Friday, August 24, 2012

Translationness and “Writers Who Translate”


Many months ago, I attended the London Book Fair, as I have done a number of times in the past. It’s an exhausting but fun trade event, and there are always some good nuggets of information or new ideas.

Daniel Hahn, my colleague at the British Centre for Literary Translation, and Turkish-to-English translator Maureen Freely had a Q&A session about being a translator.

Danny commented at one point, “The target text is the thing.” He spoke about how he wants readers to read his work as though it had been written in English and for them not to consider that it is a translation. Obviously, I disagree with this to a certain extent (read this). But it’s clearly a fine balance.

And meanwhile, Maureen said she thinks about translators as “writers who translate”, so their writing skills matter more than their source language skills.

Both of these are interesting ideas that are highly debated in translation studies. What do you think?

3 comments:

Ana G. said...

I have seen so many translation with errors due to lack of understanding (of the source text) that I think a balance of knowledge of both languages is key. But I was also thinking when reading your post that if a literary work is written in Spanish, for example, but set out in the United States (as might happen in a translation from a US text) the difficulty (for the reader) in rethinking the other culture is also present even if the native language is still Spanish. Writing in one language does not mean the the culture or world is perfectly defined for the writer.

Douglas Carnall said...

Sparkling skills in the target language are obviously necessary, but if they're not matched by a capacity to understand and analyse the source, then the result will be something other than a translation.
It's also worth noting as a matter of practical reality in business that similarly sparkling skills in the source language are an important part of inspiring confidence in your ability in your clientele.
This is doubly important for translators bringing texts into English, a language to which the whole world has a certain sense of propriety. Clients have opinions about translations into English that they probably wouldn't have for other languages.

Darnell King said...

If you have just a base level knowledge of a language, then you are not qualified to be a translator. By all means, try your hand at interpretation. But to translate something (like if you work for a professional translation firm)then you need to have a grasp of the language along with a strong knowledge. There are so many uses of words and phrases that if all you can give is a literal translation, you will be losing out on a good bit of the language.