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The Curious Case of the Sex Changes
Thread poster: lexical
lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:18
Portuguese to English
Apr 5, 2008

This article appeared in the London Daily Telegraph today:

"The Curious Case of the Sex Changes

A row has broken out over the translation of a best-selling novel by the British author Mark Haddon after a "feminist" attempted to make some of the characters female.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time tells the story of a 15-year-old autistic boy from Swindon. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2003 and has been translated into more than 40 languages.
But a Spanish translator has been sacked for allegedly refusing to stick to the genders chosen by the author. Maria Reimondez is taking the publishers to court over claims that her contract to translate the novel into Galician was cancelled because she refused to reinforce sexist stereotypes. "The translation strategies I use include not using the masculine form systematically," said Miss Reimondez in a statement.
"I haven't invented this; it's nothing new, and, linguistically, one cannot find fault with it."
However, the publisher Rinoceronte Editora claim that she was introducing a bias into the work by taking out references to male characters, even when the gender was clear.
"As we corrected her text, we realised that she was systematically translating neutral words into feminine ones, and masculine words into feminine or neutral forms," said Moisés Barcia, the editor at Rinoceronte. "She chose to make the narrator's pet rat a female, even though its name was Toby," he said. In another instance she changed "men" to "xente", meaning people.
The row highlights the problems with translating works from English into those that use feminine and masculine words. For example. the word "teacher" in English could be either sex but in Galician there is a masculine and feminine form of the word.
Miss Reimondez said there were cases where "it is impossible to know the gender of a word, and one must be selected".
"Her contract insists on fidelity to the original work; something she clearly breached," Mr Barcia said."

Does anyone believe a translator has the right to impose his or her sexual politics on the text? If you can detect any justification in Miss Reimondez's attitude, then what about party politics? If I find I am out of sympathy with a text because it's too left-wing, am I therefore justified in subtly modifying the vocabulary to make it more right-wing in flavour? I think not, and I think Miss Reimondez is equally wrong. I very much hope she loses her fee and is obliged to pay the publisher's legal costs to boot.


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 18:18
English to Dutch
+ ...
If you don't like the text, don't translate it. Apr 5, 2008

That summons it up.
If this translator cannot agree with what she's translating, she should have refused the job. Once you accept a job, you have to be as faithful to the original as possible.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
Translator should fulfill Apr 5, 2008

I believe the translator's duty is to fulfill the job as it was given, and not to impose personal biases, politics, beliefs, religion or whatever on the text. That is totally unwarranted.

If the translator is not comfortable with the work in any way, there is no obligation to take the job, and it should not be accepted.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:18
English to French
+ ...
Outrageous Apr 5, 2008

There clearly was a breach of contract. If the gender is neutral in the source language but the word has to be gender-specific in the target language, the translator is supposed to ask the client before making a choice (example about the teacher). Also, when a rat's name is Toby, it is more than clear that it is male, so her arguments don't hold

In any case, the literary work belongs to the author and as a translator, one is not allowed to change anything unless the author agrees. This lady seems to want to change the rules of the trade - for her own benefit. What about the rest of us?


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
she's off her head! Apr 5, 2008

lexical wrote:

Does anyone believe a translator has the right to impose his or her sexual politics on the text? If you can detect any justification in Miss Reimondez's attitude, then what about party politics? If I find I am out of sympathy with a text because it's too left-wing, am I therefore justified in subtly modifying the vocabulary to make it more right-wing in flavour? I think not, and I think Miss Reimondez is equally wrong. I very much hope she loses her fee and is obliged to pay the publisher's legal costs to boot.


I agree with you, it is sabotage to take on a literary work and do this. The principled thing would have been NOT to do the job. Obviously that would have left her unable to take a stance ... but this, as I say, is sabotage.

The Toby issue is ridiculous, for example, Toby is a male name, if the author decided the rat was to be male, then so be it.

In other contexts a translator may make balanced decisions to reduce gender bias, but certainly not with a literary work.



[Edited at 2008-04-05 21:30]


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Edereva
Local time: 17:18
English to Spanish
In defense of the translator: La rata-macho Toby? Apr 5, 2008

Althoug it's very difficult to judge the case without knowing the target language (galician) neither the whole text, the journalist (who, don't forget, might not/probably is not a translator himself) provides two examples that, in my opinion, don't allow the assumptions made afterwards.

