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Found in Translation – Part 1

21 Jun

Recently I stumbled upon an English to Pirate Translator which briefly amused me, then somewhat predictably had me wasting my time searching for other novelty translation sites like the Yoda Speak Generator and so forth.It wasn’t a completely wasted half hour though, as it got me thinking about the art of translation and how the new cloud based translating systems like Smartling – for example – are helping businesses get the word out into new territories.

The joys of globalisation indeed!  But now imagine if you will, a world where books remained in the country or language group that they were written in and were not translated or spoken about to outsiders.  Translators would not be needed or at best extremely marginalised and there would be only basic contact between groups of people.  The result would be an insular reading world without the cultural references of other places, books or eras, where new thoughts were sparse and the richness of the world with its strange traditions from far off would be virtually unknown

You could argue that there would be good and bad to such a world. Plato’s works wouldn’t have influenced the West, there would be no world religions, new ideas and technological breakthroughs would take a lot longer to occur, Tolkien wouldn’t have written The Lord of the Rings and we wouldn’t have the wholly underwhelming Hobbit films, there would have been no Renaissance and the stories of Herodotus would never have fascinated countless readers the world over.  I could go on but you get the point.

We would be a cultural wasteland coveting what we had jealously and missing out on so much.  It makes one wonder how writers would approach their master works without the inspiration from strange and wonderful works of fiction and fact, or if it would have been possible in most instances.  Our entire moral system would be different without the rich melting pot of influences we enjoy today without even thinking about it but the mysteries of such foreign civilisations would definitely be as appealing as they were inaccessible.

Back to the real world though, the gift we have of understanding a new culture in our own language is truly phenomenal, reading great and beloved colossi that makes whole countries proud and have them talking of the virtues of their book like it not only defines their national character but almost as if they themselves wrote it.  Literature is the most powerful thing we have ever invented  – my obvious bias notwithstanding – but the power of language cannot be understated, it has the power to change world views for good or evil and is as complex a thing as you could wish for.

Picking up a translated book, is so much more than the words or ideas contained therein, it is the conscious effort taken to understand the book’s original language and intent whilst adapting to the sensitivities of another language without falling into an ethnocentric trap.  The trust we take in the translator to give us the same appreciation as the natives of said language is a mammoth task and one that is all to easy to take for granted as we greedily grab a book from the shelf and set to devouring it.

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43 Comments

Posted by on 21/06/2015 in Languages

 

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43 responses to “Found in Translation – Part 1

  1. leapingtracks

    21/06/2015 at 17:33

    Very thought-provoking post. I am about to read Antigone because we are seeing Juliette Binoche in a new production at the Edinburgh International Festival in a few weeks. And the theme of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is ‘around the world in 18 days’. I think if we are not careful we can take too much for granted the wonderful access we have to culture from other societies, and the opportunities we have to share ours with them as a way of bridging divides. Thanks for reminding us how lucky we are.

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    • Ste J

      21/06/2015 at 17:52

      This really is the most access we’ve ever had and the way that we use technology on the blog is something that just becomes every day. It’s nice to take a step back and appreciate the amazing opportunities we have. Let me know about Antigone when you’ve seen it, I’d be most interested in hearing your thoughts, culture makes me happy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • leapingtracks

        21/06/2015 at 19:07

        I’ll be sure to check back in with you after the performance – mid August sometime. Am really looking forward to it.

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  2. Andrea Stephenson

    21/06/2015 at 17:59

    Very interesting thoughts Ste, it would indeed be a very different world without the sharing of all those influences.

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    • Ste J

      21/06/2015 at 18:01

      How drab would it be to live in that world and we bloggers would never have met which is even worse.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    21/06/2015 at 18:00

    I don’t like to even imagine “my world” without the books I’ve read that have been translated into the language I speak and read.. After reading the book (and seeing the movie) Fahrenheit 451 I was forced to think about a world where books were against the law…your thoughts, regarding our world if no books had been interpreted into the languages of other countries, are equally grim. I’ve been watching a lot of dystopian and post-apocalyptic movies recently and once again I’m forced to consider the part books would play in a world with limited water and food AND/OR a power mad leader who hated books. I know I take the availability of books to much for granted…and I wonder if I had to choose which book to save, one book that would be passed down to the generations that come after me…what would that book be?

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    • Ste J

      21/06/2015 at 18:07

      I like post apocalyptic films and one of my favourite scenes in a film was in The Day After Tomorrow when two people are arguing over whether they can burn the bible for fuel before the cold hits and there is another guy pointing out that there is a whole section of tax law that nobody would miss.

