Translations

Fried Egg

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Translated stories, can they ever be the same as reading them in their original language?

I'm ashamed to say that I can only read one language: English. Therefore, if I want to read anything written in another language, I have to read a translation. Just like I'm doing right now reading "Labyrinths" by Borges. But I can't help wondering how much my experience of it differs from someone who reads it in the language it was originally written (in this case Spanish).

Conn said that usually translations are "word for word" and therefore "still the words of the author". But how true is that, really? Languages are not gramatically the same. I'm pretty sure that if I took one of Borges stories in Spanish and translated it myself using one of the many internet translation engines, I would get someting pretty unreadable. And that's as close you can get to a "word for word" translation.

This is a particularly pertinent question when one considers authors whose prose style is particularly important in their writing. If the translator does not carefully try to capture the feel, rythmn and style of the prose then they have lost something quite important in the translation. Innevitably the translator must be quite creative in their job. Unavoidably there is a degree of subjectivity in the translation.

When I consider the prose of Lord Dunsany, how beautifully he puts words together, I cannot imagine how one might go about translating that to another language. Something, almost undefineable, is bound to get lost. Has anyone here ever read a translated Dunsany story? How does it compare?

What do you think?
 
They say Umberto Eco is better in English than Italian, because his translator is a better prose stylist than he is.
 
I can read French very haltingly (and nowadays only with a French-English dictionary close at hand) but the only things I've ever read in original and translation are the Asterix books!** And to my mind the English versions are streets ahead, but whether that's because humour is so much harder to translate so the French original doesn't appeal, I don't know. The translations there, though, aren't word-for-word -- in fact, when the translators get going into literary quotes and puns (which happens a lot) they seem only tenuously connected.



**Umberto Eco to Asterix... the sublime to the ridiculous...
 
Unfortunately I can't speak Japanese, but I can tell you that the translations of Murakami that I've read have been beautiful. There's a simplicity and naivete to it that's really gripping (for me). It'd be interesting if this is only something that exists in the English translation - funny thinking that a translator can completely alter the tone and perceived meaning of a text.

P.S. Judge, I can only assume that by 'sublime' you are in fact referring to Asterix.
 
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So, translations can be good, perhaps even better than the original. But not the same...
 
Well if I were to answer the actual question rather than skirting it I would hypothesise that no, it would, in my opinion, be impossible to capture the same written experience in two different languages.
 
I don't think you can translate word-for-word as the tense and order of phrases and sentences are different IMO, if I said "This is a great book you will love it" and directly translate it in another language it would probably sound more like Yoda speak, "Love it you will as great this book is". :D
 
Wow....great thread Fried Egg and timely given the thread I'll be putting up over the weekend on World Lit which obviously will feature a LOT of translated works.

Well, I speak German, English and am currently learning Spanish and have worked with my father who has worked as a translator for both technical and non-technical publications....soooo from my experience you can never realistically expect all the nuances of a language to be transferred from the original or source language to the target language.

Translations can appear superior to the original if one is equally bilingual but then saying it is superior by using a measure of e.g. pure prose does not necessarily mean it is better if the language it was originally translated in contained other intrinsic characteristics that may be argued to make the original work superior or was deliberately written or couched in a particular style that resonates more with one culture (e.g. original language) than the other.

I see it as almost an impossibility to truly measure whether or not the original or translated work is "superior" because it is like comparing apples with oranges. There are arguably too many variables to factor in to make the exercise of comparison a true indicator because it is a subjective process that may rely on other factors like cultural and historical subtexts that run through a story.

Not sure how much sense I'm making but it just seems like a really tough question to truly ever be able to answer.

What I can say is that certainly the quality or skill of the translator can genuinely make a difference in terms of how much of the essence of a novel and its writer is able to be transcribed to the target language and generally more enjoyable to read than if a weaker translator was at large on the same text.

