The Importance of Context

Open a painter program on your computer. Using a shapes creator tool draw as perfect of a circle as you can. This circle represents your vision, an idea of something.

Next, use the pen or free drawing tool to draw a circle. Not quite as easy, is it? This free drawing represents your verbal expression of that vision. Language by its nature is imperfect, just like your hand-drawn circle, but it is still a pretty good depiction of your original idea. It looks pretty much like a circle.

Now using a red pen and the same free drawing tool, try to copy the second circle including all the imperfections and notches. Pretty hard, right? What if you didn’t know that the second drawing was an attempt to draw a circle and you were told simply to copy it? Would your drawing be any different?

If a translator is asked to translate something using only the source text it often ends up like your red drawing. Without knowing that the second figure was meant to be a circle you may end up with something unrecognizable.  Add to that the fact that language, unlike your black circle, is filled with a myriad of color – descriptive words, adjectives and adverbs that bring the text to life, and the job of creating a replica becomes even more difficult.

Additionally, if the source text is flawed there is only so much a translator can do. Translators half a world away without any supporting documents or instructions cannot be expected to fill in gaps they don’t and can’t know are there. It is impossible to know the author’s original vision or intent without guidance.

Like we said at the start, all language is imperfect; however, we can do a much better job when supporting information and instructions are included with the source text. Include us in your vision and we’ll help you share it with the world.