An interview On Translation with Sabir Hasan Rasul

1. Aras Ahmed: What is your definition of translation? What’s the importance of translation in this commercial and technological world?

Sabir Hasan: The definition of translation depends on the perspective from which translation is viewed. If it is viewed as a process, then I will share Juliane House’s opinion that “translation is the replacement of a text in the source language by a semantically and pragmatically equivalent text in the target language” (1997: 31). However, if translation is viewed as a product, then it refers to any texts, which was originally written in a different language, whether it be an instruction manual, a newspaper article, a whole book, etc.

There is a heated debate around the importance of translation in today’s world where there is a general tendency towards cosmopolitanism. Some undermine the role of translation due to the influence of globalisation, believing that the majority of people on the planet speak English as mother tongue or first language or second language, and culture should not be a problem since in cosmopolitanism there is one universal culture.

In contrast, others believe that translation studies and activities are increasingly growing not only interlingually (between different languages), but also intralingually (within the same language). Consider, for example, Harry Potter was originally written in British English and translated into American English.

In the Kurdish context, many media players translate between Kurdish Sorani and Bahdini. I personally support the latter opinion and believe that translation is (and will remain) a crucial practice to bridge cultures and assist human communication.

As an example to underline the importance of translation, I hereby urge the Kurdistan Regional Government to get all medication instructions translated into Kurdish. The importance of this endeavour is threefold: (1) It helps Kurdish patients better understand the nature and usage of the medications they are to take; (2) It creates an abundance of jobs for translators working between English, Arabic and Kurdish, since most of the current instructions available in Kurdistan are either in English or Arabic; last but no means least, (3) It helps to develop Kurdish terminology and lexicon in the field of medicine.

2. Aras Ahmed: Is translation a job or an art? What is the bedrock for the act of translation?

Sabir Hasan: It is true that in 1950s Jamal Nebez stated that ‘translation is an art’, and it is true that translation is a ‘job’ in the world of career. Yet, before we consider translation as to whether it is a job or an art, it should be considered an academic discipline.

In recent years, it has been even considered an interdisciplinary subject area, with translation being a hub linked to linguistics in 1960s, culture in 1980s, and power, ideology and identity in recent years, especially after the birth of two influential books: first, 4D06%4D06Translation And Conflict: A Narrative Account (2006) by Mona Baker from the University of Manchester, UK; and second, Translation and Identity (2006) by Michael Cronin from Dublin City University, Ireland.

As for the fundamental principles in translation, first of all, good knowledge of the two languages is a prerequisite; one cannot embark on the act of translation while in the process of learning the second language, unless they translate for training purposes. Second, a good understanding of the two cultures involved; different cultures have different norms and values, and translators should understand such norms and values before taking on the act of translation.

Third, the skopos of translation, which “is the Greek word for ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ and was introduced into translation theory in the 1970s by Hans J. Vermeer (1930-2010) as a technical term for the purpose of a translation and of the action of translating” (Munday 2012: 122). In my view, the skopos of translation subsumes understanding the nature of the target readership; translating an opinion article for the public is different from translating a scientific or technical text for a group of specialists.

3. Aras Ahmed: Meaning is often lost in translation. How does that make you feel as a translator?

Sabir Hasan: In fact, translators encounter with situations where it is difficult to preserve both content and form (meaning and stylistic features). It is crucially important to understand what text type you are translating and what the purpose of the translation is. If you are translating a poem, the stylistic features of the text are of primary importance. Hence, loss of meaning is not as significant as sound effect and rhyme, for instance.

However, if you are translating a legal document, then accuracy takes precedence over fluency or style. In such a case, a competent translator would aim for greatest accuracy in meaning by translating the document as close to the source text as possible.

This may involve compromising some formal futures for favour of accuracy in meaning. As a general rule, in texts where the content is more important accuracy should be prioritised, whereas in texts where form is more important priority should be given to fluency. As long as this general rule is taken into account, the translation product is considered appropriate and acceptable.

