The matter of whether translation constitutes primarily a science or an art has long been in dispute, and the field and practice of translation often do not garner the respect that they are due. This, I think, does not take into account the fundamentally lyrical nature of constructing free-flowing, good-sounding prose. To write a truly beautiful sentence requires an attention to the way in which words join together, how they sound in conjunction to one another, how the writing of one word within the context of a given idea leads to the reciprocal second word, and how the second word leads to the reciprocal third. An organic sentence must be and sound natural, there must be a concinnity between the various elements of a phrase in order to make it sound beautiful and musical, as well as to make it logical. Thus, I believe that the art of translation, of the manipulation of the words of one language to be transformed into the logical and beautiful equivalent sentences in another language, truly is an art.
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We seem to have an intuitive sense for what is beautiful and pleasing aesthetically. Whether it is a piece of music, an artwork, or a piece of writing, we naturally take into account elements such as color, pacing, spacing, rhythm, rhyme, diction, tone, movement, style, and a host of countless other factors that determine our overall experience of a natural, artistic, or other manmade construction. If an element of a construction does not seem to fit with the surrounding material according to our personal notions of aesthetics, we feel a sense of uncomfortable and unpleasant abruptness about it. This may occur if the pacing of a work is too fast or two slow for what the individual’s personal aesthetic sense finds pleasing. Or it may occur if the words, colors, musical idioms, and the like do not seem to meld with the other elements in a work.
Every language that exists (and this goes for any segmentable, particulate system of expression, including the natural language of the world around us) follows rules of order that govern its articulation, dictating that certain elements in that language may go together in order to produce a pleasing synthesis while other elements may create jarring and aesthetically-objectionable results. Every language carries within itself fine shades of meaning and ways of joining words that another language does not. However, I believe that the phrases of any language can be translated into any other language so that the second both exactly reflects the ideology of the first and sounds natural and pleasing in the second. For example, scientists are currently seeking a “theory of everything,” a single, unitary expression through which all the features of the observable universe can be explained, that translates the expression that is created by the fundamental quark into another, mathematical language. This can, of course, also be expressed or translated into more abstract concepts and conceptual language. But the result and the expression is the same: the universe as it can be observed. The same kind of translation goes into any artistic expression, including translation from one human language into another. But the result is the same: the artistic linguistic object, the ineffable “text,” which can therefore be transmitted in any language.
Think of computers. By programming according to a basic set of rules (such as print, input, guesses, x =, and the like), one can make a computer print sentences, respond to commands, create graphics. The results are the logical, artistic expression of the commands that are inputted into the command module.
Thus, I believe that translation, although in a sense a science, is also an art. I do not think the two incompatible. The apprehension of the basic object, of the meaning intended, requires manipulation of words in the language to be translated into, just as the initial creation of the text required reification of a set of abstract concepts into the language of origin. Smoothly transforming a text in one language into the idiom of a second language requires a thorough knowledge of the nuances of the second language as well as an intuitive, native, artistic sense of the fine shades of that language. Thus, translation follows the same process as the initial creation of a work, defining the initial concepts in a different set of symbols, the words of the language that the text is translated into.
Any translation is a work of art.