Sep 19 2013
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Musings on translations… Sort of…

Posted by Lynn E. O'Connacht in This Is a Ramble (It May Not Make Sense), Thoughts on Writing / 2 Comments

I have musings on translations. Sort of. A lot of my musings are things I don’t feel comfortable sharing yet because I don’t know how other parties involved would feel (and whether it would scupper their chances in ongoing book deal negotiations).

So I have thoughts and musings on translations and their effects on a text, especially in light of the recent debate on diversity in SFF. And I have neither the words nor the comfort level to share them at present.

Instead, I thought I’d throw it out as a question. What are your experiences with translations in regard to their treatment of the setting? I’m not really talking the kind of translation that turns Tolkien’s Shire into Auenland or Gouw, but the kind that would take Harry Potter and rewrite it to put it firmly and canonically within, say, France and still market it as the exact same tale.

Yes, there are translations that actually do that. I’ve no idea how common or widespread it is, though. Hence my musing. Because I’m sure there’s a very interesting essay for someone in that about the topic and what it means for the discussion on diversity in fiction in general.

Please do also feel free to pelt me with links discussing the issue. I really don’t have the spoons to keep up with the discussion, so I don’t know if anyone’s brought it up and I missed it. Sadness.

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2 Responses to “Musings on translations… Sort of…”

  1. kamo

    It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Most of the books in translation I read are from Japanese, a language I’m functional but nowhere near fluent in, but occasionally I can tell fairly well what the original was (or I can just wander into a bookstore and check). Playing that game can very quickly become quite frustrating though, because you can stop appreciating the book in front of you for what it actually is. So a while back I made a conscious decision to stop thinking translated books as ‘translated books’, list both original author and translator when I write about them and let them stand or fall together.

    I quite often see reviews commenting on the quality (or not) of the translation and I always want to ask the reviewer how they can make that call. Unless they’re equally fluent in both languages and have read both versions of the book, I really don’t see how you can fairly pin anything on the translation.

    None of which answers your question really, sorry. I’ve never actually read a translation that shifted the setting wholesale from one culture to another. Or at least not that I can recall. I think in SFF, more than mainstream perhaps, the lure of the ‘exotic’ (ugh) means that an unfamiliar setting is more of a plus than a minus. Look at Haikasoru’s output: the translations are definitely of very variable quality, but the Japanese aspects are clearly a major selling point.

    Long and rambling. Sorry. Anyway, you said you wanted links so these may be of interest –

    My take on Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, which is a very good book on the art of translation –
    http://fightstart.blogspot.jp/2012/10/is-that-fish-in-your-ear.html

    The SFF Translation Awards –
    http://www.sfftawards.org/

    A translator gives her younger self some tips –
    http://japaneseliterature.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/japanese-to-english-translation-basics/
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  2. Lynn E. O'Connacht

    Ack! Sorry! Your comment(s) got lost in my spam filter for some reason! I only just now noticed!

    I quite often see reviews commenting on the quality (or not) of the translation and I always want to ask the reviewer how they can make that call. Unless they’re equally fluent in both languages and have read both versions of the book, I really don’t see how you can fairly pin anything on the translation.

    The last link you gave me actually contains some good examples of how that might work. ^_^ (At least as long as ‘accuracy’ isn’t part of what they’re discussing because that really is something you can’t comment on unless you’re fluent in both languages and read the story in both.) Translation (especially literary) is a balancing act between staying true to the original text and reworking it to read as smoothly in another language. If a translator considers the former more important, it tends to show because it’s present within the very sentence structures of the text. For example, I don’t need to speak a word of Japanese to notice that a English-language text is using more adverbs than I’d expect or relies on passive voice in sentences and structures where it’s grammatically correct, but contextually inappropriate.

    None of which answers your question really, sorry.

    No worries. ^-^ I seem to have a tendency to be curious about things that are hard to research. It’s quite possible that, in this case, there aren’t enough people to notice, never mind discuss, the issue. I certainly don’t have the data to come up with any meaningful conclusions: my options are too limited to do more than offfer up a handful of titles and go “Hey. This looks like it could be a thing. Anyone else know of experiences with this?”

    I think in SFF, more than mainstream perhaps, the lure of the ‘exotic’ (ugh) means that an unfamiliar setting is more of a plus than a minus

    You’d think, anyway. But if the setting-relocation is a thing rather than a handful of isolated incidents — and it might well not be; discussions on Dreamwidth brought up how this happens quite often in movie remakes — then there’s another icky dimension to this discussion. Because then it’s possible for books to be not ‘exotic’ enough. And I don’t even have words for the issues inherent in that… *fail* I just. No.

    I really ought to pick up a copy of Is That a Fish in Your Ear sometime…

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