      I love watching these grim films but I can’t help seeing some of these things from each film already happening, the future is a frightening though but at least we have such mind expanding books at the moment and we have the capacity to celebrate them which is the best defence against ignorance. One book? I don’t think anybody is qualified to make that choice unless they have read everything, I wouldn’t be first in line to consign the others to history.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

        21/06/2015 at 19:57

        I, too, already see things happening in the world that happened in the post apocalyptic TV/Movies that I’ve seen. I predicted to an acquaintance years ago that the problems of our world would eventually boil down to who controlled the water supply, horrifyingly enough that is happening…in the Southwester/Western USA. California and other states have been sucking water out of the Colorado River for years and the war has begun to see who will continue to receive that water ( at least until the Colorado runs dry). I was thinking, selfishly, of myself when I made the comment about choosing one book for my descendants to pass down. At most there are apx 30 books in my library …so my choice would be limited. I do have 2 Bibles…would I choose one of those or maybe Catcher in the Rye? Alas my Kindle books would all be lost when batteries were no longer chargeable and there was no more “Cloud”. I saw an interesting thing in movie the other night…there was no more electricity…so someone jammed their computer under a door as a door stop. That made me stop and think 🙂

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        • Ste J

          21/06/2015 at 20:53

          Blimey, I knew that California had problems but I didn’t really know the extent of the problem. I am sure that the oil wars will come hot on the heels of the water wars but lets not get too grim about the situation just yet. It would be horrible to have no internet, no words and music, no reading in bed all warm in the middle of winter, that would be terrible but your question is a good one. Possibly Garfield, philosophy. comedy and social commentary all in one, you can’t beat that.

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  4. Letizia

    21/06/2015 at 18:47

    Pirate translation, that’s so fascinating and silly at the same time! Translation is so interesting and so delicate. I once read two German books (I don’t speak German) by the same translator (different authors) and realized that I thought the authors had very similar styles. But then I wondered to myself, do they have similar styles or is it the translator’s influence? Or is it the nature of the German language? Translations are fantastic, I completely agree but I wish I could read everything in its original (and I wish I had swimming pool, but that’s for another discussion).

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    • Ste J

      21/06/2015 at 20:35

      The strange wonders of the internet strike again. It is amazing how much we can take translators for granted, I suppose the only way to know if those books you read were similar would be to read them in the original language, if only there were more time, langauages could be learnt and books enjoyed more powerfully. I remember hearing once the English translation of Asterix was superior to the original Flemish which sounds more bizarre the more I think about it. I wouldn’t mind a pool either, I’m all for recreating those classic Bond moments haha.

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      • Letizia

        21/06/2015 at 22:56

        Your comment about Asterix (a fine reference that sediments our friendship even more) reminds me that I first watched The Simpsons in French so when I heard it in English it sounded so odd, especially the mother’s voice.

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        • Ste J

          22/06/2015 at 07:49

          A friend of mine told me the same sort of thing, in Germany in the 80’s he watched the original Mad Max but it had been dubbed into American for some reason so he has this idea that all the characters sounded macho so he got a surprise when rewatching it in the original Australian version. I think our friendship is more firm than a foundation full of books of The Firm and that is saying something, I mean can you imagine such a thing! Speaking of Asterix, I always regret not picking up a copy of Les Tuniques Bleues when I had the chance.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  5. macjam47

    21/06/2015 at 20:00

    It is amazing that you can take a post on a blog that is written in any number of languages and have it translated immediately. Very interesting post.

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    • Ste J

      21/06/2015 at 20:08

      I’m probably not fully aware of what cloud based translation means but it does sound really good that something like that could be done, imagine the potential for readers if you could translate a blog into say, Mandarin…

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Resa

    21/06/2015 at 21:37

    As always, a tier A post. Thank you!
    PS Thanks for your mural submission to GLaM. I sent you a mail about it from my Resa Swork email LOL It’s supposed to be Resa’s Work!

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2015 at 08:01

      I did think that Swork was an interesting last name to have, still you saved me going through the etymology of the word to find out where the name originated from. It’s very rare I stumble upon a mural and must have walked past that alley way twenty or thirty times without having wandered up it out of sheer curiosity, I’m glad I did and will start doing so more often whenever I come across new places.

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  7. cricketmuse

    22/06/2015 at 01:10

    Where does one find a pirate translation link. How about Hamlet with Capt Jack Sparrow overtones?

