"Good translators are the ones that ask questions." José Saramago
Thread poster: Aurora Humarán
Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 18:02
English to Spanish
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Mar 20, 2005




Nobel Prize laureate to translators: keep those questions coming

Chris Durban is pleased to hear praise for translators’ skills at the highest level, but finds things aren’t quite as they should be further down the chain

No less an authority than José Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for literature, came out in favour of inquisitive translators in May [2003]. Speaking in Buenos Aires at the Fourth Latin American Conference on Translation and Interpretation, Mr. Saramago, who writes in his native Portuguese, insisted that he expects translators of his books to raise questions, highlight uncertainties, and elucidate intent and meaning where these are not immediately clear.
‘Good translators,’ he said, ‘are the ones that ask questions.’ Since writing gives the mistaken impression that everything is clear, translation ‘is an opportunity to reexamine what the author really means,’ he explained.

Addressing an audience of 1,400, Saramago stressed the cross-cultural role of translators. ‘Writers create national literature,’ he said, ‘but it is translators who create international literature.’

José Saramago’s own works have been translated into 45 languages and are available in 60 countries. His awareness of cross-border language issues reflects not only his writing but also his personal experience as a translator: from 1955 to 1981 he produced – in his ‘free time’ – Portuguese translations of Colette, Pär Lagerkvist, Jean Cassou, Guy de Maupassant, André Bonnard, Tolstoy, Baudelaire, Étienne Balibar, Nikos Poulantzas, Henri Focillon, Jacques Roumain, Hegel and Raymond Bayer.

Mr Saramago is married to Pilar del Rio, a journalist who is also his Spanish translator, and who in a separate presentation discussed the challenges his books pose to translators. Ms del Rio had harsh words for ‘cultures which believe they are self-sufficient and do not need other languages,’ noting that only 3% of all books published in the United Kingdom were originally written in languages other than English. But she had warm praise for the sensitivity and craftsmanship of Saramago’s many translators. And no doubt she asks him a lot of questions.

http://www.iti.org.uk/pdfs/onionSkin.pdf


[Edited at 2005-03-21 01:30]


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Leonardo Parachú  Identity Verified
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I shouldn´t like to contradict Saramago´s words but... Mar 21, 2005

... good translators should not ask questions, they should answer them.

They should ask questions to THEMSELVES and find answers. Only in case of extreme necessity should they ask others. Otherwise, let THEM do the translation work.

OK, I know I might be raising some controversial issues here but I just couldn´t refrain myself.

Kind regards to all,
Leonardo Parachú. (just 1 year of professional experience, ask me again in 5 years´time)

[Edited at 2005-03-21 02:38]


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
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Hi, Leo! Mar 21, 2005

Leonardo Parachú wrote:

... un buen traductor no debe hacer preguntas, debe responderlas.

Debe hacerSE preguntas y encontrar respuestas. Sólo en casos extremos debe preguntar a otros. Caso contrario, que los otros hagan la traducción.

Leonardo Parachú



I don't think Saramago is denying that fact you mention. He is just placing the emphasis on the other side of the coin. Because we tend to think we are not important or have no right (or some other unknown reasons) the attitude we usually have is that of some sort of 'fear'. I have the feeling he is encouraging us to feel more powerful and not to be afraid to ask the writer. As I understood his message (I was lucky to hear this speech 'live' with a couple of proZians in 2003) he is inviting us to take the lead! (to a reasonable extent, of course)

Au


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Leonardo Parachú  Identity Verified
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Only humble enough to accept it Mar 21, 2005

I tend to let go when I´m not working and respond to what I read. BTW, if there´s anything to translate, let it be well written and there should be no inconvenience. Borges´ works, for instance, have been found interpretations he himself never even thought of. It is not that complex.

[Edited at 2005-03-21 02:44]


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langnet  Identity Verified
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José Saramago... Your words in God's ear... Mar 21, 2005

Aurora Humarán wrote:

Speaking in Buenos Aires at the Fourth Latin American Conference on Translation and Interpretation, Mr. Saramago, who writes in his native Portuguese, insisted that he expects translators of his books to raise questions, highlight uncertainties, and elucidate intent and meaning where these are not immediately clear.
‘Good translators,’ he said, ‘are the ones that ask questions.’ Since writing gives the mistaken impression that everything is clear, translation ‘is an opportunity to reexamine what the author really means,’ he explained.




Yes, yes, yes, yes and, "encore", yes! And this goes not only for those who translate in the field of literature, but for the "common" technical translator as well.

