The Usefulness of Back-translation

 As has been mentioned before, when we speak of back-translation, we’re referring to translating a text (that’s already been translated) back to its original language. This is done without consulting the original text, as a way of ensuring the quality of the translation. Just as we may calculate the inverse operation to confirm the product in mathematics, in translation we rely on back-translations as a tool to test faithfulness to the original document.

Nonetheless, several variables come into play and we should not always trust in back-translations to check a translation, especially in the case of literature. Mark Twain, in 1903, published three versions of his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”: the original version in English, the translation into French, and the back-translation to English. He did it in a humorous way, evidenced by the fact that the result of the back-translation was far from close to the original.

Notwithstanding, in documents of great importance or that ought to be the most trustworthy possible, it is exceedingly useful to contract a back-translation service to check that the meaning of the original text has been transmitted in the translation in a coherent and suitable way.

On the other hand, in the area of recovery of historical documents, back-translation plays an important role: some times it is the case that an original text has been lost and only the translation has survived. By creating a back-translation, we can get an idea of what the text would have been like in its original language. One of the best known cases is that of Jan Potocki’s novel The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. This book was written in French but portions of it were lost. The missing fragments could be found in the Polish translation made by Edmund Chojecki in 1847. From this translation, a back-translation was carried out and thus the book was completed in its original language.

Likewise, if it is suspected that a document is a translation – and not an original – a back-translation can be made to analyze, in this way, if the plays on words and idioms, among other things, make more sense in the hypothetical original language.

As we can see, back-translation has many different and exciting uses. If you believe that a back-translation is necessary, don’t hesitate to contact Trusted Translations for more information about this process.


(Versión en español: