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I recently started translating a book from Turkish into English, but I'm not sure how translations are usually carried out. So, for instance, if I encounter a sentence which sounds good in Turkish but (a little) awkward in English (though still grammatically correct)...am I allowed to change the sentence in a way which preserves the meaning? Or should I translate it (almost) word by word and change it only when there is a loss of meaning or some grammatical error? I will give some examples below to clarify my point,

Example 1

"Indeed, if you were to observe that a single man came, drove all the city inhabitants to someplace, and forced them to work on [certain] tasks; you would be certain that the man is not acting in his own name. Perhaps he is a soldier. He acts in the name of the government. He depends on the power of a monarch."

I personally feel that it would be better if I combined the last two sentences.

"Indeed, if you were to observe that a single man came, drove all the city inhabitants to someplace, and forced them to work on [certain] tasks; you would be certain that the man is not acting in his own name. Perhaps he is a soldier. He acts in the name of the government and depends on the power of a monarch."

So am I allowed to combine two sentences which are separate in the original Turkish version. Or should I just translate it as it is?

Example 2

"Oh my proud soul! You are the traveler. This world, on the other hand, is a desert. Your impotence and poverty are boundless. [While] Your enemies and needs are endless. As this is the case, take the name of the Pre-eternal Owner and the Post-Eternal Ruler of this desert, [and thus] be saved from begging the universe and trembling before every event."

I thought it would sound a little awkward to say "Your impotence and poverty are boundless. Your enemies and needs are endless" So I added the word "[While]" in there. But then it seems like it would be better if I combined those two sentences into one: "Your impotence and poverty are boundless, while your enemies and needs are endless."

What should I do in this case?

Edit: To clarify the audience and the content...this book is the work of a prominent scholar in Islam.

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  • I'd suggest finding some English - Turkish translation forums to ask there. Also, try to find some of the most reputable translations in Turkish and compare them with the English originals. – Marius Hancu Apr 13 '15 at 11:23
  • @MariusHancu Actually I'm not translating from English to Turkish, it's the other way around. The above examples are my own translations of the original Turkish text. The question is: how are translations usually done into the English language (are changes usually permitted...etc)? – Erciyes Apr 13 '15 at 11:26
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    Both are recognised and accepted techniques (eg with versions of the Bible, NASB vs The Message). Each has its merits and drawbacks. There's not an overarching 'right answer'. You must decide (preferably after consultation with anyone closely involved – this does not include ELU contributors) which is the better approach in this case. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 13 '15 at 11:28
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    Your question is whether you should attempt as literal a translation as possible, or one that maintains, to a degree at least, the "flow" and "tone" of the original author, and a similar relationship to the two languages' vernacular. This is not a question for this forum, but rather one for your publisher or instructor, or for you to judge on your own based on your understanding of your readers' wants and needs. – Hot Licks Apr 13 '15 at 12:03
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    My wife and some of my friends are translators. They studied this at a university. It took them five years to get their degrees. I don't see how that knowledge could be summarized in an amswer here. – user5645 Apr 13 '15 at 15:26
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Translation is an art, not a science, and some translations strive more for word-for-word accuracy, others for better capturing the overall experience of the original.

In my experience, the approach you take should be matched to your intended audience. When the translation is aimed more at an academic or a scholarly audience, they tend to demand word-for-word accuracy. When you are targeting a general audience, your goal should be readability.

Please note, it is the audience for the translation that is important. A scholarly work can be translated for a general audience, and a work of literature can be translated for scholars. In this particular case, knowing that the author is a scholar does not necessarily tell us the goal of the translation.

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My instinct is to preserve as much of the original rhythm and flow as possible, but to make it sound readable to a native ear. In both your examples, the original uses short, punchy sentences, which is a particular quirk of the writer's style. Smoothing them out by combining them, to my ear, quite literally loses something in translation.

Sometimes it's not possible to preserve every facet of the original. For example, in John Ciardi's excellent translation of Dante's Divina Commedia, there's no way to replicate the terza rima in English. Italian has enough rhymes to allow you to write aba, bcb, cdc, ded and so on, but English doesn't. Ciardi chose to rhyme each first and third line and not worry about matching up second lines with anything else. This gives the flavor of the original without forcing the English into unreadable contortions.

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    +1 I agree with Lauren that in this particular case the shorter sentences have a certain poetry to them that gets lost when you make them more idiomatic. – Chris Sunami Apr 13 '15 at 17:58
  • @ChrisSunami It actually doesn't sound that way when you read it in Turkish. But I guess I should still keep it as it is without making any changes. – Artus Apr 13 '15 at 18:50

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