Useful Art of Interlingual Translation

By Hu Wo (Cuckoo’s Song)


THERE are generally two forms of change in languages: translation and interpretation. The word translation comes from the Latin word `translatum´, which means `a carrying across´ or `a bringing across´. According to Oxford Dictionary of English, translation is termed a text or work that has been changed from one language into another. By Longman Advanced American Dictionary, translation is defined as the process or result of changing speech or writing into another language. The first translation is supposed to have been a poem called `The Epic of Gilgamesh´ that was originally written in Sumerian. In addition, it is said that the Babylonians were the first to establish translation professionally, and Saint Jerome is considered to be the father of translation. It is also believed that the beginnings of machine translation were in the 9th century. Jakobson has described three types of translation as intralingual, interlingual and intersemiotic, in which intralingual translation denotes a sort of translation within one language i.e. rewarding or paraphrasing, interlingual translation between two languages, and intersemiotic translation between signs and symbols. Among these three sorts of translation, the interlingual translation will just be emphasized here.


The part of translated literature has been playing far and wide in the field of Myanmar literature for ages. Maybe the art of translation was made as far back as the Bagan Age in the history of Myanmar. In her tablet of stone, Theingathu’s daughter had translated the six truths of suffering from Pali into Myanmar, relying on Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta firstly preached by Buddha, where the sufferings say birth, old age, death, association with those whom one does not love, separation from those whom one does love, and not getting what one wants. Several ages afterwards translation from English into Myanmar was well known here and there in the country. Of Myanmar literature in translation, Shwe Ou Daung’s translated detective stories and Mya Than Tint’s pieces of translation writing still enjoy widespread popularity among most Myanmar youth readers. The four Myanmar books in translation that I enjoy reading most are `Mingalaba-Sayama (Good morning, Miss Dove) by Tite Soe, `Chitthaw-Saya´ (To Sir, With Love) by Saw Shwe Bo, `Thaykanesitetaenya-nint-achar-wuttutomyar´ (The Night My Number Came Up and Other Stories) by Aung Thinn, and `Mopason-wuttutomyar´ (The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant) by Mg Htin. I really love the translation works of Thakhin Ba Thaung, Lin Yone Maung Maung and Tin Maung Myint as well.


Some readers do not read books in translation at all since perhaps they would like to read only original ones or they want to shun the gamut of translation even on purpose. Even some writers disapprove of translators among themselves only; the translators are condemned as not being original authors by a number of literary critics. That is why translators tend to lose face in comparison with other writers on account of their translation writing. Even worse, they will be criticized for doing a translation inaccurately by both their readers and other translators if they have made a careless error in translation, or mistranslation. Of course, readers who are indifferent to translation as well as having a little language proficiency, me also included in the past, look down their noses at translators simply because they seem to find it easy to make a translation. They think wrong that they could translate any piece of writing as easy as falling off a log even if they have got a few bilingual dictionaries of its related languages. However, there is more in translation than they had ever thought. For such readers, what advice I will give them is just try and translate to see whether doing a translation job is child’s play or not.


There are found two main kinds of translation, a rough translation and a literal translation. The first kind of translation should include the adoption of words and adaptation of ideas, but the other kind of translation might contain the meta phrasing of all subject matter and moderating of food for thought. Whichever translation is used, any translator must have to fulfil three great basic requirements for translation – 1) the mastery of the source and target languages, 2) the grasp of the subject matter being translated, and 3) the awareness of the target audience – as much as he can before his useful art of translation. To get mastery of languages, a translator must read enough for a wide variety of literature, including not only classic literature but also modern literature, and even lyrics. He must have had a richness of vocabulary, choice of words in use, terminological terms, euphemistic expressions, metaphorical language, onomatopoeic words, grammatical patterns and exceptions from poetry, prose and drama. He has to make himself understand the subject matter to be translated at first and then translate it out deeply, simply and clearly to readers. By the time he does so, he must be able to catch the first writer’s particular writing style and priceless usage lest those things should remain undetected due to his poor effort, too. What is more, some translator needs to be well aware of their target translation audience. He ought to do translating effectively and efficiently, depending upon his audience’s literacy, likes and interests.


I have been interested in translation since my middle school student life. At that time, I tried translating my English lessons into my first language orally as a little student before and after they had been taught by my school teachers. I read those lessons aloud, but if there looked anything inappropriate with my hearing, I used to translate them again and again. Sometimes I had to translate the lessons word for word, sometimes in phrases, sometimes in clauses, and sometimes even in the whole sentence. Only occasionally did I get my translation wrong under the illusion that I would get it right by comparison with my mother tongue culture. It is best if translators have a broad range of background knowledge about a piece of subject matter that will be translated, for example, its ancient history. Additionally, it would be better for them to keep more and more dictionaries of different languages and academic fields at hand in order that these dictionaries can be used at once if need be. As mentioned above, the ones who would prefer original writing to translation included me. Nevertheless, we should read translation very well until we have picked up original books from somewhere. If not, we will just get to know nothing from either translated books or original ones. Having recognized that translation is not a piece of cake, I absolutely feel sympathetic towards translators who are scratching a decent living from the freelance translating profession.


As regards the art of translation, the ten commandments that had been described in John O’ London magazine are summarized as follows.


1) You shall make the exact and equivalent rendering of each thought of the author

2) You shall seek to give your translation the same form, rhythm, tone and flow as the original.

3) You shall not adhere to the original syntax slavishly, but heed the logic of the sentence structure carefully.

4) You shall never presume to correct the author even when he appears to talk nonsense.

5) You shall read your translation loud.

6) You shall have mastered the foreign language sufficiently to recognise all technical expressions as such.

7) You shall not translate every elegant foreign phrase word for word; every language has its birdlime, pitfalls and spring guns.

8) You shall continue studying your mother tongue.

9) You shall erase the word `untranslatable´ from your vocabulary once and for all.

10) You shall not rest until you are certain that your translation is only good when it is not recognized as one; you will never achieve this by a dictionary alone for translation requires both feelings and thought.

Above all, every translator should notice that languages may be similar in features, but hardly ever identical. Any excellent translation must primarily have linguistic characteristics i.e., accuracy, beauty and clarity, and its standard value will usually depend on the target readers’ critical appraisals. Machine translation and modern software like Google Translate might not possibly translate as precisely as human translators. In the book `Sarpay Lawka´ (The Field of Literature), a collection of articles by Thawda Swe from Seikkuchocho Publishing House, he said that the literature of humour can look like the most difficult to be translatable to the point because of cultural differences only. In actual fact, translation serves as a bridge between languages, that is to say, readers overcome the language barrier by reading books in translation from their foreign languages so as to dig up what they are entirely curious about. Furthermore, translation creates the all-round improvement in many languages such as the aspects of knowledge, skill and attitude that international writers have put on languages. We readers should, therefore, try to study or make a translation in order to obtain an acquired taste by doing so, at the very least.


1. Google Search

2. Practical Guide and Instruction on the Art of Translation (Hla Thamane)

3. Bathapyan (Sarpay Beikman)