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I hate it when translators mess with your head. - Elf M. Sternberg
I hate it when translators mess with your head.
I'm reading "Introduction to Japanese Literature," which indexes its Kanji using SKIP. They're direct, educational renditions of Natsumi Soseki's Ten Nights, with translations on the facing pages. In the introduction to this introduction Giles Murray, the translator, states "The translations follow the Japanese scrupulously. I have striven for direct semantic purity, omitting nothing and taking nothing away."

Which is why the first sentence of the book annoys me. The sentence reads, "こんな夢を見た," konna yume wo mitta. The best translation I can come up with is "I saw a dream like this:" Not a bad opening for a 19th century Poe-esque horror story. A little ideomatic, but I get the picture.

What does Mr. Murray do with it? "I had a dream."

Which is also not a bad opening for a Poe-esque horror story. But I would argue that it is not a scrupulous, semantically pure translation. A little ideomatic, I think.

I can't tell if he's trying to put me on my toes, or what. Actually, the story's pretty nifty. And the Kanji education is amazing.

Current Mood: tired tired
Current Music: Morning Musume, The Peace

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sirfox From: sirfox Date: February 12th, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
ooh! Natsumi Soseki!

I have three volumes of "I Am A Cat"

For that one, even the title needs help in translation, the original japanese version used a *very* imperious mode of speach, giving the words "i am a cat" the same tone as somebody saying "I am your emperor"

I'm still working my way through them, (in english) but it's an interesting read. Lots of wry and satirical poking at japanese society, which is something you didn't see much of back in the very early 20th century.
shunra From: shunra Date: February 12th, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Translation - at the level that you ask - is almost impossible. Because once you speak the language, the words end up having far more meanings (yeah, the idiomatic level) than a fluent person can see. You gain some vision and lose some vision by getting it at that level.

Direct semantic purity seems to me to be impossible - and I say this with nearly twenty years of experience as a professional translator of material ranging from depositions to poetry, patents to literature. When you translate word for word, you're omitting the grammar. When you translate grammatical bits, you end up missing allusios. When you use the allusions in either source or target language, you miss out on the specific words, and the way the words have been used.

The worst case of this is poetry and other religious/spiritual texts. You say you've read the Hebrew bible in the original Hebrew; that is a good reference point for the problem of translation: there are dozens of transaltions of the bible. Take the bit about Rebeccah falling offer her camel when she first spots Isaac. The translations are radically different! Or 1st Corinthians 13 - it is as though you have a completely differnt set of injunctions in each translation; and is it Love or Charity or what that is being required? Translation is a very faulty way of capturing the ki of a text.

Also (and this is nitpicking): the "omitting noting and taking nothing away" doesn't promise to refrain from adding something of his own.
elfs From: elfs Date: February 13th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I understand that translation is a hard task, and I tend to take some liberties with translation myself. I think the matter is more clear-cut here, though.

My problem is simply with the word konna, which is an adverb meaning "like this" or "of this kind." There are only three words in that sentence, if you include the verb-object and past-tense markers as part of their words: (this kind of) (dream (vo)) (see (pt)).

To me, the author's intent is clear. "I saw a dream like this" is one way to put it. I would even have accepted "I had a dream like this." Dropping the adverb completely from the translation, I feel, changes the subtle nuance of the opening. In my reading, the author is not completely confident that he is relaying the dream correctly and without mismemory. He may even be deceitful. Giles' translation doesn't give that kind of room.
shunra From: shunra Date: February 13th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I took those three words and translated them into Hebrew, to see if they worked out as unambiguously in the other language I feel comfortable doing this in.

this kind of - כזה (kazeh)
dream - חלום (chalom)
see (pt) - ראה (ra'ah)

In Hebrew, the dream and see are pretty clear (although they could be used to engineer ambiguities). The "this kind of", however, proves my point. ראה כזה חלום could mean "he saw this kind of a dream"

הלך ברחוב. חזר הביתה. ראה קומקום. ראה חלום כזה.

or "what a big dream he had"

ראיתי אותו הולך ברחוב, בנאדם שבור. חזר הביתה האיש, נשכב במיטתו ופתאום נפתח לפניו עולם ענק: ראה כזה חלום. כזה, שלא היה ולא יהיה.

or "he saw it in a sort of dream".

הוא הלך ברחוב, חשב על אשתו החתול. החתול הזה אהב להסתתר. לא אהב שרואים אותו, לא אהב להיות חלק מעולם היום. האיש שלו הלך לישון, ראה אותו בכזה חלום.

There are other options, all of which rely on the context. The author's intent is explicated more than in just the words and grammar - the language is bigger than that.

(oh, bother. Now I want to continue the three sentences I started and find out what happened to the dreamer dude. But I've got a pile of pages to translate that is taller than I am. Legal statements... ...the context is going to be very challenging. I really hope no lawyer comes up and challenges my translations, which take into account context and slang, based on a dictionary word-for-word piecing-together-of-meanings!)

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