Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Translation Matters

I read Edith Grossman’s book Why Translation Matters and quite enjoyed it.

For those of us in translation already, Ms. Grossman is preaching to the choir, but she preaches so beautifully, so I recommend her book. She argues for the significance of translated work: for example, there are thousands of languages out there, though not all of them are written. Who would ever be able to read books in even a small percentage of those languages? Translation makes works available to us.

She also refers to the usual question of whether translation is possible. She writes, “It would never occur to anyone to ask whether it is feasible for an actor to perform a dramatic role or a musician to interpret a piece of music. Of course it is feasible, just as it is possible for a translator to rewrite a work of literature in another language.” (12) The question we should focus on, perhaps, is how well it can be or has been done.

Ms. Grossman also discusses xenophobia in the US and how this affects translation and, a related issue, how this is the case in the UK too. She points out that UK publishers “Anglicize” translations so they seem more British.

Other topics discussed here are how she translated Cervantes (she did not compared previous translations and she did decide to use footnotes), her work translating other authors, translating poetry in particular, her list of what she considers to be the most important translations, and her idea of how translations are never final (finality is bestowed by publishers’ due dates), among other things.


Anonymous said...

Great!!! I am a fan of Ms Grossman as well! It is so rare to find suitable translators who actually get the text and adapt it culturally to the target audience. Most translation companies have really good translators and sometimes you do not feel like you're reading a translation but an original :)

Svetlana said...

I have recently also read her book and agree that it's a great source for all translators!

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Alex Moen said...

An interesting post. When translating (especially older or less common languages) you run into issues of not just getting the words correct, but also conveying the proper meaning and context. I suppose it would be similar to when we first picked up a Shakespeare book in grade school and more or less understood the words, but had to be informed about their meaning from the time.

I do sometimes wonder (and part of your post alludes to this), however, if it's like we're making copies of copies, and eventually a translated work might be virtually indistinguishable from its original point.