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Translator’s Creativity found in the Process of Japanese-Korean Translation[*]

  • Sang-Eun Cho

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Corps de l’article

I. Introduction

There is a general understanding among foreign language scholars in Korea that during the beginning stages of foreign language learning Japanese can be acquired more easily than other languages such as English, because Japanese and Korean share many similarities in syntax and vocabulary[1]. Probably due to this general assumption, the corollary, consequently, is that translation from Japanese to Korean is easier than from other languages, and such an assumption is more common among people who are not knowledgeable in translation theories. This assessment is based on personal experience as a professional translator, as well as conversations with other Japanese-Korean translators. Nevertheless, how true is this notion? If the general understanding that Japanese-Korean translation is indeed easier than translations from other languages were correct, then the end product, also known as the target text (TT), should be higher in quality. It is true that Japanese-Korean translation is easier to some extent in that it takes less time and yields comparatively less direct comprehension errors of the source text (ST); however, from the readers’ points of view, Japanese-Korean translations are not higher in quality and contain many Korean expressions that sound awkward to native readers. The problem of readability concerning Japanese-Korean translations has been addressed in the author’s doctorate thesis (Cho 2004).

There could be many different reasons for these problems in Japanese-Korean translation, but given that the translator’s ability to translate into his or her mother tongue is excluded from the list of possibilities, the translationese problem caused by language interference due to Japanese and Korean’s linguistic similarities can be named as one of the reasons.

Cho 2004

The present paper examines the effects of creativity on translation by analyzing the process of Japanese-Korean translation while focusing on the creativity of translators. As research method for observing the process of translation, this study uses TAP to examine translation strategies and shift during each translator’s translation process. The subjects of the research are limited to professional translators, and this is with the expectation that they may be able to apply the results of this research for educational purposes. It seems more profitable to the translation scholastic community to examine the strategies of translators mentioned in ‘Successful Translation’ (Kussmaul 2000), rather than analyzing the translations of scholars or amateur translators.

The starting point of this research is that in the case of Japanese-Korean translation, the two languages’ linguistic similarities prohibit translators from using their creativity and thus, may lower the quality of the target text. By examining the process of translation and observing the strategies used by actual translators when creativity is necessary, the research is expected to gain insight into the relationship between Japanese-Korean translation and creativity and on the current view of translation education.

II. Study of Previous Research

2.1 Discussion of Creativity in the Discipline of Translation

There has not been much discussion or research on creativity in the discipline of translation, and Kussmaul (1995) has mentioned that there have been no data-based studies in this area until now. The concept of creativity is usually discussed in the discipline of translation when dealing with literary work, and thus, most research that has been done in this area focuses on the translations of literary writings. The reason for this may be that researchers do not regard creativity as an appropriate research topic for practical texts that are heavy on information and comparatively light on ‘peculiarity’ and ‘originality’ – characteristics that are considered essential to invented or created products and unique to literary writings. Nevertheless, as Mackenzie (1998) mentioned, professional translators know from experience that technical texts, even the most factual of texts, require creativity. (Mackenzie 1998:201) The text used in this research is not a pure literary text but a hybrid. It was written by an economic analyst for a Japanese website, and parts of the text require an in-depth understanding of Japanese culture. Considering Kussmaul’s description of invented or created products having to possess the characteristics of being novel and appropriate for the task, i.e., the translation assignment (or purpose), such characteristics should not be limited to literary work. In other words, all texts possess these characteristics to a varying degree, and these characteristics can be used for translating practical texts to logically develop the content. In the case where a translator is unable to illustrate the creative nature of the source text in the target text, it can be concluded that the translator has failed to produce a target text that stays true to the objective of the source text. Consequently, this research is significant for extending the discussion of translators’ creativity from literary and poetic texts to practical texts. The starting point of this research is that in the case of Japanese-Korean translation, the two languages’ linguistic similarities prohibits translators from using their creativity and thus, may lower the quality of the target text. By examining the process of translation and observing the strategies used by actual translators when creativity is necessary, the research is expected to gain insight into the relationship between Japanese-Korean translation and creativity and on the current view of translation education.

