Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ethics and Translation

I think ethics is a huge issue when it comes to translation. As translators (or editor/publishers/readers of translations), we have a lot of different responsibilities, and many ethical issues to consider.

As many of you know, I teach in UEA’s MA program in literary translation. We tend to talk about ethics in class because, you know, it’s rather relevant to what the students want to do with their lives. One of the students (who shall, of course, not be named) in the past few years complained to me that we talked too much about ethics and that it actually had nothing to do with translation.

This student made this comment at the end of the academic year, when the cohort had spent quite a bit of time discussing issues such as translating for readers without much power or control (such as children or a minority group) or what to do when faced with potentially challenging situations (such as whether to take a job translating a porn film, or whether to agree to interpret for someone on trial, or how to handle the translation of a racist/anti-Semitic/otherwise prejudiced text, or even how to deal with a client who wasn’t paying).

I was genuinely shocked that a student who had spent a year in an intense MA program was arguing that ethics had nothing to do with their chosen career, and I was left feeling as though this person couldn’t have gotten much out of their studies.

What do you think about ethics and translation? Is it an important topic to discuss? What ethically sticky/challenging situations have you come across in your time as a translator?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Blog on Language

I recently discovered this blog on language and I’d definitely recommend it. Lots of interesting articles there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nordic Translation Conference

The second Nordic Translation Conference is going to take place in just a couple of months, on 4-6 April 2013 at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England (yes, the institution where I teach).

I’m really excited about the conference. This is the only international conference dedicated to the Nordic languages and literatures. The keynote speakers are scholars Andrew Chesterman, Riitta Oittinen, Ástráður Eysteinsson, and Anna Mauranen. The Nordic authors who will read from their work at the conference are Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Ninni Holmqvist, Morten Søndergaard,  Kristina Carlson, and Gaute Heivoll. Besides all that, the conference includes workshops, lectures, exhibits, and musical performances.

I hope some of you will attend. To do so, follow the link to register on the conference website. See you in April.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Translation and British History

Since I’ve lived in the UK for over six years now, I thought I ought to learn about British history. And when I was in the library, I just happened to see “British History for Dummies” on the shelf, so I grabbed it.

Interestingly – and not surprisingly – translation comes up as an issue through British history. For example, Alfred the Great, who lived in the ninth century, not only Beat the Vikings, but he also created legal codes, commissioned the writing of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, and got many important Latin works translated into Anglo-Saxon.

Then, King Henry VIII, who drastically re-shaped religion in England, also influenced translation, in particular of the bible. He had William Tyndale put to death for translating the New Testament into English, but then he distributed Miles Coverdale’s full translation to all parishes just a few years later.

But, of course, it was really King James I who got the bible translated into its best-known English format, which is generally referred to as the King James bible.

Did you know British history was so intertwined with translation?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Retranslating Children’s Literature

As you read this, I’m at a conference in Rouen, France, on retranslating children’s literature. I was intrigued by this conference because although there has now been more research on translating works for children, we aren’t discussing retranslating that much yet, and clearly how books are translated will change over time.

In the paper I’ll be giving, I will talk about how translations of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from English to Swedish were quite different between the 1940s and 1970s from the way they were before and after that period. So I think of those decades are a rather more conservative, protectionist time, and I’ll explain why.

If anyone else has researched retranslations, what have you found and why do you think that is? It’s a fascinating topic and I look forward to learning more about it.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Peirene Press

(This was originally published in the Wales Arts Review, but I think the publishing company is doing such interesting work that I wanted to post about it here too.)

For anyone who loves literature, Peirene Press is a publishing company you need to know about. Peirene, run by Meike Zeirvogel, focuses on contemporary European literature in translation, and all of its books are short enough to be read in just a few hours, although they will stay with you for much longer than that.

The first book I read that Peirene had published was Asko Sahlberg’s The Brothers, translated by the daughter -and-mother team of Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah. The first sentence drew me in: “I have barely caught the crunch of snow and I know who is coming.” (p. 7) As a reader, I immediately wanted to know where this was set and who was coming. We quickly learn that the setting is Finland and it is Henrik, the prodigal son of a rural family, who is returning to his mother and brother’s home. Henrik is not welcome or wanted, but this does not bother him. His return sets in motion a series of changes at the farm, and the person who vanquishes at the end of the book is not who we expect, plus there are startling revelations along the way about this somewhat odd, tight-lipped family.

The novella is told from many different points of view, which allows the reader to get insight into the different characters and to get varying perspectives on what is happening. In a way, this is ideal in such a short book, because it helps to get true thoughts and feelings and voices across quite quickly, although I didn’t always feel that the women’s voices were as authentic as the men’s.  The language is sparse here, with no one – whether character or author – saying more than is strictly necessary, creating a solemn formality that suits the book’s plot. There is a distinctly religious undertone to the story, which helps situate it in a cold, Protestant country. As Peirene puts it, “[t]hese books lend themselves to comparison and give insight into trends from the European literary scene.” I think The Brothers definitely invites that.

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated by Jamie Bulloch, is quite different. A monologue by an unnamed female character, The Mussel Feast seems at first to be a simple enough tale: a mother and her two children prepare mussels to celebrate the man in the family’s promotion. However, over the course of their preparations, and as they wait for their husband/father to return home for this feast, many other stories come to light, and slowly the characters and their supposedly “proper” family are revealed to the reader. The absent person – the husband/father – is the heavy presence, the tyrant who is both unlovable and unable to love.

Vanderbeke’s book is breathless but unrushed, sad and moving and funny all at once. It questions what makes a family, and discusses how we are all different people in different situations. The mother and the children in this novella “switch modes”, “letting their hair down” when their husband/father is away, and trying to go into “wifey mode” or good-child mode when he is home (pp. 18-22), but they do not always succeed. And this forces readers to question their own mode-switching, and their own attempts at being something other than what they truly are. The ending of Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast is just right, leaving a mystery for readers to ponder.

These two examples show the variety of Peirene’s publications in regard to style and subject, and they also reveal what they have in common: an interest in what it means to be human. Although I don’t know Finnish or German, I can say that these two books worked well in English while simultaneously seeming to retain the tone and feel of the source culture.

The way Peirene works is that there is a theme each year and then three short books that fit in that theme – whether it is “the small epic” or “the female voice” or “the turning point” – are published during the course of that year. Peirene only chooses authors who are “award-winners and/or bestsellers in their own country,” which lets English-speakers experience the best that literary worlds in other cultures have to offer. The publisher also follows the current literary trend of allowing subscriptions, which is a lovely idea, and is also quite affordable with prices starting at £25 for a one-year subscription.

Peirene/Pirene is the name of a fountain in Greek mythology where poets would go to get inspired. The press likewise offers inspiration in the form of compact, enjoyable works that make you think. I couldn’t put down either of the books until I had finished them; the stories urged me on while opening new worlds to me. What could be better than that?

Go ahead: drink from the Peirene fountain.