Translators struggle in academia
Thread poster: Susan Welsh

Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:46
Member (2008)
Russian to English
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Feb 26, 2010

A rather shocking article says that being a translator can actually work against you in academic environments. From the Chronicle of Higher Education.

http://chronicle.com/article/Translators-Struggle-to-Prove/63542/


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Alison Sabedoria  Identity Verified
France
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French to English
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Good article Feb 27, 2010

Well worth reading. Thanks, Susan!

I get the impression that the attitude towards translators in the USA is particularly unenlightened. The cynic in me wonders if translation might not still be seen as an "Un-American Activity" ?! =)

Alison Sabedoria


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 19:46
English to Croatian
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Not only in the U.S. Feb 27, 2010

Literary translators, unfortunately, share this destiny all around the world. You have all these famous foreign authors, titles and names that an average citizen ( average = not in literary profession) will immediately "recognize", and their children will read the pieces at school ( they will actually read translations, not the original pieces). But none of them will know any literary translator's name, or at least the one who translated some big anthology piece. Nor do they care to read it at the front page of a translation edition. Or if they do, they don't care to remember it.

We can test it right here. Give me, without googling, at least one name of the person who translated the official version of Anne Karine in US/UK English ( of at least one version, edition, that is at least one name). Conversely, I'm sure all of you who will be unable to tell this name have heard of Leo Tolstoy, though.

And yes, absolutely, literary curriculum couldn't exist without quality literary translators. They are the key element.

About the foreign authors in school curriculum: we get them starting from high school/ grammar school ( age 15- ), which means the children are getting educated through translated pieces starting from the age of 15 ( as an addition to home writers, of course). Would it be the same at U.S. high schools, do high-school students read foreign classics ( I don't count British here, obviously, same language)?

[Edited at 2010-02-27 10:05 GMT]


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
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@Lingua 5B Feb 27, 2010

A very good test! I, who translate RU-EN, do not know who translated Anna Karenina.

As to American schools, my son is 20, so my experience is based mainly on his. In an advanced honors class he read some of Dante's Divine Comedy, some of the Rig Veda, some of the Iliad, maybe a couple more. That is unusual, though (a public "magnet" high school, which means it's free but admission is selective). The whole school had to read Elie Wiesel's "Night" trilogy one year (originally written in French, I believe, and although I read the books too, no, I do not know who the translator was). I think reading Wiesel may be fairly common in U.S. high schools. And then, of course, they read the Diary of Anne Frank, which I think is also common.

That's about all I can think of. I don't remember much of what I read in class for high school in translation. I was taking French and we read classics in French. I read a lot on my own. I read most of Dostoevsky as a teenager, lying on the beaches in Lebanon where I lived (as a result of which I now have pre-cancerous skin; ah, the follies of youth!)

Susan


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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English to Croatian
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Dostoevsky Feb 27, 2010

Did you read Dostoevsky in English back then? While reading it, have you ever empathized with the translator's struggles?

Here are some examples of foreign authors in our high-school curriculum: generally: most famous British, American and European anthology classics; more precisely: Bulgakov, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Prevert, Goethe, Shakespeare, etc. ( + of course home writers). But none of these could have been in the curriculum without translators who are the key literary mediums.


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:46
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Americans and translated literature Feb 27, 2010

No, Lingua, I never gave any thought to the translator of The Brothers Karamazov--which for sure I read in English in high school. But I did decide I wanted to study Russian in college. (I think the translator of everything I read in Russian was Constance Garnett; at least that's the only name I remember.)

@Wordeffect: I don't think there's a view that foreign literature, or translating it, is "un-American." I think it's more obliviousness, indifference.

Americans are notoriously provincial, that's for sure. If you ask the average person where Bosnia-Hercegovina is on the map, you would get a wide variety of peculiar answers. (For that matter, if you asked me to draw a map of the United States, or the world, you would get something very strange, although I grew up in the Mideast and have traveled more abroad than in the U.S.) For too many of my countrymen and women, there's "here" and "over there," with Europe being somewhere in between. (For New Yorkers, there's "California," "here," "over there," and sometimes, "the country that my great-grandparents came from"). English being the lingua franca for the Internet (="the world," right?), it doesn't occur to most people that translation is something to think about at all. It gets done, somehow, because WE need to read it in English.

Foreign languages are almost never taught in elementary school (grades K-5), when the child's mind is most open to learning languages. In middle school (grades 6-8), Spanish might be offered, maybe French or German, for the small number of interested students. In high school (grades 9-12), there might be more, but it depends a lot on the location of the school and its funding. And budgets are getting slashed all the time, with foreign languages (along with music and art) being the first to go. (With the possible exception of Spanish, since there is an obvious workforce usefulness for non-Hispanic Americans to know Spanish.) All of this is just my personal impressions.

The much bigger, deeper problem is that the younger generation of Americans (and, I think, many others) does not read literature AT ALL, unless forced to in school. In fact, they don't read anything, except if it's on a computer screen (and I don't mean a Kindle). But that's another subject for a forum thread...


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Anne Gillard-Groddeck  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:46
German to English
Translator Charlotte Guest Feb 27, 2010

I think Lady Charlotte Guest is fairly well known in some circles as the (first published) translator of "The Mabinogion" into English, although there is some controversy as to how much of it she actually did herself.

She also figures prominently in Alexander Cordell's "Land of My Fathers".



[Edited at 2010-02-27 13:47 GMT]


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Translators struggle in academia

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