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What is the difference between translation and paraphrasing? bY Japanese Translation Services


At first glance, the difference between translation and paraphrasing seems very straightforward.

by Japanese Translation Services

Translation involves starting with one language (source language) and ending with another language (target language). According to the Oxford English dictionary, to paraphrase means to

“express the meaning of (something written or spoken) using different words, especially to achieve greater clarity.”

So, in a sense, paraphrasing is translation when the source and target language are the same. If we look, however, at what translation is, or at least what it should be, we can see that paraphrasing is an essential part of translation.

It is a fact with translation that the audience for an original (source) document and the translated (target) document will normally be mutually exclusive. This is because, when given the option, people will generally choose to read a document in the language in which they are most comfortable. Apart from situations when translating between different languages spoken within the same country (if, say, you were translating between French and Flemish for Belgian nationals), there are normally major cultural differences between the respective audiences.

The role of the translator, therefore, goes beyond simply rewriting everything existing in the source language document in the translation, and involves communicating the ideas in a way that the target reader, with their specific national and cultural background, can understand. An example of this would be correspondence between a student and professor at a university. In English, similar language would be used by the two parties. In Japanese, however, the student would need to show deference to the professor. If the aforementioned correspondence was translated English to Japanese literally, the reader would find it very confusing as the status of the parties is unclear.

It is necessary, therefore, to change the way that the ideas are expressed to adjust for the cultural differences between Western countries and Japan. You are expressing the meaning of something using different words to achieve greater clarity. Does this sound familiar? A professional translator will incorporate paraphrasing skills into their Japanese translation to add cultural sensitivity to the final product and clarify the intended meaning to the reader. 

In conclusion, although at first glance translation and paraphrasing would seem completely different activities, it can be argued that paraphrasing is a necessary part of translation to bridge the gap between the cultural backgrounds that exist between the respective audiences for the source and target document.



About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, the owner of Translation Services Japan, Tokyo Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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