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2015 at 07:58

      This one not only is a translator (http://postlikeapirate.com/) but is almost begging to have a whole post copy and pasted into it but maybe I will wait for World Pirate Speaking day or whatever the more originally named real world version is. The options are endless, Captain Kirk as Pirate, perhaps your favourite religious personality or perhaps that Hollywood hottie…well I am a sucker for an accent.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • cricketmuse

        22/06/2015 at 15:09

        Haha–Emily Dickinson, Hamlet, and Jane Austen didn’t see it coming. These translations might be post worthy. Thanks, matey.

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  8. Claire 'Word by Word'

    22/06/2015 at 07:11

    I remember when I did a readalong last year of Eugene Onegin which was great, there was often discussion about a particular section according to which translation we were reading, there was talk about the favourite translation and when I compared my section with that of the others, I was amazed how different how they were and how they impacted how we percieved the character. With classics there are often new translations that come out which do change the way we read a book, especially when the last time something was translated was say 50 years ago for example.

    Have you read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin?

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2015 at 08:09

      I haven’t read it, in fact I have nothing of Pushkin’s…yet. I like to always add a photo of the version of a book I read so people know (I hope) that I am referring to that particular text, it is most important with to do so with the classics for precisely the reasons you illustrate. I’m usually a guy that will be like to complete anything he sets his mind too, which is why I sat through Nightmare on Elm Street 6 but could I love another translation of a book after my first, what if characters I love become less noble in my eyes…I’m not sure it’s a thought I enjoy too much.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. clarepooley33

    22/06/2015 at 12:33

    Fantastic post and so thought provoking. I have really enjoyed reading all the comments too. I agree that the translator puts his/her stamp on the book he/she is translating. I have two translations of a Simenon Inspector Maigret novel as the first one I bought had been translated by an American and was full of sidewalks and I had the feeling Maigret had been transported to New York. The other translation was done by someone from Britain and seemed more European but it made me think that what I ought to do was read it in French because I was still probably not getting the true feel of the book. My French isn’t that good and it would take me some time to read in the original language (I wouldn’t have a hope if I wanted to read a Russian novel). This still doesn’t account for those nuances that a certain word gives. A translator choosing one word over another when there is a choice.

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2015 at 21:48

      I think this is the post with the most in depth and thought provoking comments I have ever had which gives me great pleasure. It does bug me when a translator uses his/her native words and pulls the reader out of a story. It does make me wish to learn plenty of languages so I sink into the books as they were meant to be experienced, it’s all very exciting and makes me feel ambitious. It must be such a delicate process, being precise about each word, a real labour of love.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        23/06/2015 at 00:03

        Yes I agree; it must be so difficult not to let one’s own personality intrude on the translation. I am so grateful for their work.

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  10. Jilanne Hoffmann

    22/06/2015 at 18:38

    I love the mystery and magic of translation. For that’s what it is to me. An English-speaking poet friend just translated the work of a Catalan poet, even though he didn’t speak Catalan. My friend is an exceedingly smart guy, and I’m looking forward to seeing the result. How does one translate words that have no direct counterpart? How does one translate cultural aspects that have no direct translation? How does one translate idioms? Figures of speech? While honoring the musicality of language, the intent, the soul of the piece? I have so many thoughts around this topic.

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    • Ste J

      22/06/2015 at 21:41

      It is something of an art, I’m looking at my books now and wondering about the ones I have read and also thinking i should get some advice on the best translations when I pick up new books. Having said that a reader is as subjective as a translator so that could lead to more confusion, it is a delicate web that could give me a headache.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. shadowoperator

    23/06/2015 at 00:19

    Very true, and very worth saying. Though of course, reading a translation isn’t really quite the same as reading the original, as a good translation is so very figurative sometimes, attempting to convey the spirit of the original without straying too far from the literal. Sometimes, the literal translation is hysterically inept. For example, there’s a Chinese classic I’m pretty sure we’ve spoken of before called “The Dream of the Red Chamber.” In the copy I read, a literal translation was produced, and then a figurative one. Needless to say, the literal one made no sense at all, none of the idioms came through, and even the action scenes were very confusing. The translation is itself another work of art quite frequently, assuming the translator has fulfilled his or her mission fully.

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2015 at 19:06

      I haven’t read any originals of another language so I am completely clueless as yet to the glory of some of the books translated, I do imagine someone like Marquéz is truly epic with his choice of vocabulary. I like the idea of the double translation, it really brings to the fore how language differs when one tackles it in a literal way with no concern for the deeper lying messages and themes. The pressure these people must feel when they are working on a new translation of an old manuscript must be huge.

