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Picking the rendition that feels right (abduction)

And at last, of course, they have to make a decision. Language is an infinitely

fascinating subject for translators, and many of them could go on worrying a problem

area for days, weeks — perhaps even forever. Fortunately or unfortunately, clients and

agencies are rarely willing to wait that long, and at some point translators must put

a stop to the analytical process and say "that's good enough" (see Pym 1993: 113—16).

Just when that point is, when translators will feel comfortable enough with a

solution to move on, is impossible to predict — even for the translators themselves.

The feeling of being satisfied with a solution, and of knowing that you are satisfied

enough to move on, is rarely subject to rational analysis. It comes abductively, as an

intuitive leap; the swirl of certainties and uncertainties, the mixture of conviction

("this seems like a good word, maybe even the right word") and doubt ("but I know

there's a better one"), eventually filter out into a sudden moment of clarity in which

a decision is made. Not necessarily a perfect or ultimate decision; the translator

may have to go back and change it later. But a decision nonetheless. A decision to

move on.

And in the end it does come down to this: with all the professional expertise

and craftsmanship in the world, with decades of experience and a fine, even

perfectionist, attention to detail, every translator does finally translate by the seat

of his or her pants, picking the rendition that feels right. This may not be the ultimate

arbiter in the translation process as a whole — the translator's work will almost

certainly be edited by others — but it is the ultimate arbiter for the translator as a

trained professional, working alone. The translator's "feeling" of "rightness" draws

on the full range of his or her professionial knowledge and skill; but it is in the

end nevertheless a feeling, a hunch, an intuitive sense. The translation feels right —

or it feels right enough to send off. It is made up of thousands of decisions based

ultimately on this same criterion, most made quickly, subliminally, without analytical

reflection; some made painstakingly, with full conscious awareness, checking of

authorities, and logical reasoning; but all relying finally on the translator's abductive

seal of approval: okay, that'll do.

The difference between a good translator and a mediocre one is not, in other

words, that the former translates carefully, consciously, analytically, and the latter

relies too heavily upon intuition and raw feels. Both the good translator and

the mediocre translator rely heavily on analysis and intuition, on conscious and

subliminal processing. The difference is that the good translator has trained his or

her intuitions more thoroughly than the mediocre one, and in relying on those

intuitions is actually relying on years of internalized experience and intelligent


On the other hand, no one's intuitions are ever fully trained. Good translators

are lifelong learners, always looking for more cultural knowledge, more words and

phrases, more experience of different text types, more transfer patterns, more

solutions to complex problems. Translation is intelligent activity requiring constant

growth, learning, self-expansion.

In that sense we are all, always, becoming translators.