Sunday, May 12, 2013

Literary Native Translators

Translated by Joan Pinkham

Julie McDonough Dolmaya teaches translating and translation studies at university level in Toronto. She has a blog, which has recently been mostly about her teaching innovations. This week, however, there’s something different: an obituary of a distinguished American literary translator, Joan Pinkham.

Joan was best known internationally as the English translator for the French historian Henri Troyat, but in Canada for her translation of Les Nègres Blance d’Amérique (The White Niggers of America) by Quebec nationalist writer Pierre Vallières. What makes the obituary outstanding is that Julie had the good fortune to be able to interview her towards the end of her life, and the interview, which Julie transcribes for us, is full of glimpses into the joys and tribulations of a literary Professional Translator. Anyway, read it all here on Julie’s blog.

I draw attention to it on this blog for one particular passage in the interview. It’s where Joan states categorically,
“As a translator, I am basically self-taught [my emphasis]. At the time I was in school, there were no official academic programmes in translation in the U.S. (or none that I was aware of). Courses at the British Institute in Paris and at Middlebury College in Vermont — they were called “Stylistics” – were invaluable but insufficient for my purposes. So I studied on my own, reading such books as I could find, preparing translations of Maupassant and comparing mine to the many different printed versions, learning much from the bilingual documents that constantly came across my desk at UN.”
This means that she started out as a Native Translator, albeit an Advanced Native Translator. (For more on these terms, enter essential definitions in the Search box.) She became an Expert Translator by working at it on her own and by the publication of her books. (The Literary Translators’ Association of Canada accepts one published book as a sufficient qualification for admission.) Hers was the typical developmental profile of literary translators. Like all bilinguals, they can already translate. They hone their craft by reading and by practising their writing skills, not by going to school. If they have academic qualifications, those are usually in literature.


  1. Great post blog about Translation
    I think it is very useful to all. Thank you for the post.

  2. In the U.S., accredited translation organizations include the ATA, which offers certification in many different language pairs.To find a certified translator, refer to the directory of an accredited body.

  3. Well, you're right about ATA, but this post is about LITERARY translators, and American literary translators have their own association, which is the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), website The fact is, in my observation, that literary translators don't mix much with the 'practical' translators.

  4. Julie McDonough is a very qualified and respectable teacher.

  5. Yes, I'm sure Julie is very qualified. After all, she's a graduate of the University of Ottawa! And I'm sure she's "respectable," but I think what you really mean -- if you'll pardon the correction -- is "respected."