Does Translation Make the Source Text Richer or Poorer?


Last week was very busy, I moved, I visited my parents and many more. I thought that I deserved a full-cream Starbucks coffee. I have been going there for years but only last week discovered something. There is always a caution about the heat of the coffee. The Turkish translation attracted my attention. In English, the original caution is: “Careful, the beverage you’re about to enjoy is extremely hot”. However, in Turkish translation it says: “Dikkat! İçeceğiniz çok sıcaktır” which literally means: “Attention! Your beverage is very hot”. I think there is a very big gap between “Careful, the beverage you’re about to enjoy is extremely hot” and “Attention! Your beverage is very hot”. The Turkish translation makes the original statement poorer. It just reduces the meaning to a simple caution sentence. There are hundres of good translation alternatives out there. This raises the question: Does translation make the source text richer or poorer? I think the answer is ‘both’.

Considering the poem translation it makes it poorer like 90-95%. It is not just my opinion. Even in my literary translation classes, many of the classmates or assistans was thinking like that. In poem translation, you definetely change the meaning from time to time if you want to keep all the rhymes and syllable numbers.Furthermore, the unique word choice of the poets fades away. It is not possible to find little cultural nuances in translated poems. The translated poem may also sound good but it never feels the same as the original.

When it comes to comic translation or animation movie dubbing, it is more likely to say that translation makes the source text more understandable for the target audience. Hence, translation makes it richer. Especially in cartoons and animation movies, I always prefer the translated version because I find them more familiar to my culture.

As you can see, keeping cultural nuances is important in poem translation because poet is a distinctive genre of literature. Even the punctuations carry some meaning. However, in my opinion, it is not the same for cartoon or animation translation. Here the key factor is successful transformation of the culturel elements for target audience.

It is annoying paying attention even to minor details while enjoying a cup of high-calorie, extremely delicious coffee 🙂

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Koprinka Tchervenkova on August 22, 2011 at 18:56

    No, the explanation is quite simple: the translation was made by a non-professional. There too too many in Bulgaria, too. They translate very badly and sometimes it is a shame because foreigners who visit the country think that no one knows foreign languages decently. So we must prevent such illiterates from spoiling the languages.


  2. Posted by Hazal Didem YENER on August 22, 2011 at 22:58

    “Considering the poem translation it makes it poorer like 90-95%.” – agreed %1000.
    “Especially in cartoons and animation movies, I always prefer the translated version because I find them more familiar to my culture.” – Never! Never would I trust a translator with my English.

    I think it depends on the translator’s competency. Some translators are good enough while others are not. However, in my opinion, translators do not always consider a word’s intended meaning carefully while translating, which causes translation mistakes. As long as there are not-so-good translators around, translations will be full of mistakes and poorer in meaning.


    • Hi Hazal,
      Thanks for your comment and contribution. You have right about the poorness of the translations. Let’s hope, in future, we will get better translations.


  3. I know very little about Turkish, but I just like to add a general comment. In principle, it’s possible that the translator was not being incompetent, but actually making a culturally-based decision. They may have decided that the notion of inserting a subtle marketing phrase into a warning is something that culturally works in the US but not in Turkey, for example. (I’ve no idea if that’s actually true– I’m just saying that in principle, this is also a type of decision that translators much constantly make while working on a text.)


    • Dear Neil,
      As a Turkish citizen, I can say that we do not like plain explanations 🙂 I mean, I would appreciate if they translate the caution as it is. But as general, it is true what you say. For example in Far East, the ads contains less information and more music and image. On the other hand, in Europe and US, people want more information rather than other components.
      Thank you for your comment and contribution.


    • Posted by Hazal Didem YENER on August 24, 2011 at 21:48

      Hello Neil,
      You might be right to some extent.
      That writing could have been translated directly, but then it would have been almost meaningless. I think no direct translation of any source text would be regarded as a good translation. It is almost like the translator writes the whole thing again herself to meet her people’s expectations, and this is why there are many translators, some of them being good and some bad. It passes belief that they still employ incompetent translators, though.


    • Posted by Manuela Gonzaga on August 26, 2011 at 21:05

      I agree 100%!
      Each language is a new reality.


  4. Hi Colleagues,

    I absolutely agree with most of you that nowadays we could notice at many places annoying details while we are relaxing or enjoying a cup of coffee. Certainly the perfect variant will be brilliant translation with successful cultural transformation of even minor details for the target group.
    I am sure this trend is not limited to a certain country but worldwide….


  5. Great point Neal!


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