Discussing translation with a writer
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:42
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Jun 23, 2005

A few days ago, at this year's Writer's reunion in Lahti
I had a conversation with an Amerikcan writer, Theo Hakola, who lives in Paris and works also as a translator.
His opinion is, that a literary translation should relay the contemporary language of the original work. So a play by Shakespeare should be translated into French using the language of 1600 France. If well done such a translation would never date.
Theo was very passionate about the issue and condemned all translations of Shakespeare into modern language as adaptations. When I asked him, if his translations of comtemporary French authors into English should be called final, he was absolutely positive.
What do you think? Are literay translations automatically condemned to grow older and becoming outdated? Or is it possible to translate so, that the text will be concieved as final, as is the original?




Marc P (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:42
German to English
+ ...
Discussing translation with a writer Jun 23, 2005

What form of English should the Classics be translated into then?



Sarah Steiner  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:42
Spanish to German
+ ...
adaptations or translations? Jun 23, 2005


On your question: "literary translations automatically condemned to grow older and becoming outdated? Or is it possible to translate so, that the text will be concieved as final, as is the original"

Well I suppose literary translations are (to use the same term) "condemned to grow older" exactly the same as the originals are. This, of course, does not mean they get outdated (just for our understanding, I am specialized in Spanish Barroque literature). What in originals seems so clear, why shouldn´t it be applied to translations too. You should have asked the guy if he reads, e.g., German mediaval texts in the original version, or in a version that, finally, makes it possible to a non professional German philologer to understand the text.

It is the same as with local dialects. How to transmit an Irish accent to a German text, for instance? Just not translate into dialect, or use a close dialect form the Austrian alps near to Switzerland? Or the dialect used in Hamburg suburbs? This is a question that will never be resolved. I mean, there is no correct way. It is just a fact that has to be decided by the translator. And, above all, the information has to be in a TRANSPARENT way given to the future reader. That´s it, nothing else. If the result then is called "translation" or "adaptation", well, that is, in a certain kind, a linguistic-philosophical point of view. Again, it is a decision/attitute a translator takes, and this is always acceptable, whenever it is transparent.



Momoka (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:42
Japanese to Spanish
+ ...
Condemnation Jun 23, 2005

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

What do you think? Are literay translations automatically condemned to grow older and becoming outdated? Or is it possible to translate so, that the text will be concieved as final, as is the original?

A literary translation will never be like the original work; there is always something there missing, something beyond words, no matter how good the traslator is or was; this is why I think translations become outdated and new translations come out, to stay in tune with new times through new translators. I've read many books by authors considered "clasics" and wondered why it's so. Maybe in their original language they are jewels, but in other language they just don't find a way for their soul to show as at home. So the clasics are clasics because the are so in their original language.
Translations always carry with them the flavors of two people: the author and the translator, which makes them different from the original work by necessity. This is something that should be understood when reading literary translations. I'd really love to read the great German philosophers in German; Kant, Nietzche, Schopenhauer...but it would take a lot of time for me to master German to that level...and literary translators need their jobs,
so I read the English translations...taking into account that things MIGHT be different in the originals.
My very subjective opinion.


Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:42
German to English
+ ...
just one man's opinion Jun 23, 2005

IMHO (as someone who doesn't do literary translations but has great admiration for anyone who does):

Seems to me that it's already hard enough to do literary translations into contemporary language, regardless of the age of the original, without introducing the complication of using an outdated or archaic version of the taraget language.

Did you ask how many of his translations generated on this principle he has actually published? Aside from academics, who would would want to read a translation of Shakespeare (or any other author several centuries removed from the present time) in the contemporary French of the same era?

Furthermore, IMO he's arguably missing the point that an author (well, at least most authors) doesn't write for the sheer love of the words, but to express ideas, emotions, etc. Surely the translator does the best service to the author and his or her readers if he or she conveys the original meaning as well as possible in a manner that will be understood by the (contemporary) reader.

All in all, I'd say that your author illustrates that fact that although a strong ego isn't essential for an author, it's a great advantage.