4. Aras Ahmed: Which one is preferable; sense-for-sense or literal translation? Do you think a holy book like the Quran can accept free translation?

Sabir Hasan: First of all, the debate over sense-for-sense (free) or word-for-word (literal) is now old-fashioned. To systematise the two concepts, several translation scholars developed the two notions of free and literal translation. In the contemporary Translation Studies, they are arguably replaced by Eugen Nida’s (1964) ‘formal and dynamic equivalence’, Peter Newmark’s (1988) ‘communicative and semantic translation’ and Julian House’s (1997) ‘overt and covert translation’.

To choose one approach over another is not the matter of preference, it is actually bound to various factors, I have already mentioned some of them above such as: text type, the target readership and the purpose of the translation. In the case of the holy Quran, there are already various translation versions available, each taking a certain approach. To demonstrate this, it is best to refer to Professor James Dinkins’ explanation of three translations of Surat Alikhlas:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ ۞ اللَّهُ الصَّمَدُ ۞ لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ ۞ وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ

First version, translated by Rodwell

In the name of God. the Compassionate, the Merciful

1. SAY: He is God alone:

2. God the eternal!

3. He begetteth not, and He is not begotten

4. And there is none like unto Him.

Second version, translated by AI-HilaIi and Khan

In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

1. Say, O Muhammad: He is Allah, (the) One.

2. Allah As-Samad (the Self-Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need. He neither eats nor drinks).

3. He begets not, nor was He begotten,

4. And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.

And third version, translated by Turner

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

1. Say: ‘My God is One;

2. The cosmos is a manifestation of His eternal names, for He is mirrored in all things in a most subtle manner, and He is free from all wants and needs.

3. He does not beget or produce anything, nor is he begotten or produced by anything

4. And there is nothing in the whole of the cosmos that can be likened to Him.’ As can be seen, the approaches taken in rendering these verses are significantly different. The first version, translated by Rodwell, is rather a literal translation; it is close to the original verse both in meaning and form, it is also relatively as short as the original.

The third version, translated by Turner, is rather a free translation; it provides more information to communicate the deeper meaning of the verses. The second version, translated by AI-HilaIi and Khan, stands somewhere in the middle of the two poles of literal and free translation.

Of course, all of them are appropriate translations; for someone who seeks to closely understand the words of Allah, the more literally translated version is probably the best. However, for someone who seeks to understand the deeper meaning of the verses, the more freely translated version can be the best.

5. Aras Ahmed: What are the most obvious problems that translators encounter during translating a text from source language into target language?

Sabir Hasan: The problems encountered by translators are either linguistic or meta-linguistic. Linguistic problems include systemic differences between the two languages, the issue of equivalence, the issues of idioms and metaphors, jargons and technical terms, the matter of formality, language varietal, etc. each of these issues are can be considered a separate topic in Translation Studies. As for the metalinguistic problems, it basically revolves around issues such as sociocultural encounters, translation norms, ideological influences, etc.


Baker, M. (2006) Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account, Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Cronin, M. (2006) Translation and Identity, Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Dickens, J., S. Hervey and I. Higgins (2002) Thinking Arabic Translation: A Course in Translation Method – Arabic to English, London and New York: Routledge.

House, J. (1997) Translation Quality Assessment: A Model Revisited, Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

Munday, J. (2012) Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Newmark, P. (1988) Approaches to Translation, London and New York: Prentice Hall.

Nida, E.A. (1964) Toward a Science of Translating, Leiden: E. J. Brill.


Sabir Hasan received BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Sulaimani, and MA in TESOL at the University of Liverpool. He is currently a PhD student at the Centre for Translation Studies, University of Leeds. Sabir worked as an assistant lecturer at the University of Human Development (2009-2011). Apart from his PhD research, he is also a part-time freelance translator and interpreter in the UK, working closely with the Kurdish community in the UK.


Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012.He is a columnist for the Kurdistan Tribune and a contributing writer for the He is the Cultural Analyst at the Kurdish Review Newspaper, the only Kurdish-American newspaper in print.