Literary myths of unpopular translation

Translated literature has a new hero in the form of Le French Book. Based in New York with the motto “if we love it, we’ll translate it”, they publish French translations, allowing readers from all over the world to enjoy the wide range of fiction currently being produced in France.

Rallying to the defence of translated fiction, they’ve recently put together a list dispelling the most common myths. We’ve summarised them here for your enjoyment. See if any of this sounds familiar!

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More Clerkenwell history: the Russian connection and a musical coal man

The Musical Small Coalman of Clerkenwell

Where would you find Russian revolutionaries in the early 1900s? The biographies of the future leaders of the Soviet Union show that they were men well travelled as it was not easy to organise left-wing parties in Tsarist Russia, and radicals were often forced into exile. I wrote last week about Clerkenwell’s radical history, and in 1902, the leading Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin came here. He set about publishing the revolutionary newspaper Iskra (The Spark) to be shipped back to Russia.
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Is this the new ‘age of translation’?

This year has seen literary translation hit new prominence on the news and feature pages. Earlier this week the BBC marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, noting how its turns of phrase have permeated everyday English:

The Sun says Aston Villa “refused to give up the ghost”. Wendy Richard calls her EastEnders character Pauline Fowler “the salt of the earth”. The England cricket coach tells reporters, “You can’t put words in my mouth.” Daily Mirror fashion pages call Tilda Swinton “a law unto herself”.

Now today’s Observer is going even further: it carries a full page article proclaiming “This is the age of the translator”. Continue reading “Is this the new ‘age of translation’?”

Does foreign language have a place in translating literature?

It sounds a mad question, but “Does foreign language have a place in translating literature?” Put differently, when translating literature, how many words should be left in the original language? Should “foreign” words in English-language texts convey a sense of a culture, or be used as a last resort for the “untranslatable”?

These questions are interesting in their right, but are also far from academic considering the recent success of some novels translated into English. After all, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy are predicted by some to become the three top-selling novels of all time in Britain, overtaking Dan Brown’s paperback, The Da Vinci Code, which sold 4.5 million.
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Burns night: supper, poetry and an ode to a haggis

As a Scot – and an Ayrshire Scot at that – Robert Burