Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Necessity is the Mother of In(ter)vention

The Irish have a reputation for being inventive users of invective – I should know, I am Irish and have spent most of my adult life so far in Dublin city, hearing the language of the street and the pub. There’s the classic long word bisected with a curse in the middle; abso-xxxx-lutely, the mixing of vulgar language and profanity; ah for Jaysus’ sake! My personal favourite is the former, it feels like language taken to its absurd yet logical conclusion. However, all this was taken away from me as a translator, when I began my dissertation recently.

I decided to see what would happen if I translated a text in French into English, but English of a certain flavour. Hiberno-English is spoken in Ireland, and glories in the turns of phrase I have just mentioned as well as many others, according to the region. My idea was to show that a quite specific kind, or variety of English can be just as expressive as any other. More importantly, I wanted to show that specific varieties of language can express big, important emotions and concepts as easily as a more standardised kind, (like the one you might read in a newspaper, or a literary novel).

The text I am translating is a short story by the Moroccan writer and novelist Fouad Laroui. It is an extended conversation between friends on the terrace of a café, during which ne character recounts a dramatic, often funny story about their city, El-Jadida. It is satirical and hilarious, pointed but subtle. Best of all, it reminded me of the conversations I would often hear on the bus, or at the next table at a Dublin café. This gave me a sort of model, a delineation for the kind of Hiberno-English I would employ. But the fact remained that nobody in the story really swears. Once or twice, this is suggested, and there are plenty of opportunities for the less than polite use of language in the friendly, yet combative discussions and teasing the story contains. As for blasphemy, it wasn’t even an issue.
The important thing to remember about translation, and this is especially obvious in literary translation, that it’s not just the words and the plot that have to be read again in the new language, it’s also aspects of culture. They affect both source and target text at every level; what characters assume to be normal, or good, or funny; the aspects of daily life which the author needs to explain to the readers and those things which are ‘obvious’. In seeking to help my readers in translation know Laroui’s characters better, am I inadvertently distorting them?

My solution was to let loose Dublin speech in the story and to employ just as much hyperbole and storytelling as in the source text. I did introduce one or two words which don’t exist in other Englishes, but the point was to be inventive. Without the blasphemous, curse-heavy aspect of Hiberno-English to fall back on, I had to engage more with the source text, play with sentence structure and make it funny without being rude. In my opinion, my story is the better for it. And, thank Jaysus, I have not misrepresented the characters, or at least done my very best not to.

Anna Bryant is completing her MA in Literary Translation at UEA, and hoping to start translating in the real world soon. She works from French and Irish to English and likes short and long form fiction. She is contactable at

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Defining the Role of the Translator: my year on the MA in Literary Translation

Looking back at my work from the MA in Literary Translation, it has been the role of the reader and of the author that has continued to shape my idea of what it means to translate. To what extent is an author responsible for their work? And how does this influence the process of translation? To what extent is any reading of a text possible? And how does this affect my role as a translator? These are the ideas which have and continue to excite me.
During the first semester I focused on the translation of landscape within Anton Chekhov’s short stories. Through this work I discovered that a text, in itself, creates the potential for profound effects on the reader, something which I argue is similar to standing in a landscape; the topography, colours and situation all create a potential to illicit certain responses from the reader. My main focus therefore remained on the text itself, in considering, as Umberto Eco puts it, its ‘maze-like structure’, and therefore my aim as a translator was to recreate this particular structure in order to retain the same potential for effects.
During the second semester I translated a children’s story that was written in Russia during the Stalinist period. I found the translation of this particular children’s story to be extremely complex, as the role of the reader (a child) and of the author (someone bound by law to write for the purposes of communism) were closely bound by an ideology that differed drastically from the prevailing ideology of the culture into which I was translating the text; my focus was consequently shifted to the reader, making sure that the subversive elements, already present in the text, were visible in the translation. During this semester I also translated a selection of microfiction by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms. I began the project by reading the author’s notebooks alongside his microfiction, but soon discovered that the voices within these texts were indistinguishable; the voice in the notebooks was no closer to Daniil Kharms, as a once real, living person, than the voice in his microfiction. This project transformed the way in which I approach translation, decentring the role of the author, and thereby freeing up my role as a translator; emphasis was on the text, and my reading of it.
Finally, my last project on this course focuses on the translation of three short stories by the Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya, and in particular on the notion of ‘mind style’; a notion which suggests that systematic linguistic choices reflect the workings of an individual mind. Through this research I have come to understand the author within the text is a hazy spectral figure created through concrete elements of the text, something neither completely dead nor completely alive; something which has the ability to shift and change, but which nevertheless has a felt presence, allowing the text to work as an organic whole. I have so far concluded that because a work of literature is both a concrete text which has been organised by an individual mind, and because it requires a reading in order for it to have any meaning, a translation is always inevitably both an individual reading and a recreation of the work as constructed by an author; a translator, in other words, is always to a greater or lesser degree, a collaborator; neither working alone, nor at the mercy of authorial intention.

Hannah Collins studied Russian and French at the University of Nottingham. She works as a freelance translator and is currently studying on the Literary Translation MA at the UEA. Her email address is

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Trying to Become a Translator

At the beginning of the year I asked one of the PhD students about the reputations of the various creative writing courses. He had something to say about the prose students, the poetry students and then stopped. ‘What about the translation students?’ I asked – ‘Oh, we’re invisible’.

I did not realize at the time how deep his comment went. From neglect in the publishing world to second class literary status in the narrow minds of few, translation has a tough living all around. But while I could not do much in a global sense, I made every attempt to bring literary translation to the public. As part of my internship with the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) I led an international literature reading group at the Norwich Forum public library. The meetings to talking about world literature in translation were an opportune time to share what I learned in translation courses with the general public. And in return I received insight into actual readers of translated literature. What a translation should sound like, look like, read like was challenged on both sides of me—on the one side theory from academia, on the other side an appreciation for unobstructed literature written in English. Even now I try to keep the two sides in mind when I translate.