2.2 Requirements for Creative Translation Materials

Creativity is not required for all stages of translation, and it has been shown that a great deal of the translation process tends to become automated for professional translators depending on their familiarity with the source text’s subject matter, translation experience and ability. Yet, it is proposed that creative translation is related to translations with unpredictable, non-institutionalized use of the language (Wilss 1988:127) or translations in which the selection of a translation variant is not rule-governed (Alexieva 1990:5, cited in Kussmaul 1995: 39).

Then, what is the requirement for a creative product? Kussmaul names ‘novelty’ and ‘appropriateness towards a goal’ as the elements of a creative product (Kussmaul 1995:39). Considering translation as a purposeful activity, it is fitting to view a translation that fulfills its purpose and at the same time, consists of new elements, as a creative product. Of course, translation is not creating something out of nothing but must be governed by the source text. In this regard, the concept of creativity in translation must be discussed within the scope of reproduction[2] or re-creation, and such a view has been shared by many scholars. (Kussmaul:1995; Neubert:1997) The issue is at what point in the process of translation does a translator become creative, and what would the target text look like without these creative elements?

Kussmaul (2000) pointed out that successful translations are those in which a translator exercises his or her creativity at appropriate times, and that less successful translation processes are characterized by the lack of flexibility and show the use of old methods in tasks that require a fresh orientation (Kussmaul and Tirkkonen-Condit 1995).

A translator’s ability to be creative has been pointed out as a solution to the translationese problem caused by the fact that Japanese-Korean translators can easily be restricted by the source text due to the linguistic similarities. In other words, creativity[3] is necessary to eliminate the interference, linguistic or textual, caused by the SL and/or the source text (Schmidt 1989, cited in Neubert 1997:20). In order to achieve a satisfactory target text, the established rules of correspondence between L1 and L2 need to be creatively extended (Neubert 1997:20).

In agreement with Neubert, Newmark (1991) also discussed the creative element of translation. “the translator may have to improvise or import, both of which are creative acts. So the translator starts denting, distorting the target language, breaking Toury’s translation(al) norms inserting another culture.”(Newmark 1991:7) However, Newmark also recognizes the creative element of translation as being limited. In other words, “the creative element in translation is circumscribed. It hovers when the standard translation procedures fail, when translation is ‘impossible’. It is the last resource, but for a challenging text it is not infrequently called on.” (Newmark 1991:7)

Japanese-Korean translation has the advantage of being able to routinely translate some Chinese words quickly since two languages have linguistic similarities. However, an unsuspecting translator, who fails to recognize the side effects of the linguistic similarities such as language interference, may inadvertently do a one-to-one direct translation and consequently lower the quality of the target text. In order to avoid these problems of language interference, it is necessary to not only realize that one-to-one direction translation between these two languages is not feasible only to a certain extent but also to recognize and teach the need for creativity.

2.3. Examination of the Research Method – TAP

Malmkjaer (2000:169) emphasizes the need for research on the process of translation for further development of the discipline. In other words, once the discipline has established its autonomy, it is essential to study the processes of translation and the outcomes of those processes.

Active efforts on the research of translation processes began in the late 1980’s, and before this time, most research focused on comparative analysis of source text and target text. A translator is present from the point the translation is ordered, through the translation process, and to the point the translation reaches the hands of the readers; nevertheless, the main reason research on the process of translation has been delayed is related to the problem of research method. The minds of translators that actually do the translation have been referred to as the “black box”, because there was no way to examine or evaluate the translation process that takes place in the minds of translators. As there were not appropriate tools to examine such processes, it has been considered impossible to study the process of translation. The only tool available for studying the process of translation at the moment is TAP, which was originally developed for the discipline of neuro-psychology and then borrowed. There are those who are critical of TAP, but TAP’s usefulness as a method for studying translation process has been acknowledged. Consequently, devising an elaborate methodology that guides how the raw data collected using TAP is analyzed and for what objectives is the key condition for determining whether a research on translation process is successful or not. In accordance with the statement that “TAPs can help us to see matters more clearly”(Kussmaul and Tirkkonen-Condit 1995: 179), TAP is a useful and appropriate tool for closely observing the process that takes place during translation.

