28 May 2013

Multiple translations of foreign-language classics into English, part 2

Now let me link you to a review of a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy by eminent Australian poet and critic Clive James. The article, by Joseph Luzzi, is entitled This Could Be ‘Heaven,’ or This Could Be ‘Hell’.

Yet another review mentioned that there over one hundred translations of The Divine Comedy in English have been published over the centuries and that each leaves something to be desired.

While translating technical journalism is in no way comparable to translating a classic like this, the fact that one hundred or more translations have been produced and that all have their shortcomings is a useful reminder to monolingual translation buyers just how challenging and variable the process can be.

A footnote in passing: Occitanists claim that, before writing La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri hesitated for some time between Occitan, the language of troubadour poetry, and Tuscan. He chose the latter, helped establish the Tuscan dialect as the standardized Italian language, and in the process earned the title of 'Father of the Italian language'.

Multiple translations of foreign-language classics into English, part 1

Although this blog is mostly about translating technical journalism, I have more than a passing interest in literary translation into English. Reviews of recent re-translations of two classics of European literature are interesting in their own right and for the spotlight they cast on the challenges and variability of all types of translation.

First, an excellent article by Julian Barnes in the London Review of Books (Vol. 32 No. 22, 18 November 2010 pages 7-11, 5855 words) here. This extended review of Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis
(Penguin, 342 pp, £20.00, November 2010, ISBN 978 1 84614 104 1) explains a number of interesting aspects of Lydia Davis's translation, and translation in general, complete with comparisons and examples from other English-language versions. Recommended reading for translators and others.

Some quotable quotes:
You would want it to provoke in you most of the same reactions as it would provoke in a French reader (though you would also want some sense of distance, and the pleasure of exploring a different world). (my italics and bold)
But then translation involves micro-pedantry as much as the full yet controlled use of the linguistic imagination. The plainest sentence is full of hazard; often the choices available seem to be between different percentages of loss.  
This is the paradox and bind of translation. If to be ‘faithful’ is to be ‘clunky’, then it is also to be unfaithful, because Flaubert was not a ‘clunky’ writer.
And last but not least:
Madame Bovary is many things – a perfect piece of fictional machinery, the pinnacle of realism, the slaughterer of Romanticism, a complex study of failure – but it is also the first great shopping and fucking novel.

22 May 2013

'Anthimeria' in the news

Anthimeria is, apparently, the process of switching a word from one part of speech to another.

Robert Lane Greene, explains all, with ample examples, in Think Similar. Excellent.

20 May 2013

'Meeting' in the news

FT columnist Lucy Kellaway has published an article entitled A meeting by any other name isn’t worth going to. An interesting take indeed on the word 'meeting' and several dozen synonyms, complete with Lucy's comments on why they are not recommended.

13 May 2013

'Competitiveness' in the news

The Financial Times has updated the entry for 'competitiveness' in its Lexicon.
The definition begins: "Competitiveness is about boosting the ability to compete by increasing productivity in the long run. It stresses a continual improvement through constant innovation in products, processes and management..."

Under the subheading Competitiveness in the news, we read:
Protectionist policies would seem most likely to damage competitiveness. In April 2013, Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation spoke about the rising threat of protectionism. An FT editorial commented: "The belief that protectionism can preserve jobs is an illusion. Shielding a sector from more efficient foreign competitors comes at the expense of other domestic businesses, which are denied access to cheaper goods."

The attention now being given to the word is of special interest to  French-to-English translators.  Because 'competitiveness' is ugly, difficult to pronounce, and remains less common in English than its cognate in French, translators often go to considerable lengths to translate compétitivité  by something other than 'competitiveness'.

Provided the word doesn't come up too often, it looks as though French-to-English translators will be able to fall back a little more often on 'competitiveness' than they did in the past.

04 May 2013

Translating captions

Under the heading 10 Tips About How to Write a Caption, Daily Writing Tips blogger Mark Nichol makes ten excellent points that are as relevant to caption writers as they are to caption translators.

I fear, however, that he missed on critical point, namely the importance of looking closely as the image and making sure that the caption describes to precisely what can be seen or instantly deduced from same. I often find instances where someone has decided what they want to illustrate, chosen an image or graphic, the written a caption that says more about the illustration they were hoping to find than it does about the one actually used. Sometimes this arises because a graphic artists prefers the colours, size, definition, etc. of one illustration over another, losing sight of the overall aim in the process.

When confronted by a  source language caption that does not match what you can actually see (or immediately deduced), I recommend that the translator propose propose a target language caption describing what can actually be seen (or deduced) in addition to compliance with Mark Nichol's ten tips. The initiative should then be flagged for client review.

Night Jasmin and L'arbre de nuit

Following the two posts below ( Night Jasmin and L'arbre de nuit ), my colleague and reviser Graham Cross wrote: Just out of interest...