Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Translators should look at The Sun (but not for too long)

Leave your political hang-ups to one side, you decide which: reading the news from any source is an excitement waiting to happen for the literary translator.
While it could be argued that news journalism is divorced from fiction, storytelling lies at the heart of both disciplines. And the line often blurs: Truman Capote based Cold Blood on real events and Juan Goytisolo weaved in newspaper excerpts in Señas de Identidad.

For the literary prose translator, analyzing and practising journalistic writing is a convenient way of perfecting source language competency. And for the poetry translator, tabloid headlines are especially loaded with stylistic effects and culture-specific references.

Reporting on the UK’s biggest ever diamond heist in 2009, The Sun’s two word effort is a double entendre, heightened by a stress on the syllable where the reader expects one thing, but gets the other (see the picture here). So instead of a ‘Diamond RO-ber-ry’ we get a ‘Diamond RU – bb e-ry’, as the perpetrators wore elaborate latex masks to conceal their identities. My attempt into Spanish – Ladrones Látex – compensates the dactylic (strong-weak-weak) stress of Rubbery with alliteration. Questions of ambiguity also arise - Did the robbers steal latex and, if so, why? Are they made of latex? Why the obsession with latex? - which leave the reader (hopefully) craving more latex.
Whether sonic effect should always be preserved in headline translation, whether we as translators should concentrate solely on conveying information, or whether there can always be a happy medium is, perhaps, another story.

There is, however, scant widespread translation of tabloids (at which point I might say fortunately but I can’t because I, like you, left my hang-ups to one side). Instead, news feature publications such as Le Monde Diplomatique, and news agencies such as Reuters and the BBC specialising in both features and bulletins, receive the most translation. An effective approach to this task requires not only awareness of linguistic differences, but also the journalistic conventions of both source and target communities. To illustrate, I’ll briefly look at news feature writing in Britain and Spain.

Features in Britain tend to put the most important information in the first sentence, acting as a bait which draws in the reader. Facts are then presented in order of decreasing importance, which is often termed the ‘inverted pyramid’. Perhaps this is a throw-back to the days when stories would often be crudely cut short by the printer. Or just the realisation that many readers won’t make it to the end of an article.

In contrast, Spanish features often introduce the hook mid-way into a story, language is more flowery, and sentences are lengthier, and packed with clauses (much like this one). Consequently, news stories tend to be longer, often without the afore mentioned pyramid structure. Working into English, it is feasible to re-structure a story, to drastically cut back on the text in order to transmit the news to the British readership. Without the British readership throwing its stylistic rattle out of the proverbial pram.

--Andrew Nimmo is a translator working from Spanish, Portuguese and French into English. His areas of interest include music, journalism, fiction and film. You can contact him at this.means.nimmo@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Translating for theatre

As MALT students at the UEA postgraduate programme, we had the chance, in the Case Studies module, to examine some genres of literature, such as children’s literature, drama and crime-fiction and examine what is special about their translation. We focused on the challenges and several options there are for the translator, in order to have the best possible result and the same impact-effect on the target culture as the one the writer intended (although this is something that needs so much discussion that I better leave it for next time!). They were all really exciting and interesting, but personally, I have always found myself being mostly thrilled by drama translation.

Translating for the theatre is a very creative yet challenging task. It is true, though, that it has been sort of neglected by theorists. Such texts have not been much studied and there are relatively few theories dealing with the translation for the theatre.

The most creative part of a drama translation, for the translator, is the fact that they are the first actors and directors of a play in the target culture. But however, after having been through that process, one can easily see that this is not as simple as it might sound. The challenges that a translator must deal with, when translating for the stage-or a play just to be read? – are many.
First of all, as mentioned above, the translator must be aware whether the play to be translated is also to be performed or if it is just for reading reasons. Every theatrical text intended for performance, according to many theories, «carries» yet another text- Subtext, Gestic text, or otherwise Inner text. This text mainly concerns the actor, particularly in their kinesiology at the time of the performance of the text on stage.

A translator must also take into account the performability of a play. The term refers to the distinction between the written text and the physical dimension that it takes in the play (space, props, costumes, lighting, kinesiology etc.). Since the text is directly dependent on and completed when performed, it could be given different interpretations, since one show can never be the same as another. The translator must take into account the variable nature of the performability of a theatrical text and examine each time the extra-lingual parts.

But performability is utterly connected to the written text as well. A translator must be really careful when dealing with the several elements of a play. First of all, the stage directions. The translator should be really familiar with the equivalent terms in the target language, in order to avoid misinterpretations by the director and/or the actors.

Furthermore, where the play takes place and whether it will remain so or it will be adjusted to the everyday life of the target culture in order to be better comprehended by the target audience, it is of highest importance and thus, should be carefully considered.