In the field of translation, there have been claims that experimental research that analyzes and helps understand the process of translation – exactly what steps a translator takes during translation – is needed and should be applied to translation education. Such claims can be summarized as a need for further research in the process of translation and as a point to reconsider the inadequacy of research that focuses primarily on comparative analysis of source text and target text and their limited contribution to translation education. For example, Shreve and Koby criticized the limitations of the existing research and said, “they are convinced that a pedagogy that is not ultimately grounded in an understanding of how texts are understood, processed, and transformed by the cognitive system will fail” (Shreve and Koby 1997: xv). Kiraly (1995) also reflected on the existing research shortfalls and advocated the need for research on the process of translation. According to Krings (1987: 7), the data in his study suggest that the theoretical models developed to date are not predictive of the real process involved and may even be misleading. Kiraly (1995) claimed that it would be difficult to develop an effective framework for translation education without a good model of what professional translators do during translation. Furthermore, studying translation strategies used by and identifying problems faced by professional translators during translation will provide an insight into the fundamental challenges in Japanese-Korean translation and their possible solutions.

III. Data Analysis

3.1 Analysis of Transcribed Materials

The 13 research subjects consisted of professional translators, who graduated from the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation in Korea, and have had three to ten years of translation experience.

The research method consisted of relaying the text to be translated while explaining briefly what TAP is, in order to bring the subjects’ understanding of TAP up to par, and then to outline the research guidelines. For consistency and continual flow of the translation, the recording without a break (except for occasional bathroom and coffee breaks), and it was explained to the subjects that there would be no limitation on their choice of reference tools for translation.

The text used for the study was a serial, economic publication written by an economic analyst for a Japanese website and dealt with the spending patterns of the Japanese. The text is unique in that it is an informational text strewn with the writer’s opinions, but at the same time, introduces concepts unique to Japan’s traditional culture, which in return, support the writer’s claims. Some words featured in the text are ‘harenohi’ and ‘kenohi’, which are part of the traditional Japanese language, ‘Wago’, and require an in-depth understanding of the Japanese culture. The transcription analysis focuses on the parts that require knowledge of these cultural words, which have been purposely presented because they require the translator to exercise creativity.

Samples of the transcriptions have been presented below. The subjects’ own analysis of their transcriptions appear in parenthesis.

The above samples show two of the thirteen subjects’ transcriptions. The results of evaluating all subjects’ transcriptions demonstrate that the translators chose similar translation strategies with no great differences. In other words, after identifying a problem or acknowledging a challenge, most translators translated with a temporary solution and then attempted to make corrections in the elaboration phase, during which a Japanese-Korean dictionary, a Korean dictionary and the Internet were used. Examining the transcriptions, it is difficult to find the application of visualization or frame/scene, which are concepts that have been associated with creativity by Kussmaul and Koestler (1966: 177-186, cited in Kussmaul 2000). In most cases, the subjects leaned heavily on a single line of strategy of relying on initial reference means, like using the dictionaries and the Internet. As a result, they used one-to-one correspondence or dictionary meanings in their translations and failed to produce appropriate and original translations of the cultural words. This research’s outcome is in contradiction with the results of research on translation process that said professional translators, unlike their scholarly or amateur counterparts, use global translation strategies, and infers that in Japanese-Korean translation, a translator’s ability to be creative is greatly affected by the vocabulary and syntactic similarities between the source and target texts.

