piranha: red origami crane (Default)
[personal profile] piranha
[livejournal.com profile] papersky has an interesting thread about it here, and i am gonna pull my comment and rewrite it some, since this is the second time i've come across the subject and i don't think i've ever written anything about it.

papersky asked Translations are always inherently reinterpretations of the text. But do they really have to be betrayals?

somebody else linked to this article about jules verne in translation, which reports: She or he was evidently much more anti-Semitic than Verne, and tended to translate what were in the original fairly neutral phrases such as "...said Isaac Hakkabut" with idioms such as "...said the repulsive old Jew." And at one point in the novel she or he simply omitted an entire chapter (number 30) - quite a long one, too - presumably because she or he wasn't interested in, or couldn't be bothered to, turn it into English.

i consider that example to be a betrayal indeed, because it strikes me as conscious, willful distortion.

generally i don't view translations as betrayal, because translators don't generally set out to break an implicit promise to be faithful to the original. i might still feel let down, and i might feel the translator didn't do the work justice. it could be that there is still an element of wrong-doing, even if not on purpose -- if a translator actually did not really understand salient points of the work, that's a serious problem. i think all professional translators should consult with the author of the work, if possible, because that might avoid this kind of thing.

i prefer to read fiction in the original, but there are many languages i don't read well enough, and it would be sad to limit myself to not read books written in those languages at all. but i am worried that a bad translation (where i don't actively know it's bad) will turn me off an author completely. i know this has happened with manga, and i am consciously trying to counteract it now -- but i first needed to have a feel for japanese before i would even notice. i realize very well that Translation Is Hard. languages differ, cultures differ. even cultures speaking the same language differ -- and i don't mean just dutch/flemish/afrikaans, or british/US/canadian english, but a work written in 1850 in canada is embedded in a different culture than a work written in 2007 in canada. i want cultural notes with my fiction. :)

and as a reader, i might want more than one thing from a translation as well -- i might want it to be a thing of similar beauty to the original work, i might want it to have similar resonance, or i might want to get a feel for the different culture. those seem mostly mutually exclusive, and therefore one translation will not serve for all three purposes. i might even want it to be very literal (if i am using it to learn the original's language). is either of them a betrayal though? i don't think so. if you can't serve all masters it's better to pick one and serve zir well.

i decided some years ago to view movies adapted from fiction as "alternate history" of the work, because i was forever getting pissed off that they were "misinterpreting" my favourites. and worse, once i have watched a movie, i can't get its imagery out of my head, it has driven my own out and that feels like a loss because i _liked_ my own interpretation. for example, snape will forever look and sound like alan rickman in my head now. and i am not happy about that. nothing against alan rickman, he's a fine actor and mmmh, hot. but the snape in my head wasn't rickman before i saw the first movie. he wasn't hot. and i prefer my snape over rickman's; he fits better with my own interpretation of the books. i still avoid movies of books i like a great deal because i am too afraid they'll spoil my memories.

this problem isn't as marked with translations because words remain malleable for me, and so i am less likely to feel a translation has ruined the original. but it still helps me to read any translation as an alternate history of the original, and to seek out other interpretations. who knows what the unseen animal really looks like, but reading descriptions from 7 different people who've touched it will likely give a better overall impression than just hearing from one.

whenever i think about this, i shy away from ever sharing my translations of manga. *gah*, how dare i? even if it's just smut; my japanese is so fledgling that i feel very insecure about doing any honour to the original work.

on 2007-11-03 00:17 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] zxhrue.livejournal.com

gah. brain all melty from jet-lag (just back from the otherside). this _very_ resonant. will let subconciousness chew on it during the next sleep period and then comment again.

on 2007-11-03 03:22 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-brat.livejournal.com
Part of the thing that strikes me is the need to be familiar with a wide range of cultural concepts and artifacts. I'm reading a very fine history of Poland "in the short 20th century" (Andrzej Paczkowski The Spring Will Be Ours) translated from the Polish. At some point it mentions Arthur Miller's play The Witches of Salem. Ummmmm. I'm pretty sure they mean The Crucible and the translator just doesn't know American literature enough to realize that the title was adjusted in translation for Polish audiences. The irony is that she adjusted the title of Paczkowski's book for American audiences. The literal translation from the Polish would be "A Half Century of Polish History."

And yet, since I'm reading it in English even though there has been a Polish language edition on my shelf for about five years now, it's rather brazen of me to comment on the translation at all.

on 2007-11-03 03:27 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-brat.livejournal.com
i still avoid movies of books i like a great deal because i am too afraid they'll spoil my memories.

Everyone tells me that the movie version of The Lord of the Rings is wonderful, but I just can't bring myself to see it.

on 2007-11-03 08:08 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] daev.livejournal.com
A few years ago I joined a LiveJournal community called [livejournal.com profile] linguaphiles, which is a very busy mix of language student discussions, linguistics, and How-Do-You-Say requests. After a few too many inquiries looking for "translations" of American English trendy catchphrases or gussied-up fantasy novel incantations, I decided that the only useful way to answer a translation request is to answer the question "How would a native of the community that uses this language react verbally if they were in the same situation, trying to convey the same intent?" Unfortunately, this does leaves you at a loss when someone asks "What are the Ancient Latin, Sumerian, Hawaiian, and Heiroglyphic Luwian for 'Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart, have a nice day'?"

on 2007-11-04 16:23 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] amagranz.livejournal.com
...and if you want to translate the deep context, you don't even have to go to ancient latin, or talk about walmart -- how would you translate "have a nice day" into any language other than american english and retain the full set of cultural meanings it conveys? to wish someone a nice day in paris means something different than wishing them a nice day in urbana. could you really translate the american "have a nice day" to somebody who didn't already have a feeling for what it means without a paragraph of footnotes?

on 2007-11-03 09:07 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] lizw.livejournal.com
therefore one translation will not serve for all three purposes

Yes, I've long advocated the use of different Bible translations for public worship and private study, for this reason. It's surprising how many people want there to be a single translation that is The Best for everything.

on 2007-11-03 12:48 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] papersky.livejournal.com
Well maybe with someone's central religious text they need a pile of translations, but if I'm going to read a novel from another language I'm not about to spend three times in money and time what I would on an English novel to get all the resonances.

on 2007-11-03 13:45 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-brat.livejournal.com
But if you were studying the novel rather than reading it for fun, you might. if I'm looking at how Maryse Conde uses allusion to The Scarlet Letter to build her story in Moi, Tituba, one translation (especially the one that exists) might not do it.

on 2007-11-07 02:56 (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] beckyzoole.livejournal.com
a work written in 1850 in canada is embedded in a different culture than a work written in 2007 in canada

Oh yes!

The first time I read The Silmarillion, I recall saying that I wish it were available in a modern translation.


piranha: red origami crane (Default)
renaissance poisson

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