Posts Tagged ‘translation and interpretation’

More thoughts on translation

June 8, 2015

41nJdX9Qe7L._SL160_You may have realised from this earlier post that I’m fascinated by translation; indeed, sometimes I think if I could have my time over again, I’d perhaps study linguistics and then go into the business…

As far as I can make out, the book I read is a compilation of several talks and series of lectures Umberto Eco has given on the subject. Eco writes knowledgeably: he is a translator, as well as a writer, and has collaborated closely with the translators of his novels into many languages. He starts off by having some fun with computer translations and the confusions that they often cause, and throughout the book frequently provides humorous examples of how translators are tied in knots by the untranslatable. As your read, you become aware of the Pandora’s Box that is translation – the range of subtleties and nuances, difficulties and issues that you never imagined were there behind the scenes, needing to be addressed and taken into account. You just got on and read the translation. There are so many aspects I’d never even imagined.

Except that Eco’s point is that there is no such thing as a translation as we simplistically and superficially understand the concept: that’s why the title of his book (in English) is ‘To Say Almost the Same Thing‘; in translating one never says the same thing. All the issues are enumerated and copiously exemplified, through a range of translations of all sorts of works: some are of Eco’s own texts, some are texts he’s translated. Even issues such as how speech is punctuated in different languages can make a difference to how text is perceived. Then there is the question of slang. And what about culture-specific references? There are some issues Eco admits are just insoluble: the question of colours, for example: there is no universal language of colours.

It turns out that there were quite sizeable cuts and changes made to the original text when The Name of the Rose was translated into English, for various reasons and with Eco’s agreement; I found myself wondering whether to read it in French next time just to see if/what I noticed…

As I read I found myself pondering several questions: does the average reader pay that close attention to anything? would s/he notice all these things Eco points out, if translators didn’t pay such careful attention to detail? how much does it really matter that I might be reading something translated that is not actually the same as the original?

My head started to hurt when Eco got onto the issues involved in translating Joyce‘s Finnegans Wake. Looking at the book in the original English (?) made me seasick, but yes, it has been translated into a number of languages.

Eco  also observes that movement from one medium into another (i.e. book to film) is an aspect of translation, and this does not escape his examination either. He points out that translation is easier with concrete than abstract original texts. We are asked to reflect on the difference between translation and interpretation, and the idea of versions and adaptations

I think that if anyone wanted a reasonable – not easy – introduction to the full range of problems in the field of translation, then they could do worse than tackle this book. I found it fascinating, and really enjoyed it.

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