The names of the characters of the play are another very important element of a play. The translator must take into consideration if the specific choice made by the writer has to do with the plot or the personality of the characters, therefore they should be translated, or whether it is a random choice that does not affect the plot, so they can just be transcribed.
The speed of delivery of the written text can be very tricky as well. Due to the fact that many lines are synchronized with the actors’ body language, this must be preserved to the translated text as well. If that is not possible, due to the different characteristics of every language, then the translator must work with the director and the actors in order to see if they are going to slow down the action of the play, or maybe add some more gestures and moves, or even exclude some lines, so that the text will function in the target language the same way it does in the source language.

Finally, the dialect as well as the use of slang that there might be in the play is also essential to be preserved. The translator must be very careful when choosing whether to keep or alter the dialect in order to correspond to the needs of the target culture. There is always the risk that if the dialect is kept, there will partly misunderstand the play, while on the other hand, if the dialect is adjusted to its “reality”, the text might lose even more in terms of authenticity.
This is quite a quick view on the challenges of translating for the stage. This genre can be examined more thoroughly, especially when it comes to translating plays to be read and not performed. But I guess I’ll just leave that for my next post…

Thei Sorotou is a translator working with Greek, English and French. She graduated from the Department of foreign languages, translation and interpreting, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece, and is currently a MALT student in the University of East Anglia. She is really interested in the field of drama translation.
Contact: theisrt@yahoo.gr

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

'Death of a translator'

Late, the old Frenchman walked slowly around the body. So much for the Big Sleep. There were heavy shadows under his eyes, a cheap beat-up notebook in his cold left hand. A little smoke escaped his twice-broken nose. Just a kid. He looked at the cheap strap watch on his left wrist. 23:24. Well, that made two of them. His upper lip twitched, could be in wry appreciation - these English and their cheap understated puns.

An urgent and frozen wind blew torn fragments (perhaps you spot a name
- Sancho Panza) through the upstairs room. Quelle tempête! He felt it in his fingers, and in his toes. Wet. Wet, wet, the rain soon got through all this, the books, the body already damp where it lay, bleeding over 'Modern Criticism and Theory', David Lodge, ed. (London, 1988) page 167, red irony seeping into an essay by Roland Barthes (Paris, 1968, tr. Stephen Heath, London, 1977). The author was dead.

Only that wasn't quite it. This was no author, whatever the corduroy and curly hair said. Sure, he had written things down - the variations on a symbolist sonnet now blurring into further illegibility showed as much.

But that wasn't why the Frenchman had come.

Roget's Thesaurus (London, 1953 repr. 1985) and Le Nouveau Petit Robert (Paris, 2007) riffled pages hopelessly at him. This kid had translated!

And when it came to translators, the Frenchman had once carelessly admitted, some dark morning in the long back room at Frank's, maybe three fingers too many down the night's one-last-glass of pastis - when it came to translators, he knew a thing or two.

Very soon you must learn his name, this Frenchman, as he tucks his beat-up notebook into a pocket, still holding the gun in his right hand. It is Pierre Menard. He was laid to false and fictional rest by Jorge Luis Borges, who, despite failings of fact and philosophy, had the admirable ambition to recount Menard's perfect recreation of the works of Cervantes, which consists of the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters of the first part and a fragment of chapter twenty-two of 'Don Quixote'. He pushes a torn scrap of sheet through his revolver barrel with a pencil, replaces the used cartridge and turns away from his translator's body.

In Menard's work Borges found infinite subtlety, something rich and strange - where Cervantes clumsily opposes his country's provincial life and chivalric delusion, Menard selects a history disdainful of the brash colour of the historical novel. But even Borges could not contemplate a living writer, when a critic alone could produce endlessly amusing interpretations of the ambiguous worldviews littering the new text. So, buried by Borges, Menard died to the world, and this new project came to be - the translation of his Quixote, those few fragmentary chapters written three hundred years too late. He is stamping outthis project remarkably thoroughly - you cannot say the Frenchman lacks style.

Style and worldview. These are the big problems, far too big to unravel here, just at the beginning of a thought about translating historical fiction (a category which, understood differently, could be broad enough to fit almost anything from a time not our own). Just as Cervantes is, Raymond Chandler is of a time no longer quite our own.

His style is sharp, hardboiled. Names or things - a sharp knee, a half-smile, the breeze - get to be subjects and then act. Objects come next, and modifiers branch right, carefully adding colour without slowing anything up too much. It's a world of decisive actors, and it happened in a simple past tense that held our attention and our sense of immediacy. Nothing came forewarned. Besides the obvious difficulties of paring any language down to that style, and the perhaps impossibility of writing in such an immediate past tense, there is Menard's question. What can it mean, to walk these mean streets, after Batman and Watchmen and Fathers4Justice? Or just with a mobile telephone?