Now I'm off to get an aspirin...this have given me a headache...:rolleyes:
 
I can read French very haltingly (and nowadays only with a French-English dictionary close at hand) but the only things I've ever read in original and translation are the Asterix books!** And to my mind the English versions are streets ahead, but whether that's because humour is so much harder to translate so the French original doesn't appeal, I don't know. The translations there, though, aren't word-for-word -- in fact, when the translators get going into literary quotes and puns (which happens a lot) they seem only tenuously connected.



**Umberto Eco to Asterix... the sublime to the ridiculous...

Yay :p - I have all the Asterix books and still love them to death - I pick one up every now and then and still laugh till it hurts. Strange thing about them is that I believe (apart from the obvious storyline stuff) that their background is generally historically very accurate. Always did wonder about the puns and literary stuff though as far as translation went - I never could see quite how that could match the original all that closely - serious respect to the translator(s).

In general I would image that the style of the translator will inevitably creep into the translation no matter how faithful you try to be to the original. I really can't see how any translator could avoid it. There is simply loads of stuff that won't translate literally correctly (that doesn't sound right :confused:). Just think about idioms for a starter - many idioms would be completely incomprehensible in different languages.
 
To be honest, i think that the only books that i have read where the original language wasn't English was the Night Watch series. It didn't stop me enjoying them at all.
 
Translation is more of a blessing than a curse. A language,prose not being translated perfectly is much better than not being able to read non-english writers. Prose style of the original writer is not everything that is important.

You are right i cant imagine even reading Lord Dunsany in a translation but those kind of prose stylist is so rare.

For example i did read Borges in english and the translation was near perfect in that you didnt even notice it,take away attention from the real writer.

Unless you can speak 20 languages its better than nothing.
 
Translation is more of a blessing than a curse. A language,prose not being translated perfectly is much better than not being able to read non-english writers. Prose style of the original writer is not everything that is important.

You are right i cant imagine even reading Lord Dunsany in a translation but those kind of prose stylist is so rare.

For example i did read Borges in english and the translation was near perfect in that you didnt even notice it,take away attention from the real writer.

Unless you can speak 20 languages its better than nothing.
Which languages can you read, Conn?
 
When I go to my monthly SFF pizza, this subject come up a lot, both in books that those there have written and read. Several authors (like Zelazny) have come through very well in French, while others (I personally noted Spider Robinson) have suffered. I cannot tell whether this is due to the particular translator (it tends to be the same one for all an author's oeuvre) or the conceptual structure of the original book.

Strangely enough, one author who I would have expected to have been difficult has total unanimity on the quality of the translations; Terry Pratchett. I really must get round to trying some.
 
As has been noted, no, it won't be the same; it can often be radically different. Idioms are different from culture to culture, for one thing, and a translator must find a substitute which is either as close to the original as possible literally, or go for something which approximates the sort of nuances, resonances, and associations for an English reader as the original would have for someone reading that language.

John Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy is a good example, as he often explains in his notes the process he had to go through to try to match the flavor of Dante's verse, which is amazingly versatile, from the lyrical to the scatalogically pungent. Often translating directly would have left an English reader (especially a modern) simply scratching their head, none the wiser; so Ciardi had to either use an existing phrase in English or create one which carried the same sort of tone and impact that the original would have had for Dante's audience when it was written, doing so at the complete sacrifice of anything approaching saying what the original said on a literal basis.

And yes, sometimes a translation can be better -- sometimes even when both are by the same writer, which is a peculiar sort of thing, but it happens. Sometimes, also, when the original writer does a translation of their own work, they change it vastly, as they have grown as writers, or they have a different feel for the vision, or for a number of other reasons. And sometimes you have to use a different medium to translate literally from one language to another, if you are to capture the essence of what the writer is saying. Clark Ashton Smith's translations of Baudelaire are often along this line, where he takes metrical verse and turns it into prose poetry in order to capture as closely as possible what C.P. said in verse form....

