Sunday, July 22, 2007

Birds of a Feather Translate Together

The categorization of translators in an essay entitled “Peacock, Parakeet, Partridge, “Pidgin”: An Orinthology of Translators” in Eugene Chen Euyang’s collection Borrowed Plumage is interesting. He chose different birds as ways of describing different translators and he created a “descriptive taxonomy, using popular images of birds to characterize certain practitioners of the art of translation.…it would not be difficult, if a little malicious, to find translators who might be revealingly identified with buzzards, cormorants, or dodoes.” (151)

For example, Dr. Euyang wrote, “Where the peacock preens proudly in its own glory, the parakeet borrows someone else’s glory. By mimicking the sounds precisely, it makes us almost believe that a bird is saying something human. This uncanny effect is found in a genre of translation that might be characterized as “translatophony,” i.e. rendering the phonetics of an original in one language with approximations in another language. The result is “phony,” of course, in another sense, since the semantics of the words used in the second language do not correspond to the semantics in the original, yet they constitute – by several stretches of the imagination – their own somewhat coherent meaning.” (153)

Meanwhile, the partridge (or grouse) is one who has “the tendency to complain and to grumble.” (156) Examples he offers of these kinds of translators are Edward Fitzgerald (peacock), Luis d’Antin Van Rooten (parakeet), and Vladimir Nabokov (partridge).

Finally, there’s the pidgin, which is a corrupted version of a language.

“Tellingly, each of the four avian counterparts emphasises a different sense; the peacock is clearly visual, and graphic; the parakeet is definitely aural, and phonetic; the grouse is, by instinct, olfactory: he knows when something smells; the “pidgin” is a groper and has only a clumsy tactile sense of words as objects, not as abstractions.” (158)

He closes by saying which bird he’d want to be, and says none: “I try to emulate the chameleon.”

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