Friday, 23 December 2011

The devil and the didacticism

Before coming back to university I had never really thought about how you would answer the question as to what children’s literature actually is. I (like many others presumably) would naturally assume that this most common of terms liberally bounded about would have a straightforward meaning. After all, in nearly every bookshop shelf space is dedicated to this most vague label of literary category. How wrong I was to originally assume that this was an easy question to answer.

Varying definitions spring forth from all corners within the literary, psychological and legal domains as to what a child is, which must of course be answered before one can assign any form of literature to this particular stratum of society. I wonder, what with Prof. Gillian Lathey’s talks on translating children’s literature and the prominent issue of authors, editors, publishers, parents, and teachers being those who are the key decision-makers on matters of suitability, readability and eventual consumption, whether all child-oriented literature ends up becoming a broader genre which Sandra Beckett(2009) and Rachel Falconer (2009) call crossover fiction.

Tales written by Charles Perrault originally written for the French court at Versailles eventually ended up in the children’s canon as well as literary canon in its broadest sense and this is exactly the point. Millennia old themes of tragedy, heroism, paganism, gods and demons, comedy, adventure epics, new worlds, fairies, fantasy lands were and are common in tales intended for both adults and children. These themes can be traced back through the mists of time to antiquity and its literature such as The Odyssey and the Iliad which have inspired in their wake such literary and historical epics such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s many plays, and the Icelandic sagas which have themselves spawned a new impetus in writing fantasy epics since the Victorian era. The list seems endless when one begins to count the literary classics such as Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and the twentieth century’s hefty tomes in the forms of The Lord of the Rings, The Gormenghast Trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Earthsea Series, His Dark Materials Trilogy, and the king of them all when it comes to academic research and commentary, the infamous Harry Potter.

These modern novels have their roots in these recurring plots and age-old themes and could be argued to be reworks, or if one will allow the expression ‘spin-offs’. However one trait they have in common is that an element of adventure and the ‘unknown’ is present. One can easily imagine the original verse being recited around a fire with whole communities listening in, being absorbed by its moral messages and didacticism. Adults created, recited, promulgated, disseminated and passed down these tales by oral tradition for many generations as if they were sacred texts that must be remembered forevermore. They were, and indeed still are, an integral part to many cultures (perhaps in the form of nursery rhyme). They are there to teach, inform, and demonstrate the consequences of actions.

As adults we reminisce about these tales stories which I would say is an indicator of a long-lasting appeal and that these tales should all be considered crossover fiction. As my post suggests, it’s maybe time to move on from labelling genres with vague terms and perhaps start viewing the translation of children’s literature as translating the moral messages to be passed down to the next generation; messages which all of us can live by. And who doesn’t like a bit of adventure mixed in for good measure anyway...?

Adam Kirkpatrick translates from French and Swedish into English and is currently studying towards the MA in Literary Translation at the UEA. He is particularly interested in fantasy fiction, historical texts and the work of J.M.G Le Clézio. He can be contacted at

Friday, 16 December 2011

History and Translation

We have nearly finished this year’s Case Studies module of the MA, and it seems to have gone alarmingly quickly, in the way these things do. We have looked at translating children’s literature, drama and crime fiction, but have also touched on the translation of historical fiction. I found this particularly interesting, as I’m currently working on a (sample) translation of a Dutch historical novel, and being mentored in the process by a much more experienced literary translator, which is nice!

In a talk to the class about historical fiction, Philip Wilson mentioned the phrase ‘the tyranny of fact’. What this means for the translation of a historical novel, for example, is that the story cannot be relocated, which would not apply to translating some other genres of fiction. This fact was revealed to me in my translation when I tried to change the name of one of the characters – doh! Carelessly, I had changed ‘Cathrientje’ to ‘Catherine’, thinking this would be easier to pronounce for an English reader. My mentor pointed out that it was ‘unusual to change names in this kind of novel’, which is of course true, as Cathrientje would have been a real person.

Having established the fact that you can’t change the facts, because this is history, it's important to make sure you don't go too far back in history in your eagerness. In my translation, a character enters a room holding a candle in a candleholder. Anxious not to repeat the word 'candle', I initially had my character holding a sconce, but as my mentor pointed out, ‘this word sounds almost medieval’, and is definitely not correct for a book set at the turn of the 20th century. And I thought I was being so clever …

So, just because it’s history, that doesn’t mean we have to switch automatically to Ye Olde Englishe. However, we do need to get the period right. In my translation, I had a character studying 'oude talen' in Dutch, which I merrily translated as 'the Classics', until my mentor suggested this terminology might not be correct for the period. I rethought and decided to go for ‘the classical languages’.

Incidentally, a useful tool for getting the correct terminology for a particular historical period, and one I didn’t know about before, is the option to search in books only and to narrow by time period in Google. I found this helpful in establishing details about Liberty shantung silk dresses - wonder why they ever fell out of fashion? They would certainly brighten up the playground on the school run …

Finally, no historical research would be complete without becoming fully acquainted with the sexual practices of the day. At least that's what you can tell your partner when then happen upon you reading something dubious: 'It’s research, darling'. In my translation, I had a rather emancipated young character ‘sitting astride’ the object of her affection, but my mentor pointed out that this might be rather anachronistic. I haven’t decided what to change it to yet, but as I can feel this blog post turning into an episode of Carry On Translating, I think it’s time to stop …

Rebekah Wilson is a translator from French, German and Dutch. For more information, go to

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Translation vs. Authoring

As a result of my decision to spend a year studying literary translation, I switched camps. Well, in a way.

With the unprecedented amount of contact between people of different language backgrounds, translation is growing in importance. On the one hand, this circumstance finds reflection in the increasing numbers of translators of all kinds. They can be called practitioners. On the other hand, there is no denying of the abounding courses and programs meant to supplement, if not quite substitute, the existing practice with a distinct profession in its own right. If academic preparation and specialized knowledge define the concept of profession, by signing up for a bit of formal education, I have conceded, at least to myself, that what I mean to be is a professional, a practicing one, mind you. And yet, as much as virtually all professions today imply certain concomitant “soft” skills, I cannot help but think that, in doing their job, translators have no choice but to fall back on much more than any specialized training can provide.

A case in point would be Daniel Hahn and one of his latest literary undertakings, the translation – or is it authoring? - of the text of the children's picture book Happiness Is a Watermelon on Your Head.

As Daniel came to our class to impart some experiential knowledge, I cannot say I felt surprised listening to him reveal one by one the steps that he had taken to arrive at the text in its final form. Rather, one ought to feel impressed with just how many tasks and responsibilities managed to creep into the assignment initially proposed to Daniel as a translation gig.
His sense of judgement and decision-making had to extend well beyond the realm of language and working with it. In several places, feeling the need to make the text complement the images in a more effective way, Daniel changed the layout of the text. These rearrangements demonstrated that his approach was to ensure an illustrative way of reading of the book, so that each textual statement had an immediate pictorial counterpart on the same page. I might have opted for a different strategy where the illustrations would slightly trail behind the text and in this way create the space for children first to imagine what they heard and then look at the actual pictures. The point is, however, that ultimately Daniel had to pay attention to the elements not quite constituting the field of translation, his area of specialization. Whatever his level of familiarity with desktop publishing and graphic design might be, whatever the appreciation for visual culture he might generally have, he had to call on his sensitivity and awareness of these in order to benefit his translation.

And of course translating any piece of children's literature demands that a special kind of sentience guides translators in their navigation through texts. Given that no common notion of children's literature exists, instead of looking outside for pointers and guidelines, translators have to tap into their consciousness. Thus, an ability to trust validity of personal world views is crucial for the translator's profession. So, in translating a children's book not only did Daniel adopt the role of graphic editor but also he acted with the implication that personal views can sometimes serve as specialized knowledge that usually belongs with experts.

Therein lie the beauty and the challenge of being a professional translator. No amount of schooling in translation on its own will ready one for taking on the reality in all its multiplicity, which is one way of seeing the task of translating.

Olessia Makarenia is currently working on her MA in Literary translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. Captivated by the magic of English language and the wonder of Russian literature, she is determined to do her bit by introducing some of the latter into the former and pass occasional sensitive judgement on the work that others have done so far.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Translation/Adaptation: Is there a difference?

I’ve been reading a lot about drama and theatrical translation recently for our case studies class and for one of my essays. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is where ‘translation’ ends and ‘adaptation’ begins, and whether distinguishing between these two terms is useful or not. Before I started actively engaging with issues of/in translation I always associated ‘translation’ with the act of transferring a source ’text’ from one language to another or perhaps even recreating it in another language. While ‘adaptation’ I saw as being transference or recreation across media or genres (stage to screen, novel to play etc.). However, I began to find that this distinction is too narrow and several questions began to plague me, as they do: Doesn’t cinema have its own language? In which case couldn’t we argue that say that Jane Eyre, the 2011 film is a translation of Jane Eyre, the novel? And what about Omkara, Vishal Bhardwaj’s 2006 excellent rendering of Othello? To call it merely an adaptation of Shakespeare seemed limiting to me because it seemed to ignore the act(s) of linguistic translation that would have been an integral part of the process of writing the screenplay for that movie.

While I was pondering these questions I came across some definitions in one of the readings for our case studies class which I felt would be a good place from which to start thinking about some of these issues in greater detail. In relation to theatre, ‘translation’ is defined as a ‘faithful, literary rendering into another language’, ‘version’ is ‘translation that takes performance requirements into account’ and ‘adaptation’ as a term that has been ‘used to disguise all manner of unacceptable textual and staging manipulations’ (Santoyo quoted in Zatlin, 2005:79). I find these definitions interesting for several reasons. First, they use words I find problematic: faithful, literary, unacceptable, disguise, manipulation. The first three are words that are open to interpretation based on personal preferences. As for ‘disguise’ and ‘manipulation’ they are used her in a prohibitive manner and I can’t help but find the lexical choice odd given that we are talking about theatre, which at its core is based on a recognition of its own ‘artifice’. Of course, at this point I have to say that I am reading and analysing Zatlin’s translation of Santoyo’s definitions, so perhaps there is something ‘lost in translation’ (another film reference, I know!).

The second thing that I find interesting about this set of definitions is that the author posits a dichotomy with ‘translation’ (the good method) at one end and ‘adaptation’ (the bad method) at the other. ‘Version’, then, in this schema becomes a sort of practical compromise. This suggests, to me, that for the author the written ‘text’ is more important than its performance. I suppose then, that how person answers the question ‘What is drama?’ has an impact on what they view as translation and what as adaptation.

For me, drama is both the text and its performance, whether on stage or in the ‘theatre of the mind’ (to borrow a phrase used by Herbert Grabes). Even when I read a play I visualise some form of a stage and actors in their costumes entering and exiting the stage as required. So when I set about translating a play I am translating a performance, whether it is one I’ve seen or one I’ve imagined. And I have seen, on more than one occasion, a Brecht play being performed in Hindi, having been ‘translated’ to know that ‘literary faithfulness’ is not enough, for the performance to be successful. I know I need to tread carefully here, after all what is ‘successful’, but that would take me on a tangent. My tentative conclusion then is that when it comes to theatre/cinema/dramatic works of art being rendered from language to another the degree to which translation and adaptation are one and the same thing depends on the translator’s perception of drama and the degree of difference between the source and target cultures. After all that is the main difference between Jane Eyre and Omkara, one is a translation in the same culture across media, whereas the other is a ‘transadapation’ between cultures. I do also feel that ‘translation’ is at the heart of ‘adaptation’ – all forms of it. This, at any rate, is my rationale for doing the course ‘Adaptation and Interpretation’ next term, and who knows maybe I will end up changing my mind.

Anandi Rao translates from Hindi and Arabic to English. She is doing her MA in Literary Translation and is interested in theatre and women’s writing. She can be reached at

Monday, 28 November 2011

Nordic Research Network

Nordic Research Network
Conference for Postgraduate Students and Early-­‐‑Career Researchers
The University of Edinburgh, 23-­‐‑24 February 2012
Announcement and invitation
Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh invites participants to the Nordic Research
Network 2012. This two-­‐‑day interdisciplinary conference on 23-­‐‑24 February 2012 will bring together
postgraduate students and early-­‐‑career researchers from Edinburgh and the rest of the UK currently
researching topics relating to the Nordic area. The event will also incorporate a knowledge exchange
workshop on communicating the developing role of lesser-­‐‑taught languages in the university sector.
Following on from the successful first Nordic Research Network symposium held at University
College London in 2010, students and early-­‐‑career researchers will present the objectives or results of
their current research. Through presentations, discussions, socialising activities and workshops, the
conference will offer an ideal platform for the sharing of ideas and for dialogue with like-­‐‑minded
peers, as well as an opportunity to explore the significance of studying the Nordic area in the UK
research environment.
Call for papers
We are now inviting proposals from postgraduate students and early-­‐‑career researchers (with three
years or less of postdoctoral experience) for papers discussing their current research aims or findings.
Participation is not limited to those working within departments of Scandinavian Studies, and
proposals are welcome on Nordic research in all areas of the humanities and social sciences.
Presentations will be followed by discussion and feedback in a supportive atmosphere.
If you wish to present a paper at this conference, please send a title, abstract (up to 200 words) and a
short biographical description to by 9 December 2011. These will be
reviewed by the conference committee, and you will be notified of the outcome shortly thereafter.
Social events
In addition to the conference and knowledge exchange workshop, there will be ample opportunities
for social interaction, including an informal dinner. Further programme details will be available soon.
The organising committee
Ersev Ersoy – Dominic Hinde – Guy Puzey
Contact details
Follow us on Twitter @NordicEdinburgh

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Call for Papers

Call for Contributions for issue 20 of Norwich Papers:
“The Next Big Thing: Current Trends in Translation”

The editorial board of Norwich Papers 2012 is pleased to announce its call for contributions for issue 20, focusing on trends in translation studies. We encourage academics and practicing translators, irrespective of experience, to contribute and are looking for an interesting, innovative and international engagement with many possible interpretations of this theme. Possible questions addressed could include, but are by no means limited to:

• Trends in translation theory
• Trends in the process and practice of translation
• Market trends
• Translation and digital and new media
• From local to global – the creation of global trends
• The impact of politics on trends in translation

We are confident that many who work in the field of translation will find something within this theme that is of interest to them, and we look forward to reading your submission, which should be received no later than Friday 30 March 2012. Before sending us your submission, please refer to our style notes and practical guidelines. We are pleased to offer a free copy of issue 20 to all whose contributions we are able to publish.
You can find more information about our back issues and how to purchase them from our website and blog. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries. We hope that this issue of Norwich Papers will inspire you in some way and we look forward to receiving your contributions.

You can contact the editorial team at and visit our blog -

With best wishes,
The Editorial Team

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Gobblefunking around with words!

The intent of this is not to write my essay. Let me be clear on that.

The intent of this is to write something fun on a fun subject, which until now had remained in the backstage of existence. At least as far as my literary mind was concerned. Then it hit me.
It’s just a load of nonsense! Not only can I write on nonsense, I can actually write nonsense! I could make a living out of it!
Lewis Carroll made it, Edward Lear made it, Roald Dahl made it, Christian Morgenstern made it. Come on, the DADAists, Futurists and Surrealists made it! Ish.
Maybe I should start by looking at what they did. Maybe I should translate what they did! Yeah, that’s a good plan!

Oh, there’s already five versions of an Italian Jabberwocky out there? Do we need more vorpal swords? And what do you mean French cows don’t jump over moons; if they can laugh, they can jump. They can train, they’re disciplined. Like dancers.

Cut to week 3, we are actually assigned the Jabberwocky, as a translation exercise. O frabjous day!
Calloo! Callay! Ok, now how do I translate brillig…?

The Jabberwocky is a part of any English student’s cultural baggage, especially ones with some Drama in them too. The Jabberwocky is part of a loved children’s classic, by real people and academics alike. The Jabberwocky is a big ugly beast who never actually shows up in the story. It is as ugly as it is hard to translate (see picture).

First things first: the metre. Why did Carroll choose a three-tetrameter/one-trimeter pattern? Why is the rhyme scheme ABAB? Does it mean something? Look at other nursery rhymes. Is it a recurring feature? Not exactly. The rhymes are though. Good, let’s work on that. It must rhyme. ABAB if possible.

Next thing: read-aloud qualities. This is a brilliant excuse to watch the Disney animated version. And Johnny ‘Mad Hatter’ Depp reciting fragments of it in a creepy Scottish accent. That’s how it should be. Mocking, menacing, mischievous and mildly confusing.