In a moment there will be some puzzle at what's gone on here, as you've read. What tale has struggled to suggest itself; what beast, to steal now from W. S. Graham, have I sent across the space? 'For on this side / Of the words, it's late. The heavy moth / Bangs on the pane. The whole house / Is sleeping and I remember / I am not here, only the space / I sent the terrible beast across.' At first I thought Pierre Menard was the detective, in this little crime short - but that is not his character. He is not the figure of patient explanation. He is the figure of miraculous repetition. Impossible resemblance must flame amazement. Mere translation, however creative a rewriting in another language, is, next to that, the slavish piling-up of so many logs in static imitation. The perfect rewriter must murder his translator.

But -

In the end he didn't know what more he could have said, the cold barrel of the Colt pressed to the base of his skull as the firing pin fell.

Later, when Pierre Menard stepped back out into the Norwich night, he stopped. The wind blew; the leaves hissed resultant.

Every third thought the grave - that's right enough, for us prosperous few.

--- Tom Russell was a literary translator from French to English, a MALT student at UEA, and secret fan of acrostics. Contact:
tomalrussell at gmail.com

ps. Very quickly, just by the way, one dead guy to another, my postcard's on the way to Douglas Adams. (I'm not going to unravel that for you. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you might read his foreword to P G Wodehouse's unfinished book, 'Sunset at Blandings'. It's only four and a half pages long (the foreword, not the book) and you'll be wanting to drop me an e-mail to thank me for pointing it out to you.)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Attempting to translate «Η φάλαινα που τρώει τον πόλεμο» by Eugene Trivizas(Ευγένιος Τριβιζάς)

Children’s literature is considered by many as literature that is not ‘serious’ and often, people think that writing a book for children, especially a picture book, is an easy task. I couldn’t agree less. I believe that the people who say this, do not take into account how demanding an audience children can be or how easily they get bored or distracted, let alone how challenging it is to write this interesting, gripping story using a limited vocabulary, since, let’s not forget, children tend to have a more limited vocabulary than adults, especially children that will be reading-or have one read to them-a picture book.

That is why, when we were told that for the MA we had to create a small portfolio of translations of texts no-more-than-a-page-long, I thought of translating a picture book. It would be of the perfect length, it would add variety to the portfolio and it would be challenging. I had in mind a specific writer that I wanted to translate, Eugene Trivizas, an author of over a hundred children’s books who is famous for his puns, imaginative and creative use of language and made-up worlds. I chose a book called “The Whale That Eats War” (Η φάλαινα που τρώει τον πόλεμο), simply because it was the last I had read.

The book is about a blue whale that goes to a specific-made up-country every year in order to eat the war. The book has really nice drawings and no more than eight lines per two pages, sometimes just as little as two lines per two pages. It is addressed to children from the age of four. It is a typical example of what makes the translation-and writing, for that matter-of children’s literature challenging. The whole text is made of short rhyming lines full of humourous puns. Trivizas has also made up some words, like the name of the country where the whale goes every spring, which is ‘Varaduay’. Also, in order to achieve rhyme every time, he has, at points, changed the syntax. Finally, and in my opinion this is what makes this book even more challenging than the rest of Trivizas’ books, because it belongs to Trivizas’ anti-war series, and it is about a whale that eats war, it is full of war vocabulary and is populated by different army officials on their special vehicles.

One is prepared to encounter funny rhymes and puns in a children’s book. The made up words and the creative and non-standard use of language is, also, to be expected in children’s fiction. Finally, if the book is a picture book addressed to four-year-olds, one knows that the language she/he can use will be rather limited. So, I guess, ways of working around the syntax to achieve rhyme could be found, and deletion along with compensation could be used in order to produce a text that has the same effects on the audience, pun wise. But, working with the special jargon of war and mentioning the names of different weapons, vehicles and ranks in the army made the translation of this book even the more challenging. And, since the book is about a whale that eats war and belongs to an anti-war series, maintaining the war vocabulary is crucial.

I find that many words used in the Greek text even though they are clearly words related to the war, are much simpler than their equivalents in English and also, happen to rhyme with common every day words, like βλήματα (missiles) and προβλήματα (problems).Another thing that poses a potential problem is that many of the words related to war in Greek, are translated into English in two words as for example,αεροπλανοφόρα and επιλοχίας that translate into aircraft carriers and sergeant major respectively and thus, having two words in the place of one, could affect the rhythm of the text.

The puns, the made-up words, the funny rhymes and the creative use of language are what make Trivizas’ books so fun to read. As a matter of fact, they are so fun that one thinks of Trivizas as a magic person who speaks that way and is always imagining amazing worlds, but, to me, it is clear that they have been written with a lot of thought; with this translation attempt, I discovered just how much thought amounts to a lot of thought. In the end, I did not translate the book, in order to avoid producing a translation that I was not pleased with. I have decided to give it another try when I will have more time and will be able to think of and make up the alternatives that will do it justice.