I don't know the translation of "rat" into galician but I suspect is similar to Spanish. Well in Spanish it would be "rata", a feminin word for both male and female individuals of the species. If one needed to specify the sex of a particular individual, the terms "macho" (male) or "hembra"(female) should be added to "rata". This would sound unnatural in this context, in Spanish at least.

The other example mentioned in the article is the translation of "men" for "xente"(people). In this case, it's true, the translator had the choice. However, it's nowadays a trend among many translators not to be so literal and, when "men" refers to mankind (as opposite to the 50% of it belonging to the male gender) it's considered correct, even politicaly more correct, to use synonyms like "gente" (people), "seres humanos" (human beings) and the likes.


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
men = men and not = humans Apr 5, 2008

Edereva wrote:

when "men" refers to mankind (as opposite to the 50% of it belonging to the male gender) it's considered correct, even politically more correct, to use synonyms like "gente" (people), "seres humanos" (human beings) and the likes.


In English, we can feel fairly assured in these PC days, that when Mark Haddon referred to "men", he was - I am 999% certain if he's my age or younger (and I'm sure he's younger) - referring to persons with masculine appendages and not using "men" to refer to men and women, as that would not be tolerated in modern English.

[Edited at 2008-04-05 19:02]


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Edereva
Local time: 17:18
English to Spanish
Wise men are instructed by reason; men of less understanding, by experience; the most ignorant, by n Apr 5, 2008

Lia Fail wrote:

Edereva wrote:

when "men" refers to mankind (as opposite to the 50% of it belonging to the male gender) it's considered correct, even politically more correct, to use synonyms like "gente" (people), "seres humanos" (human beings) and the likes.


In English, we can feel fairly assured in these PC days, that when Mark Haddon referred to "men", he was - I am 999% certain if he's my age or younger (and I'm sure he's younger) - referring to persons with masculine appendages and not using "men" to refer to men and women, as that would not be tolerated in modern English.

[Edited at 2008-04-05 19:02]


I first have to confess that I was thinking of "man", in singular, when I wrote. I don't need to confess, as it's probably obvious by now, that my English is far from perfect. So, yes, you are probably 999% right. And, still, it could be argued that even in a modern novel, sayings, proverbs or quotes can be used; which brings me to the initial point: we don't have enough information.

Anyway, your remark was very instructive to me. Many thanks.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:18
French to English
The Siberian Hamster issue Apr 6, 2008

My understanding was that she had renamed the rat, giving it an obviously female name (Toby being an obviously male name), not that she had gone all round the houses using precise biological terminology, but kept the name Toby.

I seem to have some dim recollection from the book (I read it quickly ages ago) that the way the boy reacts to males and females is, while not key, certainly a part of the plot, so to change anything like that is a bit naughty, 'cos the effect is cumulative.

The thing is, it reads like a very simplistic and not very literary work, but is a bit cleverer than that - bigger than the sum of its parts, if you like. One hates to say so, but I fear the translator may have missed this point completely.

It would be interesting to know whether she kept it in Swindon or moved it to Galicia, if she was taking liberties....


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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
Obviously an agenda Apr 6, 2008

lexical wrote:
Maria Reimondez is taking the publishers to court over claims that her contract to translate the novel into Galician was cancelled because she refused to reinforce sexist stereotypes.


It looks like she decided all by herself what was better for the Galician-speaking world, and now wants to punish the publishers because they didn't agree with her.

If she thought the book was sexist, she shouldn't have accepted the contract in the first place. Or -worse yet- she accepted the contract specifically with the purpose to adapt the book to her personal beliefs. After looking at the translator's background, "translator and interpreter of profession, feminist by conviction", looks like the conviction won over the profession.

This is a clear case of unethical, grossly unprofessional behavior.

[Editado a las 2008-04-06 13:05]


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AlcVitRes
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:18
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
OMG Apr 6, 2008

Translator's job is to make pure, 1:1 product without even favourite translator cliches (yeah, most of us have at least some "just wonderfull, universal-for-any-case" phrases.. - it's not an easy part, but possible, including "meaning between lines". If u taked job, then dont' try, but - just_do_it - it's not a circus arena..

