Thursday, May 10, 2012

Natural Translators and Musicians












When I look for other phenomena in human mental development that show some similarity to translation, music comes to mind.

Music is universal; translating is almost so.

If one admits that culturally different 'musics' (Western European, Chinese, classical and jazz, etc.) are different musical 'languages', then it's possible to be multi-musical as well as multilingual, and even both at the same time.

Both musical and translating ability start so young that one is driven to suspect there is something inherited which facilitates them.
"Babies love the patterns and rhythms of songs. And even young babies can recognize specific melodies once they've heard them...
Young children's developing brains are equipped to learn music. Most four- and five-lyear-olds enjoy making music and can learn the basics of some instruments”
Young children’s developing brains are likewise equipped to learn two or more languages. Once they’ve done that, they can translate between them and most of them enjoy doing so.

Children who learn an instrument, at least in Western societies, soon start to read music; that is to say, they learn to convert between sounds and graphemes. Indeed written instrumental music has its own internal form of transcoding, called ‘transposing’, when the notes aren’t played or sung as they are written.

Children who have learnt to read and write can convert from language graphemes to sounds and vice versa and can translate between both forms.

At the opposite, most developed end of the scale, there are the Experts: opera singers, orchestra players, etc. The Experts may be, but aren’t necessarily, Professionals. My old Ottawa colleague Louis Kelly is an Expert Translator; he’s also an Expert flautist - but not a professional. He’s happy to perform in the large community of ‘amateur musicians’.

And in between there’s a great mass of Native Musicians: people, adults as well as children, who ‘pick up’ music without instruction. In fact most people can sing songs just from having heard them; and my friend Les plays the organ 'from ear' without ever having been taught the keyboard. Like the Native Translators who provide the Language Brokers, for instance.

Admittedly the comparison mustn’t be pushed too far. It would also be possible to draw up a list of the differences between the two. Nevertheless, there’s a progression in both of them from the spontaneous and untrained - the Natural - to the Expert and the Professional, with many Natives in between.

My conclusion is that translating is not so special. Its development is typical of many superficially unrelated human abilities and competences. Football would be another. I only reached Beginner Native Player level at it, but I enjoyed playing along with the Advanced Native Players at school; and I once translated a multimillion-euro contract for the transfer of a Professional Expert.

Reference
Diana Bales. Building Baby's Brain: The Role of Music. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, 1998. Click here for a summary.

Image
Children playing violin at Suzuki Institute, Ithaca NY.
Source: Wikipedia Commons

2 comments:

  1. Hello, my name is Paul Kelly, and I am the webmaster of A-Sign Interpreters, Inc. We are a sign language interpreting agency, and our website is http://asigninterpreters.com. I was wondering if your site would be willing to place a link to our site in exchange for us placing a link to your site?

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  2. Very nice comparison and argument. I really like that you do not do the traditional link "musical" equals good interpreter, but that you rather stress the link between the early exposure and the focused work.
    I'll take this opportunity to tell you that unfortunately I will not see you in Forli next week. I'm very sorry that I cannot go, but our dog is having her first litter of puppies and I cannot leaver her. Sometimes you just can't reconcile work life and family life.
    And finally, I'd just like to tell you that I've changed my blog platform. I've moved to www.interpretings.net
    Kind Regards,
    Elisabet

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