A Translation of Translation’s – Ways of Looking at Translation


An analogy that has helped me understand the meaning of translation comes as simple as 1+1=2. The 1 represents the original text, while the other 1 represents the added perspective of a writer or point of view. Resulting in the number 2. A whole new text, though it derives and is inspired from an original text. Even in its numerical essence, it shows that it is number one, it isn’ the first text created from zero.

In 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei we get multiple interpretations of a well intended translation of the four quatrain poem that was written about 1200 years ago. This poem has been completely changed, rearranged, and conformed to the writers liking to recreate a poem that only gave clues as to what was originally written. Imagine that.

Translating languages through written or spoken word relies on a unfulfilled trust of fidelity. Keeping or retaining the exact same meaning of an original text is impossible. still, there is a sense of malleability in language that allows us to express “foreign”, diverse concepts, experiences, and even interpret them into our own meaningful understanding.  Though language can bend from one to another, it never carries the same meaning if it contains a philosophical idea behind the text.

For example, the Wang Wei poem that has been translated and retranslated comes from calligraphy which can contain miles of tonal implications with each symbol. These tones or cultural ambiguities we have not defined in our day in age has differences which means this language cannot be translated quid pro quo or letter by letter, or even feeling for feeling to a different language and expect it to be at 100% fidelity.

A personal experience with translation comes from my own ability to speak two languages. There jokes that only make sense if said in Spanish due to the cultural traditions attached to the language. There are phrases that are reversed when speaking Spanish versus speaking English.


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