Textual Properties in German Translations I

When performing German translations, a translator should consider the textual properties of the source document and try to discover why the original author used them so that he or she can replicate the intended purpose in the target text. This involves examining the source text on its most basic levels, working even beneath the level of comprehensive language. Although any changes on this level might be irrelevant to the translation of a tax form or legal document, more creative translation projects, such as speeches, advertisements, songs, and literature would suffer immeasurably if these basic elements are not taken into account. In order to truly replicate the author's intended purpose, message, and literary style, German translations must incorporate the decisions that the author made on a phonic/graphic and prosodic level.

Careful Handling

While it is possible for certain German translations, such as official documents or technical papers, to be completed without regard for phonic or graphic elements, this can ruin the effectiveness of an advertisement or the appeal of a popular song. Phonemes ”which are the discrete sounds that, when combined, make up words” are especially important in this respect. If the translator fails to take into account the reasons why an author might have used phonic elements, such as alliteration, assonance, and rhyme, to create certain effects within a source text, the losses to the target text could be anything from the deeper meaning achieved through sonic symbolism in the case of a poem or novel to the psychological appeal to a mass audience in the case of a political speech or advertisement. Graphic elements are also important in this respect. Some German translations in which these elements are not incorporated into the finished product will experience unnecessary loss of meaning because of it.

Prosodic Elements

Another vital series of elements that can profoundly affect finished German translations are the prosodic elements, which apply largely to texts that are meant to be read aloud, but can also apply to texts meant to simulate speech, such as the dialogue in a novel. This category breaks down into three elements: vocal stress, intonation, and speed of delivery. Changing the stress of a word or phrase”putting the accent, or emphasis, on a syllable that is different from the one typically stressed”can create different rhythmic effects within a text. Intonation, or inflection, can change the way a sentence is read entirely. For instance, the question, "You're not playing ball this afternoon?" takes on a completely new meaning if intoned as a command: "You're not playing ball this afternoon!" Finally, the speed at which the text is spoken can also play a role in determining the meaning that its audience takes away.

It is necessary for a translator to examine these elements carefully when completing German translations on texts in which they play a factor. He or she can then assess what effects, if any, they have in the source text and decide whether or not to replicate them in the target text.


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