Ok. What to do with the actual words? Transliterate, adapt, replace, or just write some plain Italian nonsense? Hang on, wasn’t there a chapter that explained some of them..? Re-read Humpty Dumpty.

“And ‘the wabe’ is the grass plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?” said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.
“Of course it is. It’s called ‘wabe’, you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it—”
“And a long way beyond it on each side”, Alice added.
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)

Now that is a brilliant word. Ok, I am going to do this translation following the egg-head’s directions. I’d like it to feel as though it belongs in its book.
So far I have: it must rhyme, the words must be explainable, albeit nonsensically, the sounds must be creepy at moments, soothing at others. Good. Tell you what, I’ll keep the names more or less as they are. A bit of familiarity with previous works, and some casual foreignisation. That’ll keep the academics at bay.

I think I’ve got it. The tenses are the same, the metre is there (with a couple of necessary slips), the rhymes work, not forced or clunky. And the Jabberwocky remains the Jabberwocky.
Now, for the real test: what does my eight-year-old brother think of it?

I guess I failed in my original mission. I might use this in an essay after all.

Alex Valente translates Italian and French into English, and English into Italian. He claims he also works with Old English and Latin. In the little spare time his MA in Literary Translation leaves him, he dumps some poetic reflections onto (where the Jabberwocky now resides, too). If you really feel the urge to talk to him, you can find him at

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Multiple Translations of One Text

One thing people who are not familiar with the field of translation often cannot understand is how people can come up with different translations of the same source text. Surely ‘table’ means ‘table’ in any language, so why is translation so hard? Surely there’s a right and a wrong answer, and how on earth could people spend time discussing translation? Just last night, my husband – and he knows more about translation than most digital analysts, by dint of being married to me! – was exasperated to hear another of my flights of translation fancy, and blurted out: ‘You should just translate what’s there!!’

How is it, then, that if you go into Amazon and type in Madame Bovary, you can choose from Geoffrey Wall’s version, Margaret Mauldon’s version, Eleanor Marx-Aveling’s version, Lydia Davis’ version, Adam Thorpe’s hot-of-the-press version etc etc …. Indeed, in researching my Translation Theory module, I came upon a website that had 23 versions of Baudelaire’s poem Le Balcon. As I grappled with the subject – often highly philosophical, and not easy for someone who still remembers re-sitting French Philosophy in the Hall of Shame back at university – I was persuaded that the notion of ‘mind style’, an idea from the field of cognitive stylistics, might be used to explain the existence of vastly different and yet equally valid translations of a single source text.

Mind style can be defined as a linguistic style that reflects a cognitive state. Clues to the mind style of a text are to be found in its implicit information, which in turn can be worked out by looking at the stylistic devices present in a text. Stylistic devices can include such things as alliteration, ambiguity, the repetition of words, complex metaphor, or the use of different registers or of specific syntactic constructions.

I find it plausible that multiple translations of a single source text can exist because translators read the mind style of an author in different ways, influenced as they are by their own individual past experiences and worldviews. In addition to this, the translation goes through a further stage when it reaches the reader, since she or he is also going to filter the translation through her or his own experiences and worldviews.

To illustrate this point: in spring 2011, I produced a (very fine!) sample of a German novel for a literature-promoting organisation. Taken out of the context of the rest of the book, I read the German text quite positively – the scene was Rome in the summer in the 1970s, and as nothing explicitly bad happens in the short section in question, my mind was instantly transported to my own (pleasant) experiences of Rome in the summer. I gave my translation to my sister to read, who said she thought the translation adequately reflected the claustrophobia of the main character … where did claustrophobia come from, I thought? Finally, when I read my sample out at a public reading event, one of the audience’s reactions was to laugh. This is a common reaction in a group setting since it releases tension and conveys approval, but it also showed the translation going through an additional stage, that of being filtered through the mind of the reader (or, in this case, the minds of the listeners).

So the next time we pick up a translated work, we might want to remember that we’re not only getting an insight into the mind of the author, but also into the mind of the translator, and indeed into the way our own minds work, as they interact with the words on the page …

Rebekah Wilson is a freelance translator working from French, German and Dutch into English:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Rereading Myself

We’re four weeks into the MALT programme now, and I’ve been reading all manner of fascinating books and articles, most of which have lead me to the realisation that there are a hell of a lot of ways to mess up a translation if you don’t take a very long list of things into consideration. I thought I knew how to translate, but no: my job has just got a lot more complicated. This is a terrifying yet exhilarating realisation. As an undergraduate I was taught that I must be sensitive to register, cultural specificities and tone, for example, but now I have to deal with the texts worlds and ideal readers and the wide-ranging implications of cognitive poetics. How am I supposed to know what goes on in other readers’ heads and imagine the responses that they might have to a text when I’m in Norwich and they’re in New York, for example? And how on Earth do I go about translating poetry, when so much of the meaning is between the words rather than in them? My mission, should I choose to accept it, seems to be just that.

And yet, I have to remind myself that I am still a translator (and quite a good one, I must tell myself so as not to be discouraged). I may be getting back into the murky world of theory, but my goal is still to make a career from translation. Rosalind Harvey’s workshop last week was a welcome reminder of that: she spoke about her journey from graduate working in a bookshop to literary translator and what has made the difference for her along the way, certainly made the point that taking part in the BCLT summer school should be top of our lists of priorities, and presented us with a passage to translate. This was taken from Down the Rabbit Hole, Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos’ brilliant first novel, which Rosalind translated and which has just been published by & Other Stories. I relished the challenge of translating the troublesomely Mexican term ‘la chingada’ into English, felt the excitement of finding what seemed to be a viable solution in that context and made a mental note to translate more, rather than get bogged down thinking about essays too much. I was encouraged by Rosalind’s advice to ‘be stubborn and friendly’ faced with the daunting task of networking (I’m with her in being horrified by the term alone) and to meet a real-life person who is has come through the MALT programme and is doing just what I hope to do: making a living from literary translation.

On that note I shall return to the books, to reading as an academic, a lover of literature, and a translator. Perhaps these readers that coexist in me could get together and discuss where exactly it is that they overlap, then let me know their findings?

Lucy Greaves translates from Spanish, French and Portuguese into English. She is currently studying the MA in Literary Translation at UEA, and is particularly interested in Latin American literature. Contact:

Thursday, 20 October 2011

More International Fiction Reading Group

B.J. Epstein, who teaches in the MALT programme, helps to run an international fiction reading group at the Norwich Library. It meets once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month at 1.30 – 2.30 pm.

The next meeting is on 9 November and we will be reading Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen.

Everyone is welcome.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

International Fiction Reading Group

B.J. Epstein, who teaches in the MALT programme, helps to run an international fiction reading group at the Norwich Library. It meets once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month at 1.30 – 2.30 pm. The group is relaunching for the new academic year on 12 October. Everyone is welcome.

You can read more about it on the library’s blog.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Is the author dead or alive?

The translator’s job is a lonely one, just as the writer’s. You are alone with the words. Yes, of course, there will be times when the translator will be stuck and will look for help, but usually such help comes from research, a friend or a native speaker that may clarify something that might be unclear for the translator. At least that is what I always thought about translation. I never expected that any substantial help can some from another person, let alone from the writer. That is why my answer to the title question has always been: DEAD.
After all, even if the author is actually alive, you can’t always expect her/him to be open to questions and willing to help. From the beginning of the MA we have been hearing stories about authors refusing to collaborate with translators. One example is J.K. Rowling who gave no instructions to translators even though it was certain that the translations would reach large audiences. Then, there are authors who are willing to help but simply cannot due to language limitations or because a part of the creative process just cannot be explained, so no matter how much they want to help the translator they cannot. Finally, there are the ones who are eager to help but perhaps are too eager and have overestimated themselves thinking that they know best no matter their target language proficiency. So again, all things considered, my answer remained: DEAD. I really saw no reason why a translator would want to complicate her/his life by contacting the author. And then, when I started working on my own translations again the answer was the same because I chose to translate work by Cavafy, Leivaditis, Bishop, Kariotakis and Gogou, all of them indeed dead.
But then, for an essay I decided to include my translations of some poems by a poet who is alive and kicking and though I was not particularly stuck or anything, I had access to his email address and thought I’d use it. So, I sent an email saying who I was and what I was doing. The reply came soon and read ‘Of course, ask me questions’. It was unexpected in a very pleasant way. The answers to my questions took some time to come, but they meant I could fully support my choices and even quote the original author in my essay. The poet had his doubts about the poems I had chosen and was not sure I was going to be able to render them in English but in the end, the feedback I got for my translations from my tutors suggested that contacting the author had helped the quality of my work. So, perhaps, I thought after that, the author is not-always-dead?
And finally, the summer came which, for MALT-students means one thing; dissertation period and again, I decided to translate an author that is alive and kicking. Again, I was able to get the author’s email address and thought there was nothing to lose, I could use it. And I did. Again, the reply came very soon and was very friendly and encouraging. I went on to send a long email with many questions and the author got back to me giving me answers and –perhaps more importantly- giving me freedom and telling me not to worry too much about translating the original names and puns as such, but to be creative instead. What works in one language does not necessarily work in another. He also offered to look at my translations –he is very fluent in English and has been living in the UK since the early 1970’s- but kept stressing to me that I should not worry too much and should be creative, always politely answering any questions I had.
The above experiences have helped me reach one conclusion in the search of an answer to the title question, that is that the translator should try to see whether the author is alive or dead because there is no fixed answer. Sometimes the author is alive and kicking, but, kicking you away and thus, should be considered dead, and others the author is there to make the translator’s job just a little bit easier.

