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Why does a Translator need to be a Linguist?

What makes a professional linguist?

For starters, linguists:

  • Are bilingual (or multi-lingual) speakers; not just capable in another language but fluent
  • Have advanced knowledge of the technical aspects of language, possess an understanding of sociolinguistics, which is the understanding of speakers’ backgrounds (socioeconomic group, degree of education, age, etc.) based on how they speak.
  • Maintain specialization in a certain area such as legal translations, medical, IT/Telco, automotive, etc.
  • Have experience doing professional translations

So, it is one thing to be bilingual or ‘fluent’ in the language, but to understand the underlying message and intent of the words is something much deeper altogether.

Almost all professional translators have degrees in linguistics or a related field (translation, their second language, etc).

Linguistics can include courses on topics such as:

  • Translation Theory and Practice
  • Problems of Translation
  • Phonetics and Pronunciation
  • Culture / Civilization /Literature
  • Theoretical Concepts of Translation Studies
  • Text Analysis for Translation
  • The Translation Profession
  • Research Methods

Linguistics is not just about translation.  Linguistics can be anything involving the scientific analysis of language: its structure, its history, its change over time (diachronic), dialects, the relations between languages, the use of language in different contexts (social, professional, etc.), how babies learn language, second language acquisition, phonetics/phonology , sounds of language, etc. These are all covered in different (fascinating) subfields of linguistics.

Generally, translators seek Bachelor’s degrees in linguistics, but Master’s degrees are available as well.


What you need to know sending your document for translation:

  • The bilingual guy in the next cube should probably not be translating your marketing material
  • The education and experience required to be a good translator is fairly extensive
  • Such a high level of expertise does not typically come cheap.

So ultimately, translation is not a cost – it is an investment in the right company that provides professional translators, as their linguist experts.

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2 Comments on Why does a Translator need to be a Linguist?

  1. Motorcycle guy on Sat, 3rd Mar 2012 08:44
  2. Excellent post thank you!

  3. admin on Mon, 5th Mar 2012 18:44
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