The Importance Of Context In Translation – Speak Your Language
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The Importance Of Context In Translation

The Importance Of Context In Translation

What Is Contextual Translation?

Contextual translation is the process of interpreting the full meaning of the source text and taking into account relevant background information before reproducing the same meaning text in another language. Contextual translation is one of the main translation principles and is an essential part of the translation process. This is because if the text is translated word for word without consideration of the context, it would be inaccurate or unintelligible. Quality translation services should also translate the context as this helps produce accurate translations that reflect the intended meaning of the source text.


Why Context Is Important In Translation?

Translating text may seem as simple as converting each individual word from one language to the other but it is much more complex. This is because the context can completely change due to a word, sentence or phrase. In English, the exact same word can have several different meanings depending on the context. For example, the word “date” can have at least 3 different meanings depending on context and can be used as a noun or verb.
• I’m going to eat a date
• Last night I went on a date
• That’s my date of birth
If you were translating the word “date” into another language, it would be impossible to do so accurately without some kind of context.


Types Of Context

In order to produce truly accurate translations, it’s necessary to consider the two types of context – linguistic and situational.

Linguistic Context

Linguistic context refers to the connections between words in the text. This requires an understanding of the grammar and structure of the language and consideration of the word based on its relationship to other words in the text. For example, if the word “date” is used as a noun, there are three possible translations (fruit, romantic meeting or a day of the month/year). The translator would need to consider the wider linguistic context and figure out whether the context of the sentence makes sense by taking into account the words that come before and after it.

Situational Context

Situational context is less clear-cut but just as important for producing accurate translations. It takes into account the broader circumstances surrounding the text such as cultural factors, political context and ideologies. Proper situational context is impossible to achieve without a thorough understanding of the culture in which the text was produced. For example, in Australian English, a date is simply a dried fruit, whereas in Arabic religious culture, dates hold a deep religious significance. Similarly, in some societies young people going on a date is a normal and accepted part of the culture, whereas in others this may be considered forbidden or taboo.

So, one simple word “date” can have a multitude of literal and implied meanings, depending on its situational and linguistic context. Translating a text without a thorough understanding of both linguistic and situational context can lead to misinterpretations (e.g. referring to a fruit instead of a romantic meeting) or a loss of more nuanced meanings (e.g. translating the word for a romantic date without conveying the very different way that dating is regarded or valued in the source and target language culture).

How To Ensure That The Translated Context Is Correct?

The only way to ensure that a translated text is as accurate as possible is for the translator to have a real and deep understanding of the source text. In order to achieve this, they will need to have a good understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax and idioms and of that language’s culture. Without an understanding of the text’s context, significant meaning can be lost in the process.

This is the reason why it is important to use a specialised translator in cases where the information being translated is complex or industry-specific (e.g. legal, technical or medical). As specialised fields come with their own vocabulary, jargon and textual norms. Legal, medical and technical language can be difficult for native speakers to understand and interpret.

The importance of context in translation is the main reason why machine translation is often so inaccurate. While some of the most advanced machines try to take linguistic context into account, the linguistic and situational context of text is so nuanced, that a machine will inevitably fail to take into account the context. If the accuracy of your text is important, a human translation is therefore essential.

Taking linguistic and situational context into account is absolutely essential in producing an accurate translation. Only skilled translators are able to properly interpret texts by taking into account the wider context in which it sits. If you are looking for a high-quality translation service, contact Speak Your Language today.