translation and otherness

Firstly, some daffodils for St David’s Day:

Secondly, a Welsh castle:
Caldicot Castle
And thirdly, now I’m on the subject of castles, a reminder that the Castles in Spain translation crowdfunding campaign is still under way. Please pass the word around as there are just over two weeks to go and funding is currently at 65%.

I’ve written two short pieces on translation for the campaign updates; this – the importance of otherness – was published just a couple of days ago:

One of the concepts that translators struggle with is that of otherness.

Obviously one important reason for translation is to make a text accessible to new readers. Since we want people to understand the translated text, we not only choose words that our new readers will be familiar with, but we may also be tempted to adapt ideas and concepts to make them more recognisable in the target culture. The changes we make may not be big – after all, we want to remain faithful to the original – but sometimes we feel a need to explain something, or somehow alter or adapt the text, in order to help the intended meaning get through.

Just how much we change is, to a degree, a personal choice. Some translators aim to smooth the way for the reader to such an extent that they produce a text that reads so naturally that the new readers aren’t aware it’s a translation: they can enjoy it as much as any original written in their own language.

The problem with this, though, is that the reader loses all sense of the “otherness” of the original: the unique qualities of the language and culture have been glossed over; the translator has appropriated the text and assimilated it into the target culture.

Robert Bethune has said that a translator “must check [his] ego at the door” and allow the voice of the writer to be heard; if we work too hard to make the translation fit seamlessly into the new culture, we risk drowning out this voice. Perhaps rather than removing all the stones from the reader’s path, our aim should be to recognise the otherness and preserve it in some way when we translate.

With fantasy and science fiction writing there is a second type of otherness to consider: as well as that of the language and culture of the writer and their individual voice, there is the otherness of created worlds and civilisations. In the original story, these new worlds are working in conjuntion and in juxtaposition with the writer’s home language and environment. So in these genres, the translator has yet another element to juggle with: we need to preserve the otherness of the writer’s voice and language and also that of his creation. It makes the translator’s task even more challenging, but it also adds to the fun.

Over on the Castles in Spain campaign page you’ll find more information about this bilingual anthology of “the stories that set the pace for science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Spain”, as well as updates by other people involved in the project.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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