Of equal but very different value to me was the MA reading series I founded and hosted at two venues in Norwich. The free events were an excuse to get people together from different UEA MA creative writing courses: prose, poetry, nonfiction, literary translation and scriptwriting (though no scriptwriters participated this year). At these events the five or six readers, who would consist of writers from the various MA courses, would read about ten minutes of their work, followed by mingling. People seemed to enjoy the readings, which included joke means of introducing the readers such as horoscopes and fake biographies. In the spirit of keeping the final reading lively and anything but a reading, I staged a ‘performance piece’ in the style of American comedian, Eric Andre, wherein I destroyed the setting of the show to jazz music (

While some of this may indeed have chipped the status of literary translators in the community, it was all meant in good fun and aimed at making literary translators and literary translation memorable to others. For that reason I also aimed to include literary translators, my course-mates, in as many of the readings as possible, despite being the smallest group in numbers. The motivation behind these things, but in no way responsible for them, was Daniel Hahn’s differentiation between translating—doing the work of translation—and being a translator, spreading the word about translation as well as translating. It means promoting the work of translators and translation as a whole concept in the community here and abroad. While I could only work in Norwich, I think I did something right. After my antics, I read a poem I am currently translating for my dissertation; and despite my heavy breathing, bleeding and general disorientation after the introduction, two people contacted me about seeing the poem again with the originals. Not only did my translation piques peoples’ interest, but it put more translations in more hands (or ears), which is the goal of every translator.

Cole Konopka was born in 1988. He is a freelance English-German translator, writer and painter ( You can contact him at:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

What is Translation, Then?

Onement VI (Barnett Newman, 1953)

On 14th May 2013, this work of art was sold for 44 million dollars. The people of the Internet reacted as expected (see 44 million dollars for a blue canvas with a white line in the middle? Is that art? Why? What is art?

Like art, translation is very hard – if not impossible – to define. Many have tried; many have failed. Most resort to the use of metaphors in order to express the ineffable, as metaphors supply what language itself cannot provide (Dann, 2002: 2).

One of the most famous is the metaphor of translation as a beautiful and unfaithful woman (D’Ablancourt, quoted in Hurtado Albir, 1990: 231), but the world of Translation Studies (and literature) is full of other examples. I would like to quote Nabokov (cited by Bollettieri Bosinelli, 2003: 47), who wrote:

What is translation? On a platter
a poet’s pale and glaring head.
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
and a profanation of the dead.

Scholars have also tried to offer a proper definition, or at least to express the need of a definition or sets of definitions. Many other questions have been proposed in order to be able to answer the main one: ‘what is translation?’

Is translation a matter of...

source and target text?
author and reader?
fidelity and originality?
foreignisation and domestication?

Is a translator a reader or a writer?

There is an evident recurring theme, here. Aren’t these spectra of choices? Two distinct ends and the whole world in the middle. Is translation a matter of choices, then?

I would say yes.

A translator might choose a text to translate in which language. Or might be given a text which has been chosen by somebody else. The translator chooses to translate almost literally or to be creative and make bolder stylistic choices. When it comes to individual ‘translation issues’ (e.g. the translation of names, of neologisms, of metaphors, of culture-bound words...), he or she might choose literal translation over dynamic equivalence or vice versa, or even adapt his or her choices to the individual instances.

In this way, a translated text looks like a finished painting for which the painter has strived to find the perfect combination of materials, tools and colours according to his or her own personal view on art. Should I use watercolours or oil paint? What shade of green should I use to paint this detail? Which size of brush for that section?

Translation is a matter of choices, which vary from the very small detail of choosing a word instead of another, to the definition of translation itself. As a matter of fact, I believe that a translator is entitled and heartily recommended to choose his or her own definition of translation.
After this MA programme in Literary Translation, I have now clearer ideas on what I think translation is for me. I have tried to formulate my own definition of translation, not because the one I had already read and heard were incomplete or not right, but simply because I felt the need to find a definition which could lead to a general approach, which in turn would lead to the individual choices.

For Elena Traina, 24 years old, musician, writer and translator, translation is experiencing and sharing a literary aleph with someone else in another language. Borges explains the fictional concept of aleph as “one of the points in space containing all points” (Borges, 1968: 146). A text, as a literary aleph, places itself in the space of literature, surrounded by the infinite possibilities, the infinite connections between me, Elena Traina, and the text. Literary allusions, echoes and legacies. But this is just my view on translation.

I wonder what Cole Konopka, American writer and translator, would say about it. Or Livvy Hanks, English translator and editor.

I do not think the world of Translation Studies needs a single, unifying definition of what translation is. Looking for my own definition of translation, instead, is a step I am glad I have taken, and that I highly recommend to my peers, for it has opened doors I did not even know were there.

Works cited:

Hurtado Albir, A. (1990). La notion de fidélité en traduction. Paris: Didier Érudition  

Dann, G. M. S. (2002). The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World. Wallingford: CABI

Bollettieri Bosinelli, A. M. (2003). “From Translation Issues to Metaphors of Translations”. In James Joyce Quarterly. Vol. 41, No 1/2. Tulsa: University of Tulsa

My name is Elena Traina, I graduated in Lingue e Letterature Straniere at the Università degli Studi di Milano, now I’m studying Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. I translate from English and Spanish into Italian. My main literary interest is children’s literature, but I also like to write and translate poetry and short fiction. I can be reached at

If you are interested in the MA in Literary Translation, or would like to study at UEA, I also recommend that you take a look at my Italian blog: