rewriting the code

The art of rewriting the code (and some breadcrumbs…)

When I arrived in Tirana back in 1999, my command of the Albanian language was limited to a few survival sentences. I simply replied with a polite and ambiguous “yes” every time people asked me if “I’d already eaten bread”. And they kept asking the same question every day, at about the same time of day.

For the next six months, the Albanian obsession with bread challenged the translation part of my brain. “Bread” has a broader denotative meaning in that particular context of situation. Following the country’s history of poverty, the word signified, in Albanian culture, everything the rest of us understand by “food”, providing “bread” with a very rich connotative meaning.

Translating − from Albanian, in this example − requires therefore not only a good command of vocabulary or syntax, by also of the cultural context, so the perceptive meaning accurately integrates transferability into pragmatic meaning in the target language.

Being a humanizing process, translation is at the crossroads of science and poetry. It needs to be able to render feelings experienced in one culture into a totally different one. Using linguistics, sociolinguistics and pragmatic concepts, the translation process decodes the message of a contextual communication stance and entirely rewrites the code.

As cultures present different historical and contextual patterns, rewriting the code may be a very difficult act and the perfect translation may simply not be possible. However, the mission of a translator is to blend not only linguistic skills into the process, but also to master the contextual roots of the illocutionary message.

The art of translation is therefore the process of rewriting the code of a message in accordance with the deep understanding of the sender (or transmitter/speaker), the receiver and the code.

(Photo: Jill Wellington)

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