Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Third Language

The legendary book Third Language: Recurrent Problems of Translation into English by Alan Duff was published over 20 years ago; in 1981. I call it "legendary" because I see it cited in every relevant book and paper on translation, but I've never yet met (even virtually) anyone who's had their hands on a copy. It's out of print, but I see a couple of used copies for sale at Amazon at the time of this writing.

Once I had been introduced to the concept, I found it quite comprehensible; I don't know if it's even worth the further step of seeking out a copy of the book (which is why I'd like to hear from someone who's read it). I don't think it could be described better than Andrew Brown did in his Guardian review of "God: An Itinerary":
[The translator] has managed to translate from French into an entirely new language, one born dead. It is constructed using English words but the effect is of something almost entirely unlike English.
The example given by Brown illustrates his point convincingly.
What is one to make of a chapter heading like "The Milieu/Medium Deflagration"? How is one to translate the last sentence of that chapter: "That nomadic psycho-object, the unknown masterpiece of a nation's furniture, would mark the improbable encounter, to the benefit of a God more snobbish than His predecessors, of the custom-made and the ready-to-bear"? The last word is clearly wrong. But should it be "wear" or "bore"?


My attention was drawn recently to a further, perhaps better, set of third language examples. "Better" because the texts' meanings are not as obscure; in fact the translations are completely comprehensible to the English-language reader. But in spite of being written in English, they are Spanish from vocabulary to sentence to discourse level. These texts (pdf) are here, here and here. They seem to me show elements of "hybrid texts," as discussed here by Christina Schäffner and Beverly Adab, who explain hybrid texts in this way:
A hybrid text is a text that results from a translation process. It shows features that somehow seem 'out of place'/'strange'/'unusual' for the receiving culture, i.e. the target culture. These features, however, are not the result of a lack of translational competence or examples of 'translationese', but they are evidence of conscious and deliberate decisions by the translator. Although the text is not yet fully established in the target culture (because it does not conform to established norms and conventions), a hybrid text is accepted in its target culture because it fulfils its intended purpose in the communicative situation (at least for a certain time).
Except that the circumstances of the examples I cited above make it doubtful that the decision to translate these documents as hybrid texts was deliberate; these documents have to compete with their counterparts written in original English. Ni modo.

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