3.2 Quantitative Analysis of the Occurrence of Shift (based on Kussmaul’s concept of ‘change’)

Kussmaul (2000) claims that there are ‘changes’ in translation creativity, and these changes are divided into big and small changes. In translation, shifts in the target text can be seen as changes, and the extent to which a translator exercises his or her creativity can be indirectly measured by counting the number of shifts in the target text. This research method involves comparing the source text to the target text and differentiating the vocabulary level changes from the syntax level changes. Vocabulary level changes include deletion, insertion, and changes in parts of speech. Syntax level changes include changes in syntactic composition, as well as changes in sentence order. The extent to which a subject exercised his or her creativity on parts where creativity was deemed necessary is measured by counting the number of shifts in the transcriptions. The result is illustrated in <Chart 1>.

Chart 1

Quantitative Analysis of Shifts Found in Target Text

Quantitative Analysis of Shifts Found in Target Text

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The outcome shows that of the 20 sentences and 196 words (postpositional words were not counted separately), shift occurred very rarely on the whole. The fact that syntax level changes, including changes in sentence structure and sentence order, are practically nonexistent demonstrates that the syntax structure of the source text affects translators greatly in Japanese-Korean translation. In short, the target texts produced in this experiment follow the vocabulary and syntax structure of the source text very closely. Additionally, the ratio of the number of shifts found in the parts that contained cultural words and required the subjects to exercise creativity, in relation to the total number of shifts found in the entire text ranged from 0% to 30%. There is a definite division in the result in that four of the 13 subjects show 0% and seven of the 13 subjects show 20% of more. However, the fact that the total number of shifts found in the entire text is very low indicates that there is a limitation to the ratio of the number of shifts found in the specified parts.

It is not clear whether Toury’s claim[4] is accurate in that translations produced using the TAP method tend to correspond more formally, but the analysis of the results confirms that the extent of creativity in Japanese-Korean translation accounted for by quantity of ‘changes’ is very limited.

Nevertheless, the fact that the translations did not deviate far from the source text’s syntactic structure and the rarity of shift suggest that there is a limitation to creativity in Japanese-Korean translation. Furthermore, the fact that almost no shifts were found in the subjects’ target texts, even in places where creativity would have been necessary, implies that the ability to be creative is greatly inhibited in Japanese-Korean translation, even for professional translators.

IV. Teaching Creativity

It should be noted first that the ability to translate is not inborn but learned through education and training. In the past, many have viewed the ability to translate to be inborn; however, accepting the point of view that the ability to translate is learned and can be developed further through knowledge and aptitude based on competency in two or more languages, it can be said that creativity can also be taught and practised. This agrees with Kussmaul’s claim that creativity is not a talent given to the select few, but that as basic features of the human mind, anyone can be creative when they translate (Kussmaul 1995). The education of creative translation is definitely not an easy task. Education of creativity certainly poses a new perspective and challenge in the discipline of translation and has even been described as an “ambitious aim” by Kussmaul (1995: 52).

However, there is a definite need to expand beyond the traditional translation educational mold of correspondence analysis of the source text and the target text and problem-identification-to-prescription technique, and to emphasize the elimination of language interference through creativity and establishment of global translation strategies in the area of Japanese-Korean translation. In translation education, creativity based on scholars’ “awareness” and “control” on such negative elements as language interference (Malmkjaer 1998:8) needs to be emphasized more.

V. Conclusion

The analysis of data collected through TAP for examining the translation process of a Japanese text shows that translator creativity is exercised extremely sparingly in Japanese-Korean translation. The qualitative analysis of the TAP transcriptions and the quantitative analysis of the number of shifts in target texts demonstrate that translators’ ability to be creative is greatly affected by the source text’s vocabulary and syntax in Japanese-Korean translation because two languages have linguistic similarities. In order to eliminate these negative elements, the concept of creativity on the part of a translator should be understood and emphasized in translation education. This research used only a limited number of texts, and there is a possibility that a special environment may have had some influence; however, it is expected that the problems and limitations present in the research dealing with translation processes can be overcome by performing similar research and analyzing additional results, in addition to comparing these results to those of other research performed on different languages.

Parties annexes