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Understanding the Concepts of “Fidelity” and “Transparency” in Translation

by Jim Dulin

August 31, 2020

Fidelity and transparency are both necessary for translation, but there are times when they seem to be mutually exclusive. You can either find translations which are faithful to the original text i.e., translations which have fidelity or translations which possess the quality of transparency to readers in the target language. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to find a translation which possesses both these characteristics to the same extent.

What Do “Fidelity” and “Transparency” Mean?

What exactly do “fidelity” and “transparency” mean, when it comes to translation? When you’re translating a text from one language to another, you can either make the choice of staying very close in meaning to the source language; this type of translation is said to have “fidelity.” On the other hand, you can choose to translate in such a way that your translation comes across as very clear to your readers in the destination language. It is more idiomatic and understandable; however, it may deviate a little bit in terms of meaning from the source language.

What’s More Important? Fidelity or Transparency?

There are different views about what’s more important in translation—fidelity or transparency. Many people believe that transparency is more important. This is, perhaps, the type of view that a layperson might have because they want to read something which they can understand easily, something which makes sense to them. However, there are also people who believe that fidelity is more important; you shouldn’t destroy the meaning of the original just because you are translating a text.

Some Texts Require Fidelity and Others Transparency

Eventually, one might want to conclude that both, fidelity and transparency are important. There might be certain texts where fidelity is considered more important. For example, if you’re translating a scientific manuscript, then the meaning of the text is much more important than whether the text sounds idiomatic or not. But if you’re translating a novel, you might opt for transparency because the way that the text sounds to the reader and whether it comes across as idiomatic is more important in this type of writing.

Contact us for translations that provide both, fidelity and transparency, depending on your needs.

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