On the Correct Way to Translate Leonardo Bruni States That ‘’ the Words Are One Thing, the Sense Is Another’’. Discuss.

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  • Topic: Translation, Literal translation, Metaphrase
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Back in 1424 Leonardo Bruni stated that ‘’…the words mean one thing, the sense is another ’’ (Robinson, 2002 : 58) but he has not been the first one who argued that the literal translation rarely worked. In fact, the dichotomy between word-for-word and sense-for-sense translation has existed for milleniums. Cicero and Horace were the first theorists who made a difference between the two approaches back in the first century BC and nowadays the widest spread one is the sense-for-sense translation because it is the best way to preserve the meaning of the original which is what translation is all about. Alas, the sense-for-sense translation is not an easy task.

If language were simply a nomenclature for a set of universal concepts, it would be easy to translate from one language to another. One would simply replace the French name with the English one. If language were like this the task of learning a new language would be much easier than it is. But anyone who has attempted either of these tasks has acquired, alas, a vast amount of direct proof that languages are not nomenclatures, that the concepts...of one language may differ radically from those of another.

(qtd. in Baker, 1992 :10)

But what exactly does a translation mean? The authors of The Oxford Dictionary of English (Second Edition) have defined it rather simply: ‘’a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language’’. I do not agree with this definition simply because I believe that a good translation is a complex process, consisting of rendering ‘’…one sentence rather than one word at a time’’(Baker, 2000 : 88). Being the smallest units of speech, words usually have several meanings which often depend on the other words within the sentence or even the text. Therefore, it is essential the translator to think of the sentence as one unit and not to translate literally.

The whole conception of translation revolves around two main points – meaning and style. Leonardo Bruni argues that the original style of the source text is something that should be always taken into account. The translator should do his best to try to preserve its figures of speech and its rhythmical character, in order to keep the original’s majesty, polish and elegance and to render a beautiful text that does not lack meaning but is free of translationese. (Robinson, 2002 : 59,60)

The problem with the literal translation is that it often does not render the original meaning of the author correctly.Words and sense do not go hand in hand sometimes.As Bruni states, they mean one thing but the sense means another or even the oppposite( Robinson, 2002 : 58).‘’ Literal translation, too bound to the single word can only rarely reproduce the sense or meaning. In addition, even the most free translation cannot capture that what is there but not communicable, i.e., the essence, because it moves away too far from the word, and the word is still the basis of the translation’’ (Barbe, 1996: 332). Whenever it is possible the translator should stick to the literal translation of the word, so that he preserves his original intention but he still needs to avoid translationese at any cost.

Bruni argues that the word-for-word translation is due to the ignorence of the translators. In his view ‘’...the whole essence of translation is to transfer correctly what is written from one language into another. But no one can do this correctly who has not wide and exstensive knowledge fo the language’’(Robinson, 2002 : 58). A century later, Etienne Dolet also makes this clear in his The Correct Way to Translate Well From One Language Into Another. In his four rules of translating well he observes that ‘’… in translating one must not be servile to the point of rendering word for word. If he does that, he is proceeding from poverty or lack of wisdom’’(Robinson, 2002:96). I completely agree with this point of view because I know how easy it is to get lost in...
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