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.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Translators should remain invisible

Domestication; Foreignisation; Venuti: some of the most bandied about words in translation theory. Particularly in the case of the first two, extensive usage , along with their evolving meanings over the course of Venuti’s publications, has led to their suffering from a certain erosion in their precision of meaning. It seems all too simple to identify certain features in a translation – the inclusion of ‘foreign’ words in the translation, the presence of non-standard spellings - and to jump to the conclusion that the translator was foreignising.
Much of this conjecture focuses on what lays within the body of a translated text when what lies a step away can be of equal interest. Metatextual content, for example, is barely touched upon by translation theoreticians. How it integrates with the notion of invisibility is, I feel, a fascinating subject.
At its most fundamental, invisibility is an affliction affecting a given entity’s visual existence within the space of a limited environment . Any attempts to address and alter the level of the entity’s visibility will question not only the ecology, but also the finite nature of the environment.
Most commonly, the provision for footnotes, translator’s forewords and prefaces enables the reader to be more more aware of translatorial decisions and, as a consequence, of the translator. As translators (hopefully) become more inclined to incorporate such features into their published translations, or at least clamour for their inclusion, existing literary conventions will be broken for the better.
As long as this quest for visibility is kept strictly textual, the translator will, in theory, be able to use his or her ability with the written word, the skill which comes most naturally, to address this invisibility. The problem arises when translators follow the lead of the publishing world as a whole, and seeking to appropriate the space on the cover of a dust jacket.
The dreaded photo of the author alongside that of the translator. I say ‘dreaded because I feel that the practice, in both translated and untranslated literatures, is aesthetically unfortunate. It detracts from the power of the written word by placing more emphasis on the visual image of the translator. Perhaps mimicry is understandable as the translator vies for the same rights as that of the source author. Yet it reduces the book, translated or otherwise, to little more than an item for consumption as opposed to a work of art.
While there may well be something endearing about seeing a kindly face on the front of book, it will more likely than not attract the consumer to consume, firs t and foremost, and to read as an after- thought. In the same way that a pop band’s image is arguably more important than the music it produces, the written text becomes secondary to the image of the author.
Respect must therefore be reserved for those faceless authors and translators who consciously choose the path of invisibility ( and a certain pity put aside for those, such as the dead translators, who have no control over it). Or rather, Dust jackets should be allowed to gather dust without the dust having sleepless nights about the toothy mugs, often times two, that may be gasping for attention and breath.

-- 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

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Subject: Unprofessional interviewers make me sad

Well, I sent off a job application for a subtitling company about a month ago, and actually managed to get an interview with them a few weeks later. Not too bad, one would think. Except that they weren't exactly professional about it.

First, they never confirmed when the interview would actually be, so when the phone call came, I wasn't really prepared. One would think that if you've given a company 4 or 5 different times when you're available that they would confirm it, but no, not this company.

Second, the woman who interviewed me (we'll call her RN, short for Ridiculous Name, because her name, was, in fact, ridiculous) seemed to think that I knew nothing at all about anything to do with the British TV industry. RN's tone of voice also reminded me of the way I've heard some British people speak to non-native English speakers – loud, slow, and incredibly condescending.

Thirdly (is that even a word? If not, it is now), when the interview was about to end, I asked RN if she had any other suggestions for similar jobs (I could tell by this point that the interview wasn't going well, and I thought it made sense to ask her if she knew if anyone else might be hiring in that field). Perfectly reasonable question, I thought. Not to RN, apparently. She gave me a really snide answer – something like "use your university degree and look it up yourself."

That's it for now. I'm sure karma will bite RN in the face some day.

Sabrina Steiner is a Spanish to English translator and Beatles fanatic. You can contact her at

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Meanwhile, up in Manchester…

I’m currently writing my dissertation on the translation of comics. In the name of research, last week (5th-8th July), I attended the Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics and The International Bande Dessinée Society, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Over 4 days, academics, students, artists, authors, and other interested parties variously presented, discussed and generally delighted in the evidently active international comics community. Over 4 days, these same academics, students, artists, authors, and other interested parties deliberated over a multitude of issues pertaining to comics on an international scale. By definition, the discussion centred on both comics in a source-language, and comics in translation (to and from English). Yet not one paper over the 4 days focussed on the translation of comics as a process. Granted, I couldn’t attend all presentations on all days, but from all the abstracts given in the conference programme, I still couldn’t find anything about translation. I was rather surprised by this and, to be honest, a bit disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. It’s just that it highlighted once again the invisible nature of our beloved craft at what seemed to me to be a prime opportunity to make some translation noise.

Still, to view the glass half full, it was encouraging to find tangible evidence of a community who not only read translated material, but are aware that it is translated and want to discuss the translated product (even if they’re not discussing the act of translation!) And of course, I ought to remember that this was not a translation conference and that there is more than just that one important aspect of international comics.

Highlights, for me, included Frank Bramlett’s enlightening paper on ‘Conversation Analysis and the Representation of Time in Comics’, in which he discussed how the study of sequentiality in conversation may shed light on how temporal duration is shown in comics; via the linguistic content of the speaker’s turn, rather than the spatial distribution of those turns. Joan Ormrod’s paper ‘Teenage Dream Tonight: UK Girls’ Romance Comics 1957-64’ provided a fascinating investigation into the construction of pop-stardom through the medium of comics, with comics playing the dual role of fanzine and media machine in the days before Beatlemania. And Rikke Platz Cortsen’s detailed paper ‘And the Dog got its Bone – Asterix as an Example of the Chronotope in the European Album’ focussed on the nature of how formal elements of a comic can affect narrative space and time as perceived by the reader, both within one album and over an whole series.

Cortsen’s presentation was memorable for a further reason: she mentioned translation! In passing. But it was there. In album 5 of the Asterix series, the story features a trek around Gaule in order to gather items for a banquet. Cortsen said that the English translation puts emphasis on the dinner, whereas the French emphasises the gathering of goods for the dinner. Eager to pick up on this thread, I asked her in what way the English text had shown this emphasis and she answered that it was in the title. The French title is Le Tour de Gaule d’Astérix [the tour of Gaule of Asterix] which is a clear reference to the Tour de France cycle race and highlights the enormity of the task the characters are faced with in the story. The English title is Asterix and the Banquet, which does indeed focus more on the end result and loses the Tour de France reference. Cortsen is Danish and also read the Asterix comics in her native language. Interestingly, the Danish title of this album (in English) is ‘Going around Gaule’, which, although it doesn’t retain the Tour de France reference either, does emphasise the gathering rather than the banquet.

Needless to say, this got me thinking…!