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:18
English to French
+ ...
This is the kind of presentation that gives me goosebumps Apr 6, 2008

Edwal Rospigliosi wrote:

After looking at the translator's background, "translator and interpreter of profession, feminist by conviction", looks like the conviction won over the profession.


You see, we have here an excellent example of unprofessionalism. How can one incorporate personal beliefs into their professional presentation? Beats me. This is much the same as saying "children's doctor by profession, pedophile by conviction". OK, this is a bit worse than Miss Reimondez' presentation, but you get my point. I have my political views, my religious beliefs and all the rest - but did I post it in my profile? What good would that do for my business? Worse yet, what good would it do my clients?

What I read between the lines here is this: I can translate - but only for feminists and for feminist purposes. She seems to be trying to spread the Good Word... and, as usual, nothing good will come out of it!

[Edited at 2008-04-06 15:07]


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Edereva
Local time: 17:18
English to Spanish
bemused Apr 6, 2008

Edwal Rospigliosi wrote:

lexical wrote:
Maria Reimondez is taking the publishers to court over claims that her contract to translate the novel into Galician was cancelled because she refused to reinforce sexist stereotypes.


It looks like she decided all by herself what was better for the Galician-speaking world, and now wants to punish the publishers because they didn't agree with her.

If she thought the book was sexist, she shouldn't have accepted the contract in the first place. Or -worse yet- she accepted the contract specifically with the purpose to adapt the book to her personal beliefs. After looking at the translator's background, "translator and interpreter of profession, feminist by conviction", looks like the conviction won over the profession.

This is a clear case of unethical, grossly unprofessional behavior.

[Editado a las 2008-04-06 13:05]


Does the quotation you’ve selected imply that, when given the choice between reinforcing vs. not reinforcing sexist stereotypes (being both linguistically correct, of course), one should always go for the first one?

I am quite bemused by the conclusions even Spanish speakers reach after reading this article.


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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
We translate meanings, not mere words Apr 6, 2008

Edereva wrote:
Does the quotation you’ve selected imply that, when given the choice between reinforcing vs. not reinforcing sexist stereotypes (being both linguistically correct, of course), one should always go for the first one?

I am quite bemused by the conclusions even Spanish speakers reach after reading this article.


A lie may be "linguistically correct" and still be a lie. A translator is hired to translate the meaning, without adding nor deleting anything. If she thinks a text "reinforces sexist stereotypes", she shouldn't accept the job, or voice her objections to the client, instead of taking the job and perverting it to fit her beliefs, thinking that, provided that she does it in a "linguistically correct" way, there is no reason for the author to complain about it.

Perhaps you could explain more why you are "bemused" by our conclusions.

[Editado a las 2008-04-06 17:06]


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WriuszTran
Germany
Local time: 18:18
Example Apr 6, 2008

Here is an example of the "harmless gender balancing" that Lia Fail and possibly Edereva are suggesting:

A 70-year-old man has enough of his business and wants to sell it and retire. Among many other employees, he has 6-7 field technicians. They go out into the countryside and maintain the systems.

A buyer is found in a foreign country. A lot of the required documents were already translated but others have to be translated for the due diligence. Part of the due diligence is a plausibility check in which statements in different documents are compared with one another to ensure consistency.

The feminist translator decided ("harmlessly") that field technicians can just as well be women, so she threw in a lot of "she" and "her" and the like. In fact, she threw in enough that it raised an issue with the plausibility check since one of the provisions was that no new employees would be hired without the consent of the buyer. It really sounded like a female technician had been hired, and that wasn't consistent with the fact that all the technicians were men. A halt was called to the sale.

So far it's fairly harmless. You would think the feminist translator would just "get it" and offer to change the translation. Nope, she was completely in the right and she even suggested that the owner was at fault for his hiring practices - she had to just be dismissed.

Costs to get the sale back on track, costs to have someone else fix the translation, interpreting costs to get a lot of people informed in different languages.

----

I would also say this to the budding feminists: There is now an antifeminist movement and there is also a Mens Rights Activism movement. You can all battle to change pronouns into something else. You can all impose your personal beliefs on a translation.

I would personally refuse to work with someone I thought was changing translations for a personal agenda. Feminists are the most likely candidates for that, but there are other groups as well. I would suggest to feminists: Maybe YOU don't get it.

[Edited at 2008-04-06 17:34]


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