As an afterthought: why should the French of Shakespeare's era necessaryily be more suitable for expressing Shakespearse's ideas than modern French? There might arguably be some stylistic similarities, but beyond that the idea strikes me as being difficult to defend.

[Edited at 2005-06-23 14:24]

[Edited at 2005-06-23 14:24]

[Edited at 2005-06-23 14:27]


Can Altinbay  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:42
Japanese to English
+ ...
Losing language and culture Jun 23, 2005

I've always wondered how much of Kawabata the world outside of Japan really get to appreciate. The first thing I noticed about his "Snow Country" was the language. I had never seen such beautiful Japanese before.

The first movie I saw with my wife was "Tanpopo". She does not speak Japanese. I can never watch a subtitled movie without reading those things. This movie was impeccably subtitled. Nothing that was said was left out. But how does a person who hasn't lived in Japan really *get* this movie? The cultural references - the silliness of a class on the formalities of eating ramen, what is going on with the family whose mom died cooking dinner - just can't be conveyed. My wife got a lot more out of the movie as I explained to her what was really going on. You do have the opportunity of explaining these things in a written context rather than in a movie, but then you're not writing a thesis. Do you write footnotes? A commentary?

One of those audio track running commentaries would be a great feature for a translation of a movie such as "Tampopo".


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 13:42
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Adaptation Jun 23, 2005

I think it would be impossible for almost any translator to translate, say, a medieval text from another language into the medieval version of one's own language because that is not a language we know. We live in this day and age and we only know contemporary language. And yes, then the translation can only be an adaptation, it can be done in different ways by different translators, and it can become outdated. It is one thing to read a medieval text in German if you know German, but for anyone else the translation has to be in contemporary language to be able to understand and appreciate it. And that is after all the tranlator's main aim: to translate a foreign text into language that people can understand.


Przemysław Szkodziński  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:42
English to Polish
+ ...
Meaning vs feeling Jul 6, 2005

Literary translations, especially of all the so-called 'classics', should convey not only the meaning, but also the 'feeling' of the original (I realize that it's a very vague idea). And it doesn't necessarily involve using utterly archaic language in the translation, but taking certain stylistic steps in order to make the reader 'feel' the lexical differences between modern language and the language of a given era. Making the translation completely archaic would only obscure the meaning, thus making the reader 'feel' the era's language of the translation instead of the original language (and I do believe that it's not the goal the translator aims to achieve).

We should also keep in mind that translations made in a given period show how the source text had been understood back then - and the way feeling and meaning are percieved may differ between various periods.

The meaning should never be put down in favour of the feeling - and vice versa.


Dmitry Kozlov  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:42
English to Russian
+ ...
Discussing translation Aug 5, 2005

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
...Are literay translations automatically condemned to grow older and becoming outdated? Or is it possible to translate so, that the text will be concieved as final, as is the original?

To my mind this question can not have a simple answer. A translation made in the language contemporary to the original indeed will not date, but will it be final, i.e. will it have much value to a reader in a distant future? I think its value will eventually become academic only.
First, following this principle we oblige translators to translate modern texts only, since there are hardly many people who can confidently keep the old style without sounding false.
Second, even an original text five centuries later will need an explanation in modern language on order to be understood correctly. The same is bound to happen with a translation, to the point where a set of comments becomes a translation of its own.
And here the basic question is: "What IS translation and what IS the translator's task?"
As was said above, the translator's task is to make possible for the people speaking a different language and often living in a different culture to understand and FEEL the same way that the people reading the original understand and feel.
That is never an easy job and it certainly requires literary talent. From this point of view trying to adapt the text to an old language does not make sense since it complicates the understanding.

So my answer would be:
Yes, the translation which dates back to the time of the original should be considered the best and true one.
But also no, one can not simply leave it at that. The old classics should be translated time and again to emphasize the ideas and thoughts that may shine in a new light. It is like re-reading a favorite book several decades later when you discover something in it that you failed to notice in the younger years.


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