Saturday, October 14, 2006

Translation and the Nobel Prize

I am not sure how many, if indeed any at all, members of the Swedish Academy can read Turkish. I doubt that all the members know Turkish, which suggests that when the Academy chose Orhan Pamuk as this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, some of the members had read his works in translation, presumably Swedish translation. Clearly, this must influence how they experienced his fiction.

What’s more, I recently heard that the Swedish publishers of Mr. Pamuk’s books offered such a small fee to potential Turkish to Swedish literary translators that they were forced instead to rely on English to Swedish translators. In other words, the Swedish publications are most likely translations of translations (Turkish to English to Swedish).

I am not criticizing the Academy’s choice of Mr. Pamuk, but simply pointing out that the publishing world and their concern for the bottom line is apparently such that the work of major authors has to be translated via relay translation, which naturally distances it even more from the original. We know how much can be lost in translation as it is, so translating over two or more languages seems even more difficult and risky.

I also wonder how these facts – that Mr. Pamuk’s novels were probably not read in the original by all the Academy members, that some of his works were probably translated from English to Swedish rather than directly from Turkish (and this may be true of other languages as well) – affect the Swedish Academy’s annual decision. Surely the esteemed members of the Academy can read languages other than Swedish and English, but they can’t together cover all the world’s languages and literatures, so they have to use translations. That’s understandable, but I think that at the very least, the publishing world, and the Swedish Academy, should try to avoid relay translations. It may be more expensive for the publishers, but the results will surely be worthwhile.

No comments: