Last week, I attended the conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in New York City. There were several panels on translation, which was exciting to see. However, it seems quite obvious that not everyone really understands what translation is.
At the first panel I attended on translation, one woman (who shall remain nameless) was introduced as "a poet and translator." However, it quickly became clear that this woman was a monolingual. She didn't know the language she was "translating" from, nor did she know much about the culture, and she had never visited the country. How, then, did she translate?
Well, she is a professor at a university. She found a professor in the psychology department who was a native speaker of the language in question; that professor wrote a literal translation of the poem, and our "translator" then rewrote it as she saw fit. In other words, she took word-for-word translations and wrote versions of them.
Versioning is indeed a form of creative writing, but it is not translation. To truly translate, one must know the language the work is written in and the culture that informs the work. There is team-translation, but this doesn't seem to fall into that category.
It was surprising and disappointing that at a major conference, there was such confusion about what translation is.
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