Samantha Christie is a translator from French and Spanish into English and is currently pursuing 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.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Dear future MALT students,
Although everyone who is, or will be, teaching you in the programme, will probably provide you with all the information you need in order to pass your viva, I think that a student’s point of view is essential as well. Especially when, in my case, the viva was the most intimidating moment I had as a MALTeser. So here is a survival guide to get you through the viva:
First of all, the first question is usually about your dissertation topic and after that, the discussion revolves around it. You would probably already have submitted an abstract or an outline regarding your dissertation topic, so probably you have already figured out what you will be working on. However, things change. And topics change. And probably what seemed interesting 3 weeks ago might seem extremely boring now, or a better idea might have occurred to you but you hadn’t had time to develop it yet, anyway, you are not so sure of what you want to do now. When entering the room for your viva, you must, however, if not be sure of what this little thing called your dissertation is, at least appear to be sure. And I do not mean lie to the examiners, I mean make sure that the moment you get in there you have a specific topic in your mind, and even if you hate it or want to change it, find a way to stand up for it. Otherwise you will not be able to convince them that you actually know what you are doing. Personally, I can’t really remember how many times I heard the phrase “I am not convinced” coming out of the mouth of the external examiner.
But I did not cry. As other people did in previous years. And this brings us to the second point.
Rumor has it that people cried during the viva. The truth is that yes, they cried, but not because of the viva. They cried because they were stressed, because of the tension that every form of examination- even if it is an informal procedure- includes. Some people relax that way; they burst into tears and feel much better afterwards. It does not have to do with the viva or the examiners. In fact, the examiners were very helpful. An extremely helpful fact was that my supervisor was in the room as well, supporting my idea, even when it wasn’t clear in my mind, to be honest. And I felt that she believed in me, and that gave me confidence. And I think that’s what helped me surviv(a)ing in general.
Moving on: be prepared to talk about all the beautiful things you learned- trust me, you will learn some wonderful things, and the most important amongst them is how to combine things you’ve learnt. The discussion will eventually come to what you think of the program, what have you obtained as a translator and what your future plans are. This is- or at least feels- quite casual as a matter of fact, and it usually signifies that your torture is over. It is possible that when you get up to leave the room, you will feel that you haven’t said everything you wanted to. Personal advice: Get out. If they wanted to learn more, they would ask for more. Smile, thank them and go meet the others.
Point number 4: Go meet the others. I have been lucky enough to make friends apart from having fellow MALTesers while in Norwich. Talking to and with them, not only about what happened in the viva, after which I thought that the end of the world had come, but about everything, had proved to be one of the best experiences I had this year. Discussions and arguments about theories and essays and outlines and choices and the future and their plans and your plans, viva simulations and meetings to discuss our outlines, informal workshops where you get to see and show everyone’s work, all these are also part of the programme and the knowledge you obtain, in my opinion.
So yes, the viva is something quite simple, yet quite scary, as all unknown things ahead of us are. The key is to remain calm, feel confident and seem confident, be prepared, remember that it is not an exam; it is a way of showing what you’ve done so far and what you will be doing in the future. Talk about yourself in general. You can do that, can’t you?
And once this is all over, and you get the e-mail that informs you that you have all passed, go out with your friends and drink. And keep talking about theories and rhythm and rhyme. Trust me, you will. It’s inevitable after you have become a MALT student…

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.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Job at UEA

We are looking for a new lecturer in literature and translation at UEA. See this website for more details. Apply to come work with us!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Reading at The Book Hive

If any readers are located near Norfolk (England), feel free to come along to a reading I’ve organized. It will take place at the wonderful independent bookstore The Book Hive in Norwich on 23 June at 7 pm.

Our MA students in literary translation at the University of East Anglia will be reading from their translations. This is a chance to hear books/authors that have not yet been translated to English. And there’ll be drinks as well, which always appeals to literary crowds.

Hope to see some of you there.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Translating etymology and philology

When word choice is influenced by etymology or philology rather than surface meaning, it can be challenging for a target readership to decipher. For the translator, these underlying layers of meaning can be difficult to render to a target audience, further removed from these initial cultural references.
Etymology and philology are inextricably weighed down by the unique social, political and historical contexts of a given language community. The word is, in effect, a suitcase which we - the reader, translator, the critic – tend to view from a far. Rarely will we venture close enough to unpack a word. When we do, we realise that baggage inspection can be a risky business.
For example, one suggestion regarding the derivation of posh relates to India under British colonial rule. Pale-skinned expatriates would avoid the sun by standing on one side of the boat in the morning, and on the other at sunset, leading to the acronym Port Out Starboard Home. Is this a reliable story? The OED refutes this explanation but concedes it is part of ‘folk etymology’. In other words, although it may be erroneous, the explanation is widely believed.
Opening a suitcase suddenly becomes complicated when we can’t agree on its contents. Yet if a translator perceives that a source author is trying to convey these complicated meanings, can they be brought over to a target language?
Translation (from Latin translat- 'carried across') implies the notion of journey, yet often a word’s etymology will be lost along the way. Possible word-for-word translations of posh into other languages run the risk of losing these etymological meanings: pijo in Iberian Spanish (of uncertain origin according to the Real Academia Española) and alinhado in European Portuguese (from Old French lignage, from Latin linea 'a line’ according to the latest Dicionário Onomástico Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa ).
In “What is a Relevant Translation?” Dérrida is preoccupied with the transfer of a word’s cultural baggage from one language to another, going as far as to question whether it can leave the ‘airport’ at all. But is it therefore viable to ignore these meanings altogether? Venuti bemoans the tendency to domesticate when translating into English, and this could certainly be seen as an extension of this process.
At the end of “La reivindicación del Conde don Julián” (The Revenge of don Count Julián) Juan Goytisolo presents the Spanish reader with clusters of Spanish words of Arabic origin such as “algodón, algarrobo, alfalfa” (cotton, carob, lucerne). The stylistic effect here attempts to undermine the then Francoist claims of Spanish’s linguistic and ethnic purity. Approaching the translation of this cluster into English, I feel that two strategies are feasible. One would be to maintain the words as they are in Spanish, thus maintaining the Arabic overtones suggested by the prefix al- (Arabic: the) of which many English speakers would be aware . Essentially, the English text is foreignised. The second would be to introduce a Francophone element into the target text, leading to coton, caroube and lucerne. The English text is once more foreignised. Or is it? While this replicates the philology of English, or the influence of French in English, the cultural baggage of these words is transferred to a target setting. As a means of preserving the baggage of the source language, the first strategy is most successful.

-- 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

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Lawrence Venuti's The Translator's Invisibility

Lawrence Venuti's book, The Translator's Invisibility (2008, 2nd edn) is a polemical history of translation into English from the seventeenth century to the present day, and it is littered with contradictions. I think we can understand these contradictions if we understand his argument not as a recommendation of a certain translation process, but as a way of critically reading translations. I also think that his polemic can be recast as a discussion of location. The notion of location will undo some of his more flagrantly rhetorical argument, hopefully opening the way for more open discussion.

This critical appreciation was written shortly after reading Anthony Pym's review in Target, and owes a good deal to his thoughts. I should further mention though, that I am engaging primarily and simply with Venuti, imagining that this can be worthwhile despite all the scholarship which has moved on from his position. The first edition of his book was published in 1995, and I recommend in particular Maria Tymoczko's work on post-colonial translation and ethics.

Venuti's most basic distinction is between domestication and foreignization. He draws heavily on Friedrich Schleiermacher's notion that the translator can take the reader to the author, or bring the author to the reader. So these two nouns are verbal: they refer to ways of translating: translation which domesticates, and translation which foreignizes. Venuti is against domestication, and for foreignization, on ethical grounds.

He first takes issue, though, with a distinction between qualities of discourse: fluency and resistancy. These are not however to be simply aligned with domestication and foreignization, nor are the latter to be seen as poles in the manner of many historical pronouncements on translation.

Violence is essential to the nature of translation. Venuti denies that this is a metaphorical description, but that violence is literally done to the semantic, syntactic, phonemic, phonetic structures of the source text.

He seems to indicate that he would prefer more violence to be done to the target language, in order that the cultural status (I must admit I struggle to understand this section of his argument) of the source text might retain its uniqueness, emerging undamaged into the target culture, where it might have a 'dissident' or disruptive effect.

I will now turn to his contradictions. Archaism is approved, as in (Cardinal) John Henry Newman's Iliad or Ezra Pound's Wayfarer. Archaism is disapproved, as in Robert Graves' Twelve Caesars, 'catamite'. Fixed form is approved, as in the balladic stanzas of Newman's Iliad. Fixed form is disapproved, as in Matthew Arnold's recommendations and criticisms of Newman.

But why, in each of these cases, is there approval or disapproval? In Newman's Iliad and Pound's Wayfarer, archaism is a populist or playful gesture. In Graves' Twelve Caesars, 'catamite' is an abstruse word meaning 'young man with whom one engages in sexual relations' and is disapproved of as homophobic. In Newman's Iliad, the balladic form is a popular way to tell a tale in verse, as it has long been in English tradition. Arnold's recommendations of heroic couplets and hexameter, which had long been considered a close way of rendering Homer's Greek versification while maintaining some of the tradition of the English epic, are disapproved of as evidence of elitist, exclusivist sensibility.

Liberal humanism is approved, insofar as the tolerance and acceptance of others is in focus. Liberal humanism is disapproved, when it seeks a principled implementation of its values. (Nida's functional or dynamic equivalence is dismissed as the pragmatic proselytising of a confirmed evangelist).

Venuti perceives a 'trade imbalance' between (the many) books translated from English and (the few) books translated to English: more translation to English would be good. But the co-opting or appropriation of foreign literatures to some kind of hegemonising 'world literature' would be bad.

Hence the importance of the ethical approach to translation: we translators should present the foreign faithfully, we have a duty to our authors, to our readers, and to our various cultures, whether distinct or shared.

Here is my one point of detail: when reading in chapter six Venuti's account of his own 'foreignizing' translations from the Italian, I was struck by how naturally they read. I mean naturally both in the discursive sense of 'fluency' and the ethical/cultural sense of 'domestically'.

There's a particular word choice he picks out: 'carefully.' Perhaps I was prepared for too much of a shock, perhaps I've read too much slightly shocking English literature, or perhaps Venuti's argument has had such a great effect since 1995 (when the first edition came out) that my youthful understanding has formed entirely in his wake. I'm not so sure. He claims his translation of 'carefully' is suggested by the English translation of Hegel's works, and that the whole poem is working out a tension between the positions of Hegel and Nietzsche. Perhaps my ignorance of the German philosophers should hold me back from commenting, but perhaps he is just going a long way around the houses to seek justification for a very simple choice.

What if this is turned on its head, though? If I ignore that Venuti seems fruitlessly to seek justification for a choice, then I can notice that he is very carefully inferring a great deal from the text of his translated poem. Then foreignization is no longer to be considered an attitude which can motivate the translation process. Foreignization is not a way to translate. It is an attitude of reading-in, a way to critically appreciate translation.

Then Venuti's apparently contradictory readings of Newman and Arnold and Pound and Graves and others could stand - or fall - on the specific arguments of his readings. My basic criticism is that Venuti is too ready to ascribe specific intentions and values to the translator, and that he does not seem to recognise or make explicit the way in which his criticism is simply a way of reading.

This can move one step further. Frequently, in casual discussions of translation, the terms 'domestic' and 'foreign' very quickly become confusing. Whose domestic? Foreign to whom?

I translate only to English, so it might seem simple enough at first. But a book written and published in English and set in Tripoli, Libya, such as 'In the Country of Men' by Hisham Matar, uses 'Baba' and 'Mama' on the first page. At home (domestically) I would say 'mum' and 'dad', and in New York (Matar's birthplace) 'mom' and 'pop' might be more usual.

Location might be a more helpful word for translators. Location would, at first, be more concerned with cultural concepts that occur within a text - places, foods, dances, modes of address, and so on and on - than with the form and style and feel of a text. We might later argue that form and style and feel and rhythm do as much if not more to locate a text, but there is unfortunately no room for that exploration here.

What the notion of location does, is recognise that the cultural setting of a work of literature is far more specific than simply its language. And that the languages we call 'French' and 'English' and 'Arabic' are far more heterogeneous than those easy names give credit. There are traditions - plural - within any language. And it is harder by far to define a 'Standard English' than might be imagined. Venuti's polemical terms of 'foreignization' and 'domestication' flatten the field of argument so much that they are difficult to engage with in dialogue. Location would allow us to account for a literary and cultural pluralism.

When translating novels, which is probably the most visible area of literary translation today (at least if you look at certain best-selling crime novels) the question of location occurs often. The question at many points of difficulty could be, how will I locate this?

The translated novel need not be afraid of the new. I don't remember the last time I read about an utterly familiar setting. Some student moves about a bit, and ends up in a small room with many books and a view (over the rooves on the edge of the estate) of a horse in a field just outside Norwich. Even in this, though, I realise that there is much here that is still unfamiliar to me. Whose is that horse?

Insofar as any literature is concerned with the particular, it will be unfamiliar to its readers. Without that, we could have neither the joy of pure escapism nor the food for thought of more difficult reading.

The central thrust of Venuti's book is that translators should do two things. We should seek for quality. And we should assume responsibility. Venuti is perhaps embarrassed to say such a simple thing, but in the end his call to action asks simply for translations, and translators, to be good.

--- Tom Russell is a literary translator from French to English. He read French and English at Oxford and is currently studying for an MA in Literary Translation at UEA. Particular interests include eighteenth and twentieth century short fiction, and problems in the translation of rhythm. He is also currently co-editor of Norwich Papers, an annual journal of translation studies.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Happy endings and open doors

The sound of the word theory usually makes me feel suspicious, especially if it is to form part of practical training. I am not saying anything original here: it is a common belief that in order to learn and improve one’s practice one needs to get her/his hands dirty practicing, not to talk about practice; and in this case in specific, one need better translate instead of theorize about translation.
But then again, there is quite a large bibliography on translation theory and without translation theory, what would translation studies be? Maybe then, translation theory can actually help. Maybe it came to exist in order to satisfy a need, in order to reply to someone’s constant cry for help. Maybe the answer to ‘can translation theory help me as a translator?’ is yes. Maybe this is not even the question I should be asking, maybe I should ask: How can translation theory help me as a translator?
To be honest, I think that, even though I had never before formed the words, I did have this question in mind when in the beginning of this term, I was taking out from the library all sorts of translation textbooks, each week a new approach, each week new names of academics that had said too much-or too little-in the specific field. But the answer to the question instead of becoming clearer became vaguer.
I felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what I was reading; what I could not grasp was how what I was reading would make any difference to me when I would have to deal with the rendering of an idiomatic phrase, let’s say, with high cultural specificity, in another language. Because yes, all these bipolarities suggested by different people-and meaning more or less the same-made some sense, but could they really be of any use?
Yes, a translation can be foreignizing and it can be domesticating, it can be documentary and instrumental but did it have to be either or, and even so, what did this mean for me when I was translating? I became highly doubtful of the fact that all this was helping me become a better translator and suddenly, I found myself asking again, whether translation theory can actually help me. Everything I was reading made my confusion bigger.
At some point I even thought of not reading any more theories…what was the point? After all, the result was to further confuse me and surely, soon I would not remember half the things that confused me, so why bother? But then again, I do not so much like to be the faint-hearted that ends up quitting, so I decided to continue reading the different theories we had each week and treat the whole process as something helpful. Now, when and where and how it would be helpful I should not question, and maybe in the end meaning would reveal itself to me.
I would really like to say that I was right and close this story with a happy ending along the lines: “And so, now, I know why I read translation theories, everything makes perfect sense to me and I live happily translating with the invaluable help of theory”.
But, this is not the case. It is not not the case either.
The ending to this story is that with the passing of time-and the reading and perhaps understanding of more theories-I started noticing that even though I was not consciously thinking of any of the theories I read about when translating a text, I was actually using them a lot when I talked about the said translation. Also, I found that with my fellow classmates we tended to go on for hours about something that we had all read and trying to give our own definitions of terms introduced by Venuti or Nida or some other academic.
With time all the conversations and all the thoughts that came after I had translated a text and was looking at the translation, made me feel more at ease with translation theory and also made me read translation theories with a different attitude. I still feel that what I’m reading is not clearly transferable in the actual practice of translation, but I also feel that by being exposed to theory I have learned to understand better my practice and to be able to talk about it with more confidence.
I know that I will probably forget most of the names of the theoreticians and surely, the theories that were already outdated when I read about them, or that I completely disagreed with, will not stay with me, but nor will the confusion and the suspicious eye towards translation theory. I feel that perhaps it is not there to be with me constantly, and I know that it does not go hand in hand with practice but I also know that if read with an open mind it can help open doors for the translation.
And opening doors that would be otherwise closed has to be a happy ending, no?