Saramago states he worked himself as a translator (although in his "free time", you lucky one. So he definitely knows what he's talking about. I will save this link and point it out to reluctant clients. After all, this is a Nobel Prize winner who's talking. And he's definitely right.



[Edited at 2005-03-21 19:42]


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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
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Thanks for yet another great post Mar 21, 2005

Lucky you, Aurora, to have heard Saramago in person. He's so curious about the world and "what ifs" that I can easily imagine he would be surprised by translators not asking questions. And hats off to his translators.

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Leonid Gornik  Identity Verified
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Asking who? Mar 23, 2005

Ansolutely! A good translator always asks questions addressing himself, and a would-be good translator must ask questions. Otherwise he/ she will never be good. I would change this a little: "A good translator always has doubts." A lot of people are now in this trade, and, quite unfortunately, they have little doubt if any when they come across something "unusual" or "not in the dictionary."

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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
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My source is Saramago :-))))) Mar 23, 2005

langnet wrote:

I will save this link and point it out to reluctant clients. After all, this is a Nobel Prize winner who's talking. And he's definitely right.



The end justifies the means.
au


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
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Hi, Tery! Mar 23, 2005

Terry Gilman wrote:

And hats off to his translators.



We could open a thread to talk about writers who have also been very good translators (Cortazar, to name one in my own language) or who have a special relationship with their translators (Günter Grass).

au


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
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The unattainability of a ...satisfied translator!! Mar 23, 2005

Leonid Gornik wrote:

"A good translator always has doubts."



I have been a translator since 1982 (wow...) and during my first years I was 100% satisfied with every translation I gave birth to. As time went by, that figure went lower and lower. The paradox: I have more experience and more knowledge now, shouldn't I feel more 'satisfied'. No!!! I don't. (*)

Difficult to explain to somebody who is not a translator. The more I know, the more I doubt.

The challenge is what to do with ones' doubts. They should not 'freeze' us but guide us to new viewpoints, new ways of translating. Well, you know what I am talking about!

Au

(*) this explains why I would NEVER EVER be an interpreter. I can imagine myself in the booth, trying to get the right word (going to KudoZ!!!) and the Congress...is over.


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Lorenzo Lilli  Identity Verified
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thanks Mar 25, 2005

Aurora Humarán wrote:



As I understood his message (I was lucky to hear this speech 'live' with a couple of proZians in 2003) he is inviting us to take the lead! (to a reasonable extent, of course)

Au

[/quote]

Thanks for posting this interesting topic, Au! I couldn't agree more with Saramago. BTW, I also had the opportunity to hear him live two years ago in Milan, when he presented his new book "O homem duplicado". Although he did not speak about translation, I found his speech absolutely fascinating, just like his books. I haven't read them in Portuguese, but it's just a matter of time


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Bogdan Honciuc
Romania
Local time: 00:02
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Agree Mar 25, 2005

Aurora Humarán wrote:

The paradox: I have more experience and more knowledge now, shouldn't I feel more 'satisfied'. No!!! I don't. (*)


I agree!! I feel less and less happy with my translations, while my colleagues and clients get more and more satisfied with the same translations! Weird!

You should try the booth, at least once! It's amazing, it's a rush of adreline (at least at first, but for me, everytime!)

Coming back to the topic, yes: a good translator is a translator who asks questions (that's why my record of questions on proz.com is quite high, haha). A translator who doesn't ask/doubt is a mere robot, a translating machine.


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NancyLynn
Canada
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Moderator of this forum
There are no stupid questions Mar 28, 2005

...that's what I tell my students.

Life is a constant search for improvement (or excellence).

Perhaps experience mellows us, Aurora, and that's why, as we slowly lose the idealism and rigidity of youth, we come to realise that nothing is, nor will it ever be, perfect. That includes our own work (except for egomaniacs)


Nancy


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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
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Doubts are time-eaters, too Mar 31, 2005

Aurora, It would be great to discuss writers as translators. The post and paper about Cortazar, read late, late at night, made me want to go back to school, desperately. But the questioning, querying, detective work, and doubting - even in areas where you're at home and the work should be routine - well, err, emm, they can interfere with other activities. That's why my previous post was so short, and I will only finish Saramago's gift to editors, the "Seige of Lisbon," on vacation in May! But I did want to express my appreciation of your posts, which I always look for (and which have good subject lines, if I may say so).

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"Good translators are the ones that ask questions." José Saramago

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