Friday, October 27, 2006

Translation in Vietnam

This article from the VietNamNet Bridge makes an interesting juxtaposition with the previous two articles posted here about Russian literary translation and a star Vietnamese translator.

Vietnamese translators killing int’l authors

Many foreign books have been translated into Vietnamese in the past 15 years and many of them contained major errors in translation. Are translators assassinating foreign authors’ works?

Recently, the Culture and Information Publishing House released a very badly translated version of the American novel The Da Vinci Code.

Vietnamese translators have worked individually, relying on personal talent. Thus far, no one has been successful in regulating a standard level of translation. Many international poets and authors have their work severely changed when it’s translated into Vietnamese. In the other words, their works are killed by translators.

There is currently no agency overseeing the translation of books into Vietnamese. Many are worried that the current situation offers no transparency in the translation process and few opportunities for quality control.

Many young talented translators are not being given the opportunity to work with international literature of any consequence. They are ignored by publishers because they apparently lack the prestige and experience of their older counterparts. What they actually lack is simply the relationships to get their foot in the door. Consequently, there is a lack of realistic youthful voices in translated literature.

For many years, Russian poetry was considered the epitome of literature in Vietnam. Now, one must wonder if the translations were good in the first place. According to many experts, Vietnamese translators have been assassinating Russian poets for quite some time.

Of course any translator faces a colossal task when attempting to translate a work of literature between two languages. All we can ask is that they do their best. However, it is important that the safeguards are in place so the public knows that the version they are reading is as close to the intentions of the author as possible.

My comments:
“According to many experts, Vietnamese translators have been assassinating Russian poets for quite some time.” !!!

“All we can ask is that they do their best.” I can't agree with this; I think one must ask more, namely that publishers ensure that they publish only competent translations. Given the investment involved in putting out a book, it should at least make economic sense to confirm the quality of the product, even if one has no esthetic sensibilities.

And last but not least, on the choice of The Da Vinci Code as an example of a very badly translated novel... Would it really matter so much?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Movie about a translator

This article in the St. Petersburg Times talks about changes in the literary translation industry in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia, touching on a number of interesting issues.

By Evgenia Ivanova
Staff Writer

"'The goat cried in an inhuman voice…' I could not leave this in!" the English professor in Autumn Marathon (1979) remarks after spending hours helping with a translation by his less talented colleague.The Soviet classic comedy recreates in detail the perfectionism of St. Petersburg's old school translation trade.

"The translator's character, Lifanov, states that translation in the modern world must facilitate better mutual understanding between nations, and you, with your babble, will only divide them," says the same professor rejecting one of his students' works.

Such customs, it seems, sank into oblivion with the end of the Soviet Union and now, experts say, nobody guarantees that a foreign book translated into Russian will contain exactly what it promises.

"During the Soviet era, translations were done mainly by people working at foreign language departments [of universities] and who were directly related to teaching translating," Natalia Molchanova, president of Ego Translating, a local translating agency, said.

"Literary translation was considered to be a scientific, a prestigious and a very well-paid job," she said.

After the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, the state no longer provided financing for such work, and the job was left in the hands of publishers. The quality of translations significantly worsened.

"Publishing houses — commercial enterprises having profit as their main aim — were governed by economic interests and tried to economize on translations as much as they could," Molchanova, said.

Pavel Krusanov, the chief editor of St. Petersburg-based publishing house Limbus Press agrees that low-quality translations of foreign literature are a regular feature on the shelves of Russia's bookstores. In his opinion, this often arises as a result of publishers being in a constant hurry to dispatch their books to printers to avoid penalties for delays.

In the event of a poor translation, it would be very "uneconomical" for the publisher to try and find another translator, but at the same time, publishers are not able to control the level of quality, he said.

"Say a publisher has a contract with the printers half a year ahead, [the case with bad translations]. To commission the translation from someone else will mean doubling the publisher's losses which, in turn, will be reflected in the book's higher price," he said.

"Before the publisher signs the contract with a translator, the latter is asked to translate a short sample of about two pages of text," Krusanov explained.

"If the test is successful, then the contract is signed. But the problem is that the translator might work with someone to do the test or really put some effort in while preparing the sample. As a result the quality of translation on the contract might be wretched".

Viktor Toporov, a well-known literary critic and a translator, recalled that as recently as six years ago translators were simply "taken on their word" and nobody in publishing houses ever attempted to check the quality of the end result. But the situation is gradually changing.

"To a large extent, such naive perceptions are slowly shifting back to normal," Toporov said. One of the ways out of the current crisis lies in improving the training of translators, Molchanova said.

"Until they start to train translators on specifically tailored programs (and not only on philological ones), the translation of applied literature will continue to be done by those who over five years [in university] studied Shakespeare and the language as cultural heritage — and fiction will continue to be translated by the rest," she said.

Ironically, the English subtitles in the film Autumn Marathon, at least of the VHS version, are said to be less than well-translated. Another review (of the DVD) describes the English subtitles as "excellent." Were they redone for the DVD?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

“The most prolific and fastest translator”

From an article in ThanNien News, English edition:

Prolific translator says secret is determination, self-study

Having translated Doctor Zhivago in two months besides numerous other books from Russian and Chinese into Vietnamese, a 64-year-old man has achieved the impossible, even lecturing leaders on economic policy.

