Monday, August 22, 2005

So, I managed to "transcribe" 5500 words today in a series of writing jags, and, as usual, this has given me perspective on what it is I'm actually doing, versus what I'd assumed my translation style was.

I had originally decided to translate longhand into a notebook for several reasons. I was in Brno, for one, and too lazy to figure out how to use the computer clusters I didn't have to pay for...and I'd happened to bring several smallish Brown U. notebooks. Combine this with a desire to be the sort of person who fills notebooks with frantic scrawl (thank you, Nick!) and we were off and running.

I came to see this as a "I'd write out my translation all old-school" sort of thing, with what followed being merely transcribing. I have come to realize this was not true, and, on some level, knew it for a long time when I began leaving things directly in Czech, writing down multiple meanings for a single word, and even leaving whole passages out. Also, I failed to appreciate to what extent "tightening up some of the wording" and "making this into something more closely resembling English." was a) still part of the translating process and b) taking me away from my presupposed all-literalist roots.

Now, I think I got the idea of my true literality from my and Nick's participation in a Sanskrit class where we would do our homework (eventually, translation of dense, dense philosophical text from the Upanishads) progressively later and later...eventually getting to the point where we would regularly do our work at lunch the day it was due. The refectory was more fun with 1500-page dictionaries courtesy of the wonderfully-named Sir Monier Monier-Williams. In any event, what we did, which evidently contributed much to my self-perception of myself as a translator, was throw as direct a translation up as we could and await class time to flesh it out.

But yeah, this is an integral part of the translation process, I'm coming to find. As literal a translation as possible must precede a degree of nativization, with the standard compromises lurking at every corner. But I feel it's important that I do keep these processes physically separate--that is, to attempt to be as literal as possible on paper as a first attempt, rather than attempting very much of the nativizing process in my head, where my motivations and idiosyncratic choices will not be recorded. It should make a laborious editing process...well, laborious, but much more fruitful.

4 comments:

Kukkurovaca said...

Now, ironically, I no longer use notebooks almost at all -- in fact, I recently had to spend several minutes looking for one when I happened to need to sketch something out. (Okay, I exaggerate: I had to spend several minutes looking for a specific notebook.)

Buying a computer has, in short, largely ruined me for writing by hand. I'm confident this will eventually stabilize, and I'll be at least partly text-based again, but I'm still dizzy with the power of being able to wiki and/or blog and/or sync to iPod virtually every little thing. And it sure is easier to do full-text searches.

BTW, I'm fully with you on the literality question -- while I'm a much less practiced and accomplished translator, my experience has always been that a firm grounding in the literal meaning -- not even meaning, per se, but in the lexical and grammatical plumbing that's just below meaning -- is necessary before one starts getting free and easy with the translations, and especially before one asks, "How can I say this so it will make sense in English?"

Of course, this could just be the traumatic experience of being in a class with Ven talking....

Agnes said...

Just to make it official


I'm proud of you



*/me carries on moving in my stuff*

The Earthtopus said...

I like the phrse "grammatical and lexical plumbing that's just below meaning." It's quite apt.

And, of course, this dichotomy between nativizing a foreign text and then re-nativizing the native text is why I can't translate things into Czech, or Sanskrit, or German, or whatever, beyond that first step. Which is pretty annoying, come to think of it.

Er, and thanks, Agnes. I hadn't doubted your sincerity.

Agnes said...

Goody