10 May 2014

Arthur Goldhammer interview

BloggerheadTV has an excellent interview -- particularly so for translators -- with Arthur Goldhammer, translator of Thomas Piketty's runaway success Le capital au XXIe si├Ęcle, or, in English, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Interviewer Mike Konczal asks insightful questions, from a translator's viewpoint, despite the fact that he is not a translator.

A few points:
  • Goldhammer studied physics and mathematics and earned a PhD in mathematics before switching his primary focus to languages and then translation.
  • He mentions no formal training as a translator other than with the US Army's Vietnamese service.
  • He stresses the importance of his in-depth understanding of mathematics in translating texts dealing explicitly or indirectly with that field.
  • He readily admits that a couple of challenging technical terms in Capital in the Twenty-First Century that presented both author and translator with a choice between two equivalents might have been better translated by the term they ended up rejecting. Very few translators are open to this type of debate, but perhaps it's easier for truly great exponents of the art than for lesser ones.
Between interview times 20:00 and 26:00, AG says that TP used patrimoine (wealth) and capital (capital) interchangeably and the translation could do the same. AG thus translated TP's approval rato capital/revenu as capital/income ratio, but now recognises that income/capital ratio would have been a better choice.
At 42:40, AG introduces a useful concept when he discusses "the problem of translating from one community of reference to another ...".

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