Thursday, October 30, 2014

Translations, Translations, Translations!

S-so... sick... eurggghhhhhhhh I hope you're happy virus, I had to miss my piano midterm because of you.
So, I've been reading a lot of books that were originally written in different languages lately. Books like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Broskis Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, The Man Who Laughs, the list goes on and on and on!
I spend a lot of time in the college library, and as interested in reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. On the back of the book it said that this new translation was extremely faithful to the original Russian, and that it had gotten rid of all the 'anglizations' that were in the first translation of the novel. That sounds good right? Keeping the book as close to the original as humanly possible. But I opened the book to look at it, and it was near un-readable. At least to me. My eyes wandered all over the page trying to find something to latch onto, but all I could see were 'thous' and 'hithers' and tons of weird Russian-isms that you had to flip to the footnotes at the back of the book to find out what they meant.
Then I bought a pretty new copy of Les Miserables to sort of replace my battered copy (shhh, don't tell it it's being phased out!), and a lot of the amazon reviews criticized it for having a rather modernish translation. And yeah, reading thought it today I have found some rather interesting phrases that don't quite sound 19th Century France ("Pull yourself together!" "Hey Kid!" "Alright with you?"), but get this! I'm not bugged at all by it.
So those two stories tie together (like any good Lost plotline...) and lead me to the point of this post.
I suppose the question you ask yourself about a translation is where the 'line' is. Where does it go from clearing up peculiarities of the language to changing what the author wanted to say? And what makes a good translation, anyway?
I would say that to make a good, faithful translation, you would first translate the text literally, and then revise to make it run smoothly in English, or whatever language you're translating into. Yes, you can't translate something to exactly what the author was saying. Especially from a language like Japanese that is so intricate and different from any other language that you can only give the reader an idea of what was being written.
Translating from a different language is a difficult project to tackle. There are so many different variables you have to work with, especially when you're going over a book written in French or Spanish where there are two ways of saying 'You'- one of them formal and one of them more friendly. English doesn't have that, so it's hard to translate a passage that has a lot of subtext with the Vous/Tu thing, like you'll find in The Count of Monte Cristo.
So it's difficult, you know! I cut the translators some slack because yeah, I could get picky about the translation for being modern. But then what would I do? Just read The Idiot in the original Russian? No thank you! I would rather read a modernized translation than one that is so excessively accurate that it is hard to read.
Bible translations on the other hand, are a completely different deck of cards. A deck of cards that I'm not even authorized to shuffle. So that's a different post for when I'm a hundred years wiser. ;)

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