after discovering this little ‘experiment’ of Hofstadter, I acquired a new way to look at Translation.

We all use our cognitive abilities differently, and translation is not an exception.

I realized, that there was no a CORRECT translation as such. Just like an artist who draws an orchid does not have a CORRECT way to depict it. Actually, it is scientifically proven that we all have our own way of comprehending the world around us so how can it be different with translation?

This is the mystery and magic of this multifaceted world of translation.

The conclusion is: as long as translator saves the same emotions, scenes, order, literature style and all the present premises in his/her translation, it can be considered good and acceptable.


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