“A text without context is a pretext” is a common saying in theological circles, and it has some echo in the world of language services as well.
Some years ago, I attended a workshop offered by Mike Mahler, artist and translator. Mahler discussed ways in which literature and other arts contribute to understanding language and communication. It made sense. The arts, whether verbal or nonverbal, communicate thought and emotion and open us to the bigger picture – the context of human experience, if you will.
As translators and interpreters, what do we work with if not human experience expressed in language? Understanding that bigger picture is essential to understanding and conveying meaning. Cultural references, history, current affairs: they are all captured and reflected in the arts.
Literature, in particular, is a direct boon to translators and interpreters. Mahler encouraged us to read novels and other works that would provide us with a wealth of language in context. Words, not standing on their own, but as part of a bigger picture; sometimes the same words, conveying emotion here and action there, according to their function.
So here’s to the writers, the dancers, musicians and more. Here’s to all the artists who help us understand the human experience in order to better do our work! And here’s a little exercise in context, if you feel like playing along:
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING:
Write out a translation of the following ten sentences:
I got home at three
He got a phone call.
She got pulled over for speeding.
We got sick last week.
Have you got your taxes done?
I got a present for the baby.
He got soaked in the rain.
She got a replacement phone.
We got seats by the window.
They finally got the joke.
Now, in each translated sentence, circle the word used to translate “got”.
Were any two translations of “got” the same?
Contextually yours –
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