As we all know, words do not possess one strict and fixed meaning but may change their interpretation depending on the context in which they are spoken. Speakers use contextual information — which we could describe as any information surrounding or accompanying language—to help us interpret it. Non-verbal language such as facial expressions, postures, gestures, and tone of voice all give us context. Misunderstandings can easily arise if one is not aware of and attentive to contextual information; actually, this does not only happen between speakers but it also extends to any written text: misinterpretation may occur in the translation of a newspaper headline or in a short text message devoid of context.
In the study of early language development, we learn that language involves the categorisation of sounds and words into ‘units’. Naturally, in the process of learning language children make mistakes in interpreting what words mean and how to use them. Experts note that they might use a given word inappropriately: a typical example is when a child calls all grown-up women “mummy”. This once again clearly demonstates the importance of context, and we can easily see that even when we are translating content, it is easy to translate terms inappropriately too if there is insufficient context! Children use contextual information, particularly the cues that parents provide, to help them learn language, so much so that infant children are usually very attuned to the tone of voice of the speaker rather than the actual words! Even though at first glance there might seem to be no connection between the two, this insight into language development in the early years in relation to context sheds light, by analogy, on the direct relationship between context and meaning in the sphere of translation and interpreting.
If we go back to the way children learn language, another observation points to parents or caregivers who usually look or point at the things they are referring to when speaking, since this too provides the context and makes understanding easier. Likewise, a translator cannot produce the best of translations unless he/she is provided with the widest context possible, which in the translation industry may mean reference documents, background reading, subject researching, and also images and/or video/audio material in some cases. To be able to convey the right tone of voice in a translation, the translator needs to be aware of the author’s emotional cues as these are directly reflected in the text, and thus to its translation in one or more languages. Children too draw meaning from the emotional aspect given to words.
Ultimately the best translation a translator can produce, especially but not limited to literary translations or narrative translations, is the one where you as a reader can feel engaged without realising it is a translation, and this happens through the power of language and context. If you require any translation services, choose the Best Translation Services you can get! Get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide you with a quote for free.