"Happy is your Grace, that can translate the stubbornness of fortune into so quiet and so sweet a style."
-- William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene 1
Communication, Language and Translation: Any discussion of quality control in translation must first begin with a clear understanding of what translation is. Translation is a kind of adapter which converts the ideas and feelings of a written text from one language and cultural context to another. Interpreting serves the same purposes when the medium is spoken rather than written language. Language is a form of communication in which humans use spoken or written symbols (1) to convey ideas or concepts and (2) to evoke emotions, feelings, mood or tone. The dichotomy between concepts and feelings also reflects a basic dichotomy in our subjective experience. As a child grows, it builds up a cognitive model or schema of external reality and uses that model to interact with the world in order to survive and satisfy its various needs and desires. Unlike our conceptual schema of the world, however, those needs, desires and motives are not learned. Most scientists agree that our emotional temperament can be modified somewhat through our early experience, but the characteristically human set of sentiments, emotions and motives we share has been programmed into us through natural selection. This emotional programming provides us with many, though perhaps not all, of the emotions, feelings and impulses which both define and motivate humans to pursue goals such as survival, companionship, family and whatever our temperament tells us is meaningful for us as individuals. Our conceptual model of the world is what provides us with the means of doing so. As a social species, we express both concepts and feelings when communicating.
Translating not Words but Conceptual Relationships Rooted in Schema: The words and expressions of a language symbolize interlinked concepts which together make up the unique conceptual schema of that culture. This is basically what the Japanese translator and educator Tsuneo Yatagai means by "shared cultural knowledge." Some concepts and schema are not unique to one culture but are universally shared among all humans. For example, the concepts and schema of the sciences are universal because they are models of the objective world, which is universal. Thus, it is easy to find a word to precisely symbolize and communicate scientific concepts and schema between cultures and languages. However, concepts and schema in other fields may be deeply rooted in a nation's history and culture. The legal, commercial and financial practices and procedures of a society are rooted in that society's unique cultural traditions. As a result, other languages will lack words and expressions which can precisely symbolize those concepts and schema. A translator will usually not be able to simply use a dictionary in order to grasp the concepts and schema symbolized by the words of the text he is translating. Even if a dictionary gives a reasonable definition or explanation of the concept or schema (which is rare), the translator should seek to grasp the concepts and schema of the text through abstraction, that is, by examining a large number of examples in which the word symbolizing the concept and schema occurs. After understanding the concept, the translator must next try to communicate it to the target audience. But no word may exist in the target language to precisely symbolize the concept. In this case, the translator must rely on skill and experience to communicate the essential points which are important to communicate given the context, the purpose and the intent of the author.
Written Communication: I believe written communication holds a special place in human communication. We humans use forms of communication other than language. In our spoken communication, we can in most cases enhance our communication by the added medium of tone of voice. When speaking directly with someone else, we can enhance it even further through the use of facial expressions and bodily gestures. Our facial expressions and our capacity to understand them are innate and universally recognized among all humans because they are programmed into our species through natural selection. These forms of communication are lost in written language. Facial expressions can also be regarded as a form of symbolic communication in which the symbols, the emotions are all programmed into the brain by natural selection and shared universally among all members of the human species. In contrast, the spoken or written symbols through which any of the many languages of the world represent concepts and emotions are learned. If we see a facial expression of anger, of joy, of cynicism or doubt, we understand the subjective state of the other person immediately through instinct. We can communicate this way to a remarkable degree even with animals, such as dogs. In facial expressions the relationship between the symbol (the facial expression) and the meaning or emotion symbolized (the subjective state) is direct. But this is not true in the case of written language, where the relationship between the symbol and the concept or feeling is indirect. This introduces the danger of imprecision between the symbol and what is symbolized. Symbols allow us to communicate complex ideas. But symbols are useful only in so far as their relationships to the concepts and emotions they symbolize are accurate. The indirect correspondence between the symbol (the word or phrase) and the concept or sentiment represented by that symbol in written language opens a huge door to the possibility of miscommunication.
Expository and Dramatic Language: In so far as language communicates concepts it is expository, and so far as it evokes emotions, feelings and mood it is dramatic. Scientific texts are intended to communicate concepts and are therefore written in expository prose. Artistic texts are intended mainly to evoke feelings and are therefore written in dramatic prose. But expository and dramatic styles are by no means mutually exclusive and indeed rarely are. Texts are usually intended to communicate a varied mix of concepts and sentiments. Even the language of business, economics and law is not strictly conceptual. Statutes and other legal documents are written in a formal style intended to convey the gravity of the content. Statements from central banks often use vague or coded language intended to convey possibilities while conveying confidence. The translator's job is to understand both the ideas and the tone and to reproduce them in the context of a new language and culture in a way that achieves the same effect that the source text achieves in the context of the original language and culture.