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.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Theory meets practice? (This is not an anti-theory post)

Spring semester in MALT programme and things have become really exciting. New modules, new ideas, new supplies for our future translation arsenal. One of our most powerful weapons as literary translators is, presumably, a good knowledge of theory. And therefore, we were all happy to find out that there was a “translation theory” module in this semester’s programme.
I haven’t had any specific difficulty with this module, at least regarding all the reading we have to do. I like it, I find it extremely interesting, so much that I actually find myself not being able to stop talking about theories at some times. I have even managed to come up with some pretty decent jokes concerning theories and theorists.
However, I have been facing a problem as far as translation theories are concerned: I don’t seem to be able to apply them-and by the moment I have written this, I know that I take a great risk by using this term.
I am not trying to start an anti-theory manifesto, claiming that theory is not necessary and- in more extreme terms- useless. I believe I have a long way to go if I ever decide to actually set that as a belief. I am only stating that we should not consider theory to be panacea.
Literary translation is a very creative domain of translation studies. The translator is often regarded as a writer, especially when it comes to the “author is dead/alive” dilemma. Some times, intuition is stronger than any kind of theory, descriptive or prescriptive, and unfortunately, intuition cannot be engaged with theories-at least in my mind. Having been practicing translation for some years now, I have come to realise that theory can help to some extent, but it can’t overshadow the state of mind of a translator in the process of translating, unless one is asked to do so. Theory has helped me as a translator- reader, not as a translator- writer.
I feel the need to say one more time that I am not suggesting that theory can be yet another constraint-as if there were not de facto many- for a translator, and I am definitely not rejecting theory. What I am saying, is that if theory is supposed to “simply be a way of looking at the world”, as Gutt suggests, then every one has a different way to do that, a different perspective on what the world is, different experiences and ways of understanding whatever takes place to their reality.
And after I have managed to work all my way through inconsistency, since by quoting a theorist, I automatically reject all the things that I have argued above, I believe that theories are useful when we are not narrow-minded, following them with blind faith, considering them to be our translation Messiah.
However, intuition in translation is a marvelous thing. As the topic of this year’s Norwich Papers issue suggests, “it just does/doesn’t sound right” can be a very powerful theory, strategy, notion on its own (I wouldn’t want to call it something specific, as it is quite wide an idea to be described by one word only.)
To sum up, as mentioned above, this is not an anti-theory post. Theory is essential as well as intuition. They come in peace, they are here to help. They are not supposed to work as constraints. Publishers do a terrific job regarding that…

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.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Computer theory

The other day I read an article in the Guardian (I think it was). Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the article, and I've cleared my browser history since I read it, but the reason I'm mentioning it is because it contained a link. A very interesting link. It was from a column written by my current home-boy, Umberto Eco, which can be found at In this speech, Eco compares religion to computers. He says that Macs are Catholics and PCs are Protestants. Now I'm neither Catholic or Protestant, but I think the idea of there being a theory behind computers very interesting.

As a Mac user, I've never thought of myself as having anything to do with Catholicism. In fact, I don't actually know much about Catholicism. However, I do think Eco's views are very interesting. He states that the Mac operating system is, "cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation."

I agree that Macs are very user friendly. When I got my first Mac, a Power Mac G4, I thought it was incredible that I could just open the box, attach the cables in their proper places, and voilà! Instant computer. I never had any kind of experience of that nature with Windows. In fact, even to this day, I still find Windows incredibly frustrating and difficult to navigate. With Macs, everything I need is right there

If I want to search for a document on my computer, for example, I just hit Command-space and type in the term I need. I can even write special notes so I can find a document or picture (for instance) more easily. If I want to do the same thing in Windows, I have to click on the Start menu, type in a term, and wait while the computer searches for the term, which it may or may not find, since there is no way to type any special notes. In other words, you have to know exactly what you are looking for if you want to find something in Windows. I once tried to look for a programme called Task Manager, which is a piece of software that every windows computer automatically comes with, so I could see how much processing space the machine was using. When I typed in "Task Manager" into the Windows search box, there were no results. If I now typed in those same words on Spotlight (the Mac search box), I would instantly be directed to this very document. Umberto says that DOS (the programming on which Windows is based) is Calvinistic, and I agree with him. With Windows, you have to accept their terms or else. I think this would also apply to the Windows word processor, Microsoft Word. In order to view a Word document either by you or someone else, you have to have Word installed on your computer. There are other programmes that can convert into Word, but they are unable to read Word files. I remember very early in my undergraduate career when I wrote an entire paper in AppleWorks, a Mac word processor which (alas) no longer exists. I tried to open it on a school computer and could not figure out why it would not open. I think I actually ended up copying and pasting the text of the paper into an email and sending it to myself. Unfortunately, it also meant that all of the footnotes I had written for this paper were missing, since AppleWorks did not copy them. If I had taken the Calvinistic Windows approach and accepted Word, I would have been able to print out the document without any problems. As a result of this, I later bought a copy of Word for Mac, which, now that I think about it, must completely contradict Eco's theory.

Lastly, I wonder what Eco would think of Rich Text Files, which can be opened by any word processor, from AppleWorks to Apple Pages to Text Edit to Word to Open Office. All for one and one for all. A sort of Three Musketeers theory, if you will. Which, incidentally, is precisely what I wrote this in. Text Edit.

Sabrina Steiner is a Spanish to English translator and ardent Beatles fan. You can contact her at

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Translation and Intentism: A Dialogue

Intentism is a movement which believes that art (in the broad sense) can convey an artist’s intended message to his or her intended audience. It both recognises and celebrates the relationship between an artist’s creation and its creator. Vittorio Pelosi is a founding member of Intentism. Over February-March 2011, I spoke to him about translation and Intentism, to get a better understanding of whether they are compatible. Below is an edited fragment of the conversation between Vittorio (not a translator) and myself (not necessarily an Intentist). Apologies for not presenting the entire dialogue; our discussion is still under way.

Samantha Christie: Can you provide a brief introduction to your ideas?

Vittorio Pelosi: It was said in a seminal work called 'The Intentional Fallacy' by Wimsatt and Beardsley that not only can intentions not be accurately found, but even if they were, they would not be useful in understanding meaning. However, Intentists believe that the work is the 'vehicle' of the meaning and that intentions imbue the work with meaning. If you want to distill our theory into a statement, I suppose it would be that 'all meaning is the outworking of intention.' This is to say, intention by itself is not meaning, as intention is a 'performance expectation'. However, once the intention has been realized, the meaning is found in what was intended.

SC: Where does translation stand in relation to Intentism? Are there any translators already working within an Intentist framework? Has it been written about?

VP: Intentists believe that a translator should put the author's intention (originally formed in one language) in a new set of signs (language.) Professor William Irwin, an Intentist and an American philosopher, has touched on this. He quotes Gadamer, who was against much of what Intentists believe. Gadamer said that however much a translator can empathize with the original author, the translator cannot re-awaken the original process in the writer's mind. Instead, the translator re-creates the text guided by the way he understands what it says. And Jorge J. E. Gracia makes an interesting distinction. He says that the translator can be a new author, but only the author of a new text, since the translator chooses new signs and nothing has been written in this language like this before. However, he can't be the author of the work, since that remains with the original creator.

SC: Gadamer’s point is quite a common view amongst translation scholars. We're almost trained to see ourselves in that way, actually. I agree with him. Though I also think it depends on what type of text is being translated and why - if it's a two-line answer to a question, something quite close
will probably be appropriate. If it's a poem or a highly stylised piece of writing, I think re-creating or rewriting comes into it more. There is more involvement from the translator and there are some cases where you have to restructure phrases in order for them to make sense in English, or add a short extra sentence to explain something culturally-specific. I agree with Gracia, too. The translator is the author of a new text; a re-created text.

VP: Intentists believe 'No creative input, no meaning input’ - meaning that anyone who creates something or adds to it creatively, adds to it epistemologically.

SC: I find this very interesting from a translation viewpoint. I see the translator as a separate entity from the author, not just an extension. Inevitably when translating, some of your personal views or style of language will seep in, or you may deliberately try to translate in a certain way to highlight certain things. We've already established that we have a creative input into the translation, so if we think of the translation alone, couldn't we see that the translator has a meaning input as well? I don't just mean by putting it into a new language we get the new meaning (or same meaning in a different language), I mean by the translation choices made. For example, translating a feminist text in such a way as to emphasize the feminism, or translating for a new audience, such as a children’s version. In this way, the translator’s intention supersedes the author’s.

