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  1. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    Puerto Rico

    On translations...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Wreybies, Oct 8, 2014.

    Some new manga came in this morning and I'm a little disappointed in the English translation of the original work. There are translator's notes (T/N) everywhere to explain things that have been lost in translation, have no cultural cross-equivalences, etc. Also, the English is painfully stilted and lacks any idiomatic feel. There are no errors of grammar or syntax, but the dialogue is cleaving overly close to the original and giving grammatically correct renditions of what people would say in Japanese, as opposed to what people would normally say in English under those same circumstances.

    The translator chose to go a very literal route, which is not uncommon in manga where the fandom is also deeply invested in these little cultural tidbits found in the translator's notes, which they will later smugly wield in manga forums in faux displays of Japanese inculturation.

    (Important to note that I work as a translator.)

    And that brings me to the question:

    Were your novel to be translated to another language, be it from English to another language, or from the language in which you are writing your novel to English, what would be your take on the process of translation? Would conserving the words of your text be more important than conserving the meaning and intent of those words? Would you be at peace were the translator to chose a completely different metaphor or image because the one in the original language (and original cultural context) gives a meaning that is different or wrong or void of intent in the target language? Would you be willing to work with a translator so that a balance is struck?

    Discuss. ;)
  2. stevesh

    stevesh Banned Contributor

    Mar 17, 2008
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    Mid-Michigan USA
    I like to think that my work couldn't be properly translated into another language, but I would expect a translator to try to convey the meaning he/she found in the story, even if it means choosing different metaphors or images to suit the target language and culture. A direct, literal word-for-word translation makes no sense to me.
  3. Swiveltaffy

    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

    Jul 4, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Roanoke, TX
    I'd prefer the substance route, as, in the end, the ideas are superior, in my view. However, if possible, I'd say that a mixed approach would probably work best on average. Really, translation is an art in itself, and I wouldn't be against a translator taking merit and creating an agenda. Even if what I meant to convey isn't conveyed, something of potential worth could be.
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Aug 27, 2014
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    While it might appear somewhat vain, I'm going to quote something that I posted on this site a couple of days ago

    "..that way you'll avoid the likelihood that your "critic" will be either a sycophant who will praise it fulsomely, or a psychopath who will crucify it!"

    My choice of sycophant and psychopath here was deliberate, for the poetic sound...and I can't help but feel that a literal translation would lose that.
  5. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 5, 2012
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    I'd do what Murakami does. He works closely with his translators and often changes even the very content, let alone the expressions, to make it more culturally appropriate for the readers in foreign language. I think it works beautifully .
  6. Wasp Nest

    Wasp Nest New Member

    Oct 7, 2014
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    Unless it's translated into French. :) Sacrebleu, the -e in both "sycophante" and "psychopathe" is actually mute.

    @Wreybies I felt a pang of sympathy for the manga translator. I'm an interpreter (sometimes translator) by training, but I haven't paid the bills through it in a while. We spent so many hours in school discussing why literal translation is dumb and useless and... WHY WOULD YOU EVEN...??? that I didn't realize this was even a point of debate somewhere in the outside world. But from what you're describing, that sounds like a "fun" fandom to cater to... We were told that sometimes, with some clients, you just have to suck it up and let them have an inferior translation of which you're ashamed if that's what rocks their boats. At some point, "educating the client" is simply not worth the stomach ulcers.
    jazzabel and Shadowfax like this.
  7. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Nov 30, 2006
    Likes Received:
    Ohio, USA
    This is something that has actually been discussed by me with my publisher and the translator. The first novel in my fantasy series is being translated into Spanish (from English).

    Meaning and intent is very important, if an author hopes for an audience that reads other than the original language in which it was published. For example, I've exchanged emails with the translator, discussing the mercenary names (in my novel, mercenaries are 'given' names based upon their personality and actions in battle). Literal translation would not always work--at least not effectively, so I provided background to the translator so she could provide the appropriate mercenary names.

    I think you have to have faith/trust in the translator to do it right, and micromanaging isn't going to benefit anyone (especially in this instance since my command Spanish is extremely limited).

    I'll add that the translator provided a sample of her translation of the first 20 or so pages. My publisher has two readers that are fluent in both English and Spanish, but are native Spanish speakers. They proofed the translation, giving it a thumbs up. That adds additional confidence in that I trust the translator to get it right, to strike the balance between conserving (literal word for word) and modifying (selecting appropriately) for the intended audience. (I hope that makes sense)
    jazzabel likes this.
  8. Jack Asher

    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

    Sep 4, 2013
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    I'm just trying to get published in English. I'm not a believer in jinxes, except in this case where I've decided I do. Stop trying to jinx me!
  9. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    I'd work closely with the translator, knowing full well that some things will be lost. Certain phrases and sayings would need to be changed, any dialects would need to be taken into account, etc. That's just the nature of translation. On the bright side, translating novels isn't as hard as translating poetry, so there's that.
  10. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Subtleties will always be lost in translation, and the better a writer you are, the greater the degradation.

    Why? Because the better you are, the finer the nuances of your word choices, in subtext as well as text. Those same shades of meaning may not even exist in the target language, or would require a complete rewrite to capture comparable subtleties.

    Anyone who has dealt with translation of complex or sensitive subject matter is familiar with this problem, although, paradoxically, highly technical matter is easier to translate faithfully.

    I would greatly prefer to work closely with a translator to make sure the important aspects are preserved, even at the expense of having to accept changes to the surface text. But it would be frustrating, even in a best case scenario.

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