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      • shadowoperator

        23/06/2015 at 19:34

        Hi, Ste J! You seem to take a real interest in this subject (just read Part II), and one of the things I like best doing is introducing like minds to each other. If you’re greatly interested in what a translator’s life is like, you might like to read Katia Gregor’s blog at https://scribedoll.wordpress.com . She grew up reading and writing French, Russian, Italian, and English. She’s a translator (among other things she does well), and she’s had a lot to say in some of her posts about the thrills and vagaries of a translator’s life. Have a look if you take a fancy….

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        • Ste J

          23/06/2015 at 19:42

          I sometimes spend awhile just staring at my books trying to think of new angles with which to approach them, then a nudge in the right direction allows you to see what you’ve been missing. Thanks for the link I shall check it out, there are so many WordPress sites out there, I sometimes fear how much good stuff I am missing, thank goodness I have you to help redress the balance.

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  12. Aquileana

    23/06/2015 at 08:32

    ¨The joys of globalisation indeed! … Translators would not be needed or at best extremely marginalised and there would be only basic contact between groups of people. The result would be an insular reading world without the cultural references of other places, books or eras, where new thoughts were sparse and the richness of the world with its strange traditions from far off would be virtually unknown¨… 💫✨🌟

    That excerpt is very well penned and truly caught my attention!…
    I think that for good or bad when we use Online translators we get a very partial version… the act of translating is a way to put a personal note on the original text… And even if a robot does it that relative approach denotes a subjective vision, somehow.
    Your post is very interesting and it makes me wonder about the sources of online translators and the effects of translating! …
    Thanks for sharing dear Ste. All my best wishes! Aquileana ⭐

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2015 at 18:46

      Ah, I read this just after posting Lost in Translation part 2. Personally I think that a human needs to be involved, the comedy of google translate is always worth a laugh at how badly things are translated, it needs judgement, attention and care to give something accurate and worthwhile. The two working in tandem is something that I think is still something that needs to be perfected as it is still a relatively new thing.

      As ever my friend, thank you for reading and posting stars in your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    23/06/2015 at 11:02

    Interesting words indeed..and thought-provoking as well. It’s difficult and painful to imagine such a situation.

    BTW, coming to translation, I’ve posted a few links of the English version of the Vedas in my reply comment (on my blog)… hope you’ll find them useful… 🙂

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2015 at 18:53

      Maybe I should write a dystopian novel about it. Thanks for the links I shall be over shortly to check them out, there seems a lack of Indian literature in the bookshops around here apart from The Bhagavad Gita which I still need to review.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  14. Seyi sandra

    23/06/2015 at 18:04

    My dad used to say stuff like, ‘a single tree can not make a forest,’ although I used to laugh then, your post brought it to the fore. Without translations, the world would be boring. Translations sort of knitted the world together in a wonderful way where we could gain insights into the kinds of lives other people lead, their thinking, cultures and ways of life. Very interesting post Ste J. I loved reading it.
    Thanks for sharing my friend!!!

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    • Ste J

      23/06/2015 at 18:51

      If everybody read a while then the world would be a more enlightened place, full of understanding and dare I say it tolerance. I love those old tales of magical beings in lands just over the horizon, I wish we still had places to explore. Your dad had some good sayings, I like that one, it fits perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Seyi sandra

        23/06/2015 at 19:08

        Thanks, glad you think so! I used to love Arabian tales before the emergence of ISIS and crazy ideology…

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        • Ste J

          23/06/2015 at 19:16

          1001 Nights is something I need to read and I must rewatch those old Sinbad films. I think part of the problem with Isis is that we are so culturally different from them we don’t quite understand what they want but as they unleash violence everywhere and get increasingly more unhinged it means that dialogue can’t be had. It is a terrible situation and one that claims the lives of plenty of innocent people, funny how it’s always the innocent who suffer most in wars…

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  15. RoSy

    03/07/2015 at 22:22

    Those translators are so much fun. I have used the Talk Like A Pirate Translator – mostly on Talk Like A Pirate Day . LOL
    So great that books have been translated. We could be so deprived if not. Although – I have noticed with basic conversation – sometime meanings & emotions do get lost in translation.

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    • Ste J

      05/07/2015 at 20:04

      It starts with the comedy of misunderstandings that is the text message and goes from there, it always gets me on the news when they say people were evacuated because that’s a whole different image from them being evacuated from somewhere lol…

      I dread to think how little I would understand of the world and the wonders I would have missed out on were it not for translators and to not be able to tell people of the books I have read and encourage them to read them to would be sad.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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