In Other Words, Part 1

Coffee shop readingThis series of blog posts will deal with a translation textbook titled In Other Words – A Coursebook on Translation by Mona Baker.

I have a small group of fellow translators with whom I will be working through this book. No matter how much experience we have, we can all benefit from making some effort to improve ourselves. This book, and our little book club, represent one way we can continue our professional development. I’ll be using this blog, or at least this series of blog posts on it, as an online place for us to chat about what we read and what we learn; or what we disagree with and why.

So for now, I’ll get going with chapter one, the introduction.

Mona Baker starts out with the purpose of the book and discussing the issues facing the “professionalization” of translation.

Part of the problem facing translators is that there is a long-standing image of a translator as someone advanced in years, cloistered in a room full of musty books, but who – in younger and more vigorous days – was widely traveled and experienced in several career fields. Like Baker, I have no wish to disparage those who came to translation in this fashion. Bilingual adventurers with a flair for both languages can, and often do, make wonderful translators. The issue facing those of us who come to this career younger – and my experience kind of splits the difference, I’ll get into that later – is the feeling among the other type that we can’t possibly know enough to be good. Taking some college courses, or other classes on translation, and just jumping in… well, that just isn’t how it’s done. Baker goes a bit farther in combatting this life-experience is the only way mindset:

“The ability to translate is a gift, they say: you either have it or you do not, and theory (almost a dirty word in some translation circles) is therefore irrelevant to the work of a translator. . . . [T]o take the analogy with medicine a step further: if we accept this line of thinking we will never be seen as anything but witch doctors and faith healers.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but witch doctors and faith healers worked for many, many generations of man’s existence. I’m sure that many of the incredible and renowned translators of yore were translators by happenstance rather than by selected profession; often operating based on a desire to spread their faith or to understand a foreign culture – again, the adventurer/translator. Today we have professional doctors, regimented education, and examination boards. There is no reason why we should not have professional translators. Organizations like the American Translators Association in the U.S. and similar organizations in U.S. states and regions, Canada, Europe and elsewhere in the world are making strides. Certification examinations and continuing education requirements bring us at least to the level of certified experts in the field of computers and networking. Just as with the field of technology starting in the 1990s, more and more colleges are starting to offer higher-level degrees in foreign language and translation.

Baker goes on to describe how professionalism requires us to engage in a greater degree of introspection. We have to analyze how we do what we do; to break it down to its parts and build it back up again. Over the course or reading through this book, that is exactly what we will be doing.

And a discussion of professionalism would be half-done if we do not discuss ethics. Translators have to be faithful to the source text, sensitive to the target language and translate the meaning into a form appropriate to the target audience. Different types of translation will require or permit different kinds of freedom. Poetic imagery can be shifted to match the target culture in order to convey the right feelings; or it may be translated exactly in order to retain the feeling of `otherness’ in an attempt to teach the reader about the source culture.

So more on all of it later, but here is where we start!

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