This is why, for example, I tend to say that the King James Version of the Bible is one of the greatest works of English literature, as it is often vastly different from the original works, and was highly influenced by the social and political views of the time accordingly, making it at least as much a work of English culture as it is a representation of the cultures from which the original emerged....

Borges, by the way, could write as well in English as in his native tongue, so with some things you may even find versions he wrote himself. Hanns Heinz Ewers also translated some of his works; and Beckford, though English, originally wrote Vathek in French; the best-known English-language version we have is by someone else....
 
...sometimes even when both are by the same writer, which is a peculiar sort of thing, but it happens....
If I might be permitted a brief, seemingly tangential, comment.

This happens in music: composers transcribing orchestral works (including their own) for chamber groups or piano (solo, four-hands, two-piano) and/or orchestrating pieces for smaller groups (or piano).

Those whose transciptions are thought to be the best often do not simply allocate notes (to fingers in one direction, to instruments in the other), but recreate the work so that it not only fits the new performing apparatus but sounds as if it was originally conceived for it.

(The benefit of musical transcription, as opposed to literary translations, in this sort of comparison is that we can all hear/understand both (or perhaps all) versions of what at first seems to be the same work.)


Now back to translations....
 
Big Bear, you have a point. I should have thought of that analogy myself, as it is very apt, especially with older writers (and a growing number of the new generation of weird writers, for the matter of that), given their awareness of the music of language and how important particular word choices and how they fit into the overall structure of a piece can be.

One writer whose works in translation I have difficulty even conceiving of being anything like the original is, naturally, Lewis Carroll. How does one capture the flavor of the quirkiness of the logic there, given its often peculiarly English idioms? Dunsany, Lovecraft, Poe, and Smith would also, it seems to me, be quite difficult to translate given how important the use of exactly the right word or phrase was to each of them. You could translate the story, but not the writer.... Georges Simenon, on the other hand, seems to me one who would (generally speaking) be relatively easy to translate well (as does Hemingway). Joyce, on the other hand, especially Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake, I would think would not translate well at all....
 
Hmm, Alice au pays des merveilles. Perhaps I can get hold of a copy, in French.
Mind you, I haven't read the original since my sister's eldest was very small, and his daughter is now ten.

But much of Dodgeson's warped world image is the logic behind the words, not the words themselves, and this is fairly constant across the indo-european languages. Thus 'No-one moves slower than you' 'Je suis certain que personne bouge beaucoup plus vite que moi' the logic carries across impeccably (German, too).

Traduire 'Jabberwocky', ça pouurrait être plus problèmatique.

And I remember when I first read 'Ulysses'; it really wouldn't have made much difference what language it was written in for what I understood…
 
Which languages can you read, Conn?

I could read arabic as a kid but coming to sweden and swedish took over its place so i cant read it anymore. My languages are Somali,Swedish,English.

Funny enough Somali is the hardest language to read for me. Since Somali is very oral language and didnt have a written langauge until 60s where someone made it up. Somali Scholars refuse to acknowledge this made up written language. Only old somali people can usually read Somali
writing in a book. This is the reason poetry,poets are still highly rated because culture wise we were depended on Oral storytelling.

So Swedish is my nr 1 reading language,english second and Somali distant third.
 
Chris: While I agree with you on the logic, I fear that most (if not all) of the "flavor" of Carroll would not translate well. Another example of French-to-English which applies here, I think, is Gautier's "La morte amoureuse". I've seen various translations and, while no few capture the essence of the plot and even the incidents, they may as well have been written by completely different people. The feel of Gautier's approach (at least what I've gathered of it as a non-French speaker who has tackled the originals in comparison with translations at times) is completely lost in all but that by Lafcadio Hearn....
 
Well, I now have 'Pays des merveilles' and 'Wonderland' in my computer (and Sylvie & Bruno and Snark, and I'm looking for 'every cat has nine tales', which I remembered as "A short treatise on symbolic logic", but doesn't seem to be.) and will attempt some comparisons. For the moment the French seems written for a considerably younger audience.
 

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