I’m something of a known curmudgeon, but I do feel I get annoyed about things for sensible reasons for the most part. One of the issues I find most annoying is how book reviews so often ignore the fact that they are reviewing translations or articles talk about translated texts as though they were just written in the target language. Frequently, they don’t acknowledge that the word choices or the style they so admire actually comes from the translator, not the author. Sometimes they don’t even bother to mention the translator.
I previously wrote here about my annoyance with a food magazine that quoted from my translations and didn’t see the need to mention that the Swedish dishes they so admired had been written in, um, Swedish, and that the chef they thought had a fun way with words was, um, actually translated by yours truly. The magazine didn’t care when I wrote to them to tell them.
A picture book I use in one of my classes at the university was translated from the Dutch, but no translator’s name is given in the book. When I wrote to the publisher, I received the very helpful response that “it wasn’t [their] problem” and they couldn’t even tell me who the translator was.
A few weeks ago, on the train back from London where I’d been giving a lecture, I read the Evening Standard. Reviewer William Leith reviewed two translated books and failed to mention the translator in both cases. He commented on the lovely language, but clearly without a thought as to how that language made its way into English. I sent him an email and also “Tweeted” the newspaper on Twitter, but without getting a response.
You might think that I ought to give up. You might tell me that people won’t change so I’m wasting my time.
But I don’t believe that. There have been quite a few times when I have gotten a response that said, “I never thought about it. Thanks for opening my eyes.” Or, “That hadn’t occurred to me.” Or, “You’re right. I’ll improve.” So people can learn and they can change their treatment of translators. And helping to make translators visible is important work.
So here’s my suggestion. Let’s all write to editors, authors, and publishers every time we see translators ignored. We might not change all minds, but we can certainly change a few.
Let’s make translation more visible, one person at a time.