VP: I think I agree. There needs to be a distinguishable difference between the work before the creative act and afterwards. So for example, some postmodernists believe in the creative eye. This is their way of saying when you look at a work you construct the signs and symbols through your creative frame of reference. This is another way of saying meaning comes from the viewer and not the author. I don't think this holds water. It has been put to me this way: I visit a gallery and I see a work I had seen before. Between my visits it has been seen by another without my knowing. Could I tell from the work alone? Surely not. The work is unchanged. Therefore, there is no genuine creative input that changes the works meaning. (Different cultures and generations can have different views of a work, but that is new significance, not meaning.) However, obviously a translation directly affects the text. So I think I would agree.

A full version of this dialogue will appear on in April.

Samantha Christie is a translator from French and Spanish into English and is currently pursuing 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.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Call for Papers

Call for Contributions:
‘It just doesn’t sound right.’ – Translation and Intuition
Translation is a problem with two horns: to be caught on the point of free and apparently
subconscious decision; or to be pinned by the mechanical application of theory. But perhaps
this is not a helpful dichotomy. Rather, we would like to ask where in the muddle translation
actually happens, and how balance is struck between conflicting thought processes.
‘It just doesn’t sound right’ is both the catchphrase and bane of the practising translator. A lot
stands behind these apparently throwaway words, and we would like to invite considerations of
how they might be unpacked.
Areas of interest include, but are not restricted to:
- spirit and affect – how can poetics account for the sublime, or literature’s affective
power, the hairs that stand on the back of the neck?
- intentionality – the relationship between translator and author.
- preservation of non-standard features, especially in texts written to be read as if spoken.
- critical reception of translations, and the intuitive approval of translations that read smoothly.
- what is strange about translated language, and why?
- the stuff and substance of language – can we understand or only intuit the iconicity of sound?
Submission details
Please submit your papers to
Deadline: Friday April 29th, 2011
Format: Word documents or Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please follow the Harvard style of
referencing. Articles should be between 4000 and 5000 words long, written in English.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Cultural Translations Symposium 2011


Valletta Campus,
Old University Building,
St Paul Street,

15-16th April

*Subject*: *Cultural Translations Symposium 2011*

The first definition of the word ‘translation’ offered by the OED is ‘Transference; removal or conveyance from one person, place, or condition to another’. Understood in this way, it is apparent that translation’s relationship with literary and cultural texts is not simply that of a process whereby a particular text is rendered in another language. Translation is not only something done to a text.
Understood in the broader sense, it is something that has occupied and exercised the literary and cultural imagination from its beginnings. This strange coextensivity takes us from Homer’s tale of the ‘translations’ of Ulysses, right the way up to Rushdie’s declaration that diasporic writers are ‘translated men’. Literary and visual culture has always told of journeys, loss, changes in condition or circumstance; even its very modes – metaphor, symbolism, irony, figuration itself – are arguably inherently translational. So although any mention of translation immediately and inevitably calls to mind what might be called ‘linguistic’ translation, on further consideration literature and visual culture seem to have always been preoccupied with what might be called ‘cultural’ translation. The distinction, however, is not an easy one. The border between the two is far from impenetrable and the linguistic is as prone to being carried over into the cultural as the cultural is to the linguistic.
However one looks at it, then, translation is rife and arguably always cultural. This conference invites papers that respond to and explore cultural translations and translations of culture in literature, art, culture and theory.

Papers may discuss, but need not be limited to, issues like the following;

• Loss and gain: the economy of cultural translation
• Literature and the exilic consciousness
• Cultural translation as an agent of literary/cultural/ historical
• The relationship between cultural translation and cultural memory
• Human translation and questions concerning technology
• The cultural turn in translation studies
• The place and state of language(s) in cultural translation
• Ethnicity, hybridity and multiculturalism
• Diaspora and migration
• Borders, margins and the in-between in art and culture
• ‘Foreignising’ cultural translations
• Cultural adaptation and transmediation
• Cultural untranslatability
• Surviving translation
• Origins, originality and authenticity
• Cultural translation and the future of comparative literature and
transnational literatures
• Aesthetics, politics and ideology in cultural translation
• Literary geographies

Proposals to be sent to:

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Call for Papers

Call for Papers
A Dangerous Liaison? The Effects of Translation and Interpreting Theory on Practice
UWM Graduate Conference in Translation and Interpreting Studies
Friday 30 September and Saturday 1 October, 2011
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Keynote speakers: Gertrud Champe and Madeleine Velguth

“A theory of translation is potentially more dangerous to translation practice than a theory of meaning, of literature, of the text, or of the reader.”
Jean Boase-Beier, 'Who Needs Theory?'

Translation and interpreting theory can be tremendously liberating for the practitioner but, as Boase-Beier argues, this liberating potential can be undermined by “naive application”. Translation and Interpreting Studies have been consolidating their status as independent academic disciplines since the 1980s and as a result today's translators and interpreters increasingly receive rigorous formal training in their field. Translation and interpreting theory is a well-established component of translation and interpreting programs, but the precise use that theoretically-aware translators and interpreters make of this knowledge in their practice is in need of further exploration. How does theory influence the trained translator/interpreter? Are 'outside' theories such as theories of cognition more useful to the translator/interpreter than theories generated within Translation and Interpreting Studies? Is the over-schooled practitioner a dangerous creature?

MA and PhD students are invited to submit proposals for twenty-minute papers on any aspect of the relationship between translation theory and practice. Potential topics might include, but are not limited to:

• Theory at the “wordface” (Wagner)
• Translation and interpreting practice and 'outside' theories
• Cognitive theories of translation and interpreting
• 'Failed' translations
• The dangers of translation and interpreting theory
• Translation pedagogy
• New directions in translation and interpreting theory

Expressions of interest are also solicited from graduate students who would like to participate in a round table on graduate programs in translation and interpreting and/or in a language-specific workshop in literary translation.

Please e-mail 250 word proposals for papers and expressions of interest in the round table and/or workshops to by April 30, 2011.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Rant about finding books in Spanish

It's funny. When I write blog posts on my own blog, I can almost always think of something to day, but when I have to do it for an assignment, it's much more difficult. I’d imagine this also isn’t long enough anyway, and I probably can’t start it with “Today was a lovely day” like I usually do.

I've been trying to find books in Spanish to use for my two essays for Case Studies and Stylistics, but I'm having a very difficult time. It's a bit difficult to find books in Spanish when there's no Amazon in Peninsular Spanish (I'm not sure if there's a Latin American Amazon; must check on that) and Google España keeps giving me results in English.

Luckily, while I was Googling away, it occurred to me that years ago while I was still in university, I ordered a Spanish-French Larousse Grande from a Spanish bookstore and had it delivered to my university in the States. So after some more Googling (oh, how i love that word), I figured out the name of the site. Casa del Libro, or, if you prefer an English name, I suppose it would be something like "Book House" or "House of Books." I think I'm going to stick with "Book House" because then it sounds like a spoof of the Commadores' song "Brick House": 'cos she's a book house / she's mighty mighty, just letting those words come out.'

So I ordered a Spanish translation of Agatha Christie's 4.50 from Paddington in from Casa del Libro. It's my very favourite Agatha Christie book, and I thought it would be fun to write a paper about it (I've read just about all of her mysteries, and I love them). That was over a week ago. The only confirmation I've gotten was one of those automated emails saying "we've received your order," or words to that effect.

But I still haven't gotten the damn shipping confirmation form. Tis madness, I tells ya (as Russell Brand might say). Actually, he'd probably say something more expletive laden (and so would I), but I'm probably not allowed to swear in these things.

But seriously, how the flip am I supposed to get books in Spanish from the inter-webs if I can't even get a damn confirmation from the book shop? There must be an easier way.

[Edit] There is no Amazon Mexico. Why????? There bloody well should be.[/edit]

[Edit 2] Ack, it changed the font on me. Never mind, I fixed it. Damn it, now I forgot what I was going to say. Oh, wait, I remember. I found a copy of 4.50 at Casa del Libro, as I mentioned earlier, but then I was told by one of my lovely class mates that there’s a book shop in London called Grant and Cutler that has all sorts of books in other languages. I went there and got the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, and it’s a really cool shop. In addition to Spanish, I saw books in Portuguese, Russian, French, and even Japanese.

By Sabrina Steiner, Translator and Beatle Queen

Sabrina Steiner translates from Spanish to English and is an ardent Beatles fan. For more Beatle goodness, you can read her blog at and visit her website at