Avgi Daferera is a translator of English and Spanish into Greek, and Greek and Spanish into English. She just finished an MA in Writing at Warwick and is currently doing an MA in literary translation at UEA. She is interested in the translation of poetry and children’s fiction. You can contact her at adaferer@hotmail.com.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Translating L’Hirondelle by Claude Simon

Post by Samantha Christie, MALT student

In the Case Studies module of the MA Literary Translation, we have recently been examining children’s fiction and its translation. Focussing on examples of children’s literature in its original and translated versions, and the theories about both writing and translating children’s fiction, we have analysed the genre with specific attention paid to the practicalities of translating it. Amongst other things, we have considered different features of children’s fiction, intra- and extra-textual aspects which might influence its translation, challenges and problems a translator might face in translating this genre, and possible strategies a translator of children’s literature may employ.

Typical, then, that the text I chose for my first practice translation of children’s literature doesn’t contain any of the more prominent challenges for which I have a helpful list of strategies. The text is not written in dialectal language, it contains no slang, there are no ethical issues raised by racist or offensive terms, no songs or limericks, no neologisms…

L’Hirondelle (The Swallow) is a short children’s story, written originally in French by Claude Simon in 1977 and accompanied by Martine Fiere’s colourful, rather abstract images. It follows the journey of a swallow who, whilst flying over a town square, loses a feather, becomes disoriented and starts to fall. In the nick of time, she plucks a feather from the hat of a lady sitting in the square, regains her equilibrium and flies away. It’s a beautiful tale, especially when paired with the illustrations, and I think its beauty lies in the fact it reads so simply. But does a simple story mean a simple translation?

Before starting to translate, I reflected on the text and noted some general aspects to consider. Despite its apparent simplicity, the structure is, in terms of translating, rather complex. The story, at just 16 pages, is very short. As such, the author hasn’t actually used very many words, but doesn’t that mean that the ones he has used are all the more important? So a careful choice of vocabulary was required, particularly with the target audience – children – in mind. The language used is lyrical and there is some rhyme and repetition of words and themes throughout the text. Some passages of text have a certain rhythm to them, although it is not a poem and it doesn’t have a meter. I wanted to keep as much of this rhyme, repetition and rhythm as possible, as it really makes the original flow and the author clearly used that style for a reason.

I hadn’t translated a picture book before, and as the images appear over various parts of the pages, so the text itself has an irregular layout. I needed to make sure my words and pictures were synchronised. I wondered whether the images would have an effect on my translation, whether an image would subconsciously influence my lexical choice. The story also has an iconic element; the movement of the swallow’s flight is mirrored in the text which starts off distanced from the action and zooms in for a close-up before pulling back and returning to where it started.

I’ll give two examples of linguistic areas which I found particularly tricky to translate.
The first line of the text is “Dans un pays il y avait une ville”. ‘Dans un pays’ translates directly as ‘in a country’, which isn’t a very natural thing to say in English. We would normally qualify it in some way: in a different country, in a foreign country, in some country or other. However, the author didn’t need to do that and doesn’t necessarily mean a place that is not ‘this’ country, he just means any country. Introducing a qualifying adjective could technically mislead the reader. On the other hand, the location of the country has no bearing on the tale overall and is non-specific throughout, so the likelihood of this negatively affecting the reader’s understanding is minimal. A further difficulty is by introducing an extra word, the balance and rhythm of the rest of the passage on the first page is upset. This passage is repeated in reverse at the end of the story, so whatever I chose for the beginning needed to fit at the end, too.

Later in the story, when the swallow takes the feather from the hat, she does so “d’un coup d’aile”. Directly, this means ‘with a flap of the wing’, but it also calls to mind another frequently used French expression which sounds similar, ‘d’un coup d’oeil’, meaning ‘at a glance’, ‘a quick look’, and this suggestion of speed in turn calls to mind ‘in the blink of an eye’. I don’t believe the author’s use of “d’un coup d’aile” was entirely coincidental, so needed to find an expression in English that combined the two meanings of ‘with a flap of the wing’ and ‘in the blink of an eye’, which would also fit the rhythm and layout of the text.

Samantha Christie is a translator from French and Spanish into English and is currently working on the MA in Literary Translation at UEA. Special interests include translation in the areas of detective fiction and music, and the relationship between author and translator.
Contact: snchristie@gmail.com

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Welcome to the new literary translation blog at the University of East Anglia (UEA), in Norwich, England.

This is a blog run by the faculty and students in literary translation at UEA. Here, we will post our reflections on our translation practice, analyses of translation theory, book reviews, job announcements, and anything else relevant to literary translation.

We hope to serve as a resource for the field of literary translation, so do contact us with any comments or questions, or to request that we cover certain topics. You can email blog organiser B.J. Epstein.