Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Expert Translation Readers

N.B. Translations and translators refer in this post to written translating. Interpreting is another story.

I’ve been away in San Ildefonso. Never heard of it? I sympathise. Nor had I until recently, but see the Footnote below.

For reading on the trip, I took a famous Spanish novel by Valencian author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and one of its two English translations).[1] Why take the translation when I can read the Spanish? It’s because I enjoy reading a translation along with its original and comparing them. I take pleasure where the translator has found a satisfactory solution to a problem or doubt, something I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Even when he or she stumbles, the ’mistake’ can give a flash of insight into how the translator’s mind was working. In the case of this translation, I noticed that such errors were usually due to the translator not knowing at first hand the area in which the story and the characters are placed. Call this way of reading professional perversiont. But I’m not alone. I saw this yesterday from an Irish newspaper:[2]
I recently attended a translation slam. Two literary translators were given the same text (a smidgen of Proust) to work on. We voyeurs in the audience were supplied with the original and the translators’ versions. A riveting discussion followed about translation choices.
It led me to the reflection that different readers of translations have different interests, different levels of expertise. The theorists have paid scant attention to the diversity of readership. As regards expertise, there are those who have training and are perhaps themselves translators. Them we may class as the Expert Readers. We can assume they are able to read both languages. I would add that they ought to be able not only to detect divergences from the originals intuitively but be capable of explaining why they consider them to be such. Many of them are actually paid to read translations and to critique them. They are the Professional Expert Readers. There are more of them than one might think, since they include the following.

Colleagues of Professional Translators who read one another’s drafts and suggest improvements.

The senior revisers and editors of junior translators. For them too, the aim is to improve quality. Most large translation bureaux have them. Indeed there are now European and Canadian norms for commercial bureaux that stipulate revision.[3]

The teachers of translation who must read and criticise their students’ work. Since there are hundreds of postsecondary translation programmes and courses throughout the world – I keep a file of them – we can guesstimate that there are several thousand teachers. One particularity of their work is that they are often called on to quantify quality by assigning a numerical grade. To this group we may append the examiners who assess translations for degrees and professional qualifications.

The writers of reviews, at least for professional and academic publications. The reviewers in the popular press are a different kettle of fish; they are often non-experts who are capable of writing a page about the text but only one line about the translation.

Lawyers and para-jurists who vet translations for their legal validity and consistency. Since the legislation, regulations and other information issued by the European Union must be translated into all the languages of the EU and be applicable in all its countries without interminable haggling over the meaning of the texts, there are plenty of such multilingual legal experts in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. I come up against them myself in the translating I do for Spanish applicants to a Canadian college of physicians and surgeons. The smallest discrepancy, for example in the title of a university course amongst a list of 50 courses, leads to the whole translation being returned to me for correction. So I’m aware there’s somebody in an office in Canada who's being paid to read my translations with a magnifying glass and who, for legal reasons, insists that they be “as literal as possible.”[4]

The Re-translators, that is to say the translators who translate a previous translation. Such re-translations are common. For example, Blasco Ibáñez, already mentioned above, published the most popular Spanish version of The Thousand and One Nights.[5] As he didn’t know Arabic, he translated it from a French translation. Re-translators have to perform a more careful and complete reading of the primary translation than most readers would give it.

So the reader should appear as a variable in any model of the translation process.

To be continued.

[1] Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, 1867-1928. Cañas y barro. Translated as Reeds and Mud by Lester Beberfall, BA, MA, PhD (Professor of Spanish, Wisconsin State University). Boston: Branden Press, 1966. 194 p. The original can be found in any good Spanish bookshop; the translation is available through Amazon.
[2] Doireann Ni Bhriain. Word for word: losing out on access to translations. The Irish Times, 12 October 2013. The article is here.
[3] Canadian General Standards Board. CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, Translation Services. Gatineau: CGSB, 2008. "Where possible, CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008 has been harmonized with the European Standard EN 15038, Translation Services." Downloadable for a fee from this site.
[4] Medical Council of Canada. Translation Requirements. Ottawa, 2013. Available here.
[5] El libro de las mil noches y una noche (The Thousand and One Nights). Direct literal translation from Arabic by Dr J. C. Mardrus. Spanish version by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Valencia: Prometeo, c1916.
[6] José Luis Sancho and Juan Ramón Aparicio. Guide: Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso and Riofrío. (Reales Sitios de España series). Translated by Mervyn Samuel, Laura Suffield and Nigel Williams. Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2013. 97 p. Richly illustrated. Available from Amazon.
Notice, in view of the immediately preceding post, that the San Ildefonso item is a collaborative translation.

San Ildefonso is a small town on the northern slope of the Guadarrama mountains about 100 km north of Madrid and 10 km south of Segovia. The Spanish monarchs of the 18th century turned it into a refreshing summer hill-station retreat from the heat and bustle of Madrid. They endowed it with two Baroque palaces, extensive formal gardens with sculptured fountains in French style, and the Royal Glassworks, all now excellently conserved.[6] In addition it has good hotels and restaurants. Little visited by foreign tourists but recommended as a side trip for visitors to Madrid or Segovia.


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