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Reverse Engineering: A fresh perspective on defining translation and remodeling the process


Ever since the establishment of Translation Studies as an independent academic discipline in the 1970s, there has been an ongoing debate about the relationship between theory and practice, to which this paper aims to make a modest practical contribution in the form of a novel procedure for textual analysis and synthesis. Intellectual advances are often triggered by flashes of inspiration which suggest analogies that facilitate shifts in perception and focus that, in turn, lead to changes in understanding. What is offered here may not be a flash of inspiration but is, at least, a new analogy for the definition of translation: Translation is a kind of engineering, specifically reverse engineering. Through the lens of RE, translation redefines itself as a mental-physical, two-phase, input-output process in which texts are deconstructed (read and understood) and reconstructed (written) as new texts that resemble the originals but are not copies of them. This suggests a model of translating that recognizes the crucial role of efficient reading in the process of translating and is realized in the form of a straight-forward, simple but revealing Procedure: a mechanism for expanding the individual translator’s competence as a reader and as a writer and for sharing this increased expertise with others. The approach outlined here, Translation as Reverse Engineering (TARE), would not exist but for insights from others, in particular a specific proposal from Ali Darwish (2008) and, crucially, from the broad sweep of Hallidayan Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), with its view of language as purposeful social action (1978) and the more recent translation-oriented work of Munday et al. (2008, 2021). The Procedure is described in detail and is demonstrated in action in the deconstruction and potential reconstruction of three short texts. The value of the approach may lie in the way it facilitates the work of the translator and, by becoming part of his or her toolkit (to borrow Chesterman & Wagner’s 2002 term), perhaps, contributing to bridging the current gap between theory and practice.


reading, translation, reverse engineering, meaning, memory



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