I was very surprised when my lecturer who taught Translation said that being a translator is like being a traitor. Given the fact that I had been a freelance translator and that the word “traitor” sounded a bit cruel, I exclaimed in protest, “What?”
I know that since he was a serious man, he could not be kidding. And despite the fact that I was really shocked, I asked him to elaborate his statement.
So, what he meant by “being a traitor” is that if you want to make a good translation, you cannot be “too loyal” (that’s how he called it); you cannot follow the source language’s grammar and style in a whole. Well, it’s true that translators are often trapped in these two points. Following what has been available is much easier and faster; the same thing happens in translation.
One example; if in the source language the sentence is active, translators would likely make the translated line in active too. Whereas, in the target language context, the sentence could possibly become more acceptable if it is put in a passive construction. And a good translator, according to my lecturer, is the one who refuses to follow the available construction and decide his or her own style. He or she knows which type of construction will work better, which style will create more desirable influence to readers’ mind.
To be honest, this art of being a “traitor” is not that easy. There have been many times I could not make up my mind, whether to change the construction or stick to the existing pattern of words.
What if the alternation creates misunderstanding? What if the original copywriter meant something behind this type of construction?
But there is no work that does not have a risk.
If the change causes the addressee to feel less “barriers”, or in other words, makes the line easier to read, then one should go for it. And indeed, this attitude (of being a traitor) may take a little time to root.*