Born into a poor family in northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province, Le Khanh Truong made his mark when he was a freshman majoring in Russian literature in Hanoi.

Though a first-year student, he managed to win first prize in a Vietnamese-Russian poetry translation contest held mainly for senior students.

He later graduated from the university a valedictorian.

Last September, the Vietnam Record Books awarded him the title “the most prolific and fastest translator”.

He deserves the honor, having translated the 550 page long The Scaffold by Soviet writer Chinghiz Aitmatov in 10 days, Soviet Anatoly Naumovich Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat which is over 1000 pages long in three months, and Yulian Semyonov’s 300-page Seventeen Instants of Spring in only 10 days.

Other astonishing records include translating the Boris Pasternak’s famous “Doctor Zhivago” 900 pages long in 60 days. Truong has also translated The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years by Aitmatov and other Russian novels.

From 1970 to 1980, he translated 50 books on philosophy, history, sociology, literature, economics, diplomacy and even archeology.

In 1983 alone, he managed to translate all 50 volumes on economics, which the Soviet Union donated to the Ho Chi Minh City government. This later served as a guideline for state economic policy at the time.

He has even lectured certain topics he translated from Russian to top leaders including former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, General Mai Chi Tho and female General Nguyen Thi Dinh.

But his most passionate moments are with Russian literature which he said “will live forever”.

From Russian novels to Chinese kung fu

It is quite a nice surprise to know that at the age of 54, he took up Chinese, initially to “expand his knowledge a bit”.

However, the language gradually found root in the fertile land endowed with linguistic flair and he started translating a series of Chinese books.

They are acclaimed kong fu writer Jinyong or Louis Cha’s multi-volume The Return of the Condor Heroes and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a non-fiction book on geology, and a 2,400-page Chinese dictionary on traditional culture.

He has also written a Vietnamese-Chinese dictionary on proverbs.

Determination, self-study

Thanh Nien newspaper found out he worked 15 hours a day.

“Looking back, I see no reason for regret. Whatever I do, I invest all my energies in”, he told the newspaper.

“I am good at Russian not because I have studied in Russia. I am mainly self-taught here in Vietnam.”

The most important thing in learning a foreign language is determination, and scientific method, he said. Besides, we need to read a lot.

Reported by Dong Duong – Translated by Hoang Bao

It’s hard to believe that quality translations could be turned out at such speed. But then, some people do have seemingly super-human linguistic gifts, so this may be such a case. And surely such a long-lived career could only have been sustained on success.

On the positive side, Mr. Truong is a model for the self-taught translator. Although his degree in the literature of one his source languages must be counted as formal preparation for translation, his expertise in economics was indeed acquired, apparently, “on the job.” As he is quoted as saying, “[W]e need to read a lot.”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Be prepared in case of important award

From a report in the Chicago Tribune by reporter Patrick T. Reardon:

Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday, once had a doozy of a friendly argument with Guneli Gun over the word "doozies."

Gun, a novelist and occasional college teacher in Oberlin, Ohio, is the translator of two of Pamuk's novels, "The New Life" and "The Black Book." And it was during her work on the latter book, she said, that Pamuk took umbrage over her use of the word "doozies" in his central character's newspaper column.

"The Turkish word [used by Pamuk] can be translated `strange' or `odd,' but `doozy' is such a vibrant word," Gun recalled Thursday. "And the Turkish word had a kind of colloquial sound to it."

Pamuk, Turkey's best-known writer, gave in then, but not always. "We had a lot of fights," she said. "Sometimes, he would win, and, sometimes, I would win. It was a lot of fun."

Note to self: If one of my authors wins Nobel Prize for work I translated, prepare a humourous, self-deprecating anecdote to reveal to reporters. Probably prudent to discuss same with author beforehand. Upon reading the Tribune article, I could picture Orhan and Güneli going over this together.

Further translation-related comments from the article:
Gun said she became a good friend of Pamuk's during the 1990s when she was translating his books. "He speaks good English but he doesn't have the same facility writing English as he does writing Turkish," she said.

In addition to squabbles over words such as "doozies," Gun said the most notable difficulty she had in turning Pamuk's Turkish into English was his sentence structure. "His sentences have become much shorter, but, in his earlier work, he had sentences that would go on for two pages," she said.

That was bad enough, but in Turkish, the verb and subject pronoun usually show up at the end of the sentence.

"I was doing a lot of acrobatic work so it sounded good in English," Gun said.

What do people who read Güneli Gün also read?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mexican Spanish, or, When the DRAE Is Not Enough

Four online sources for consulting Mexican expressions/vocabulary:

*Diccionario breve de mexicanismos:
-Alphabetical index page
-Search page
*Jergas de habla hispana - Jerga de México
*Diccionario de Regionalismos de la Lengua Española (Grosschmid)
*José R. Morales's index of links to Mexican Spanish (not all links are current anymore, unfortunately)


*Diccionario de la lengua española
(22a ed.) de la Real Academia Española