Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Translation

One thing you must recognize is that there is no correct translation from one language into another. There are ideas, concepts, words and phrases which are the best interpretation of the translator’s efforts.


When I began working on the French translations that I was doing about 1990 I asked a friend in the publishing industry for martial books, what should one do. I wasn’t having difficulty expressing karate terms which I was familiar with, but other sections of the writing was becoming more a English with French overtones as I didn’t know what was appropriate.


He explained it was the translators role to express it in his language as he would say it. I chose not to go further as I didn’t feel totally competent in my ability to transfer French ideas into English. That was my decision.


But I learned a great deal about doing this. How any translation wasn’t exact, but instead a reflection of the translator’s experiences. The resulting translation was then not ‘correct’ but one impression how to express what was written.


That is why there are so many translations of the same work. (Just consider how many there are of the ‘Tao Te Ching’ attributed to Lao Tzu.)


The translator can move the meaning, intentionally or un-intentionally, to their way of thinking. So whether you accept the result is as much your belief in the translators efforts as anything.


Some time ago Douglas Hofstadter wrote a very large book about the translation he made of one short poem by Clemont Marot.  Then he shared the efforts of many friends and their attempts to do so. All using the same work, all very different. To my way of thinking all correct.


I am sharing a few selections of that poem and the translation process below.


So when you wonder why a book like the Bubishi has so many translations, not to mention very different extra material, this may help explain why.

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