When reading an intriguing book, we tend to praise the author, sometimes the editor or illustrator as well. Sadly, seldom do we give credit to the translator, who has a profound impact on the final outcome after all. Even the finest work of literature can completely lose its charm once it falls into the hands of an incompetent interpreter. But why do they possess so much power?

The heavy responsibility resting on the translator‘s shoulders is highlighted by Lawrence Venuti, professor at Temple University and a translation historian. He dedicated his academic career to examining the role of the interpreter and discovered that whenever an interpretation substantially differs from the original text, it greatly alters the message of the work. The translator‘s interference is most visible in texts concerning foreign cultures, whenever the author of the translation is facing the difficult task of rendering concepts absent in their native culture. Lawrence Venuti identifies two of the most common procedures when dealing with such a problem. While some interpreters choose to leave a potentially challenging term untranslated, others, on the contrary, in order to simplify the recipient’s task, may remove the obscure expression and substitute it with an equivalent meaning which is more familiar to them.

Laurence Venuti remains a fierce opponent of the latter procedure and repeatedly emphasises its detrimental effects. He argues that it can alienate the reader from other cultures while also deterring their further exploration. The aforementioned approach may very well have a great deal in common with colonisation. In his eyes English-speaking countries, aspiring to have the entire world using solely their language, are no different from a translator who erases aspects of non-native ways of living and beliefs from a given text. For precisely this reason, one may encounter the labelling of colonisation as either ‘the great translation ‘ or ‘the criminal translation of the whole nations’.

In the British Empire, texts were primarily translated into English, whilst those featuring elements of foreign heritage underwent significant reworking. The interpretation was not aimed at faithfully depicting the indigenous culture or beliefs but quite the contrary. It became an element of exercising control over subordinate peoples. The United Kingdom, by making interpretations from which any traces of the differences and abundant history of its subjects were rigorously purged, ensured that it would still remain in power.

However, it is vital to bear in mind that translation is much more than merely identifying the most suitable expression in a target language. Considering not only the text itself, but also the context within which it was created, has a profound influence on its final version. Since there are numerous interpretation techniques and strategies, translators are facing a major challenge as not only do they have to faithfully convey the meaning of the text while at the same time respecting the culture of its author, but also assure that the reading of it is enjoyable for the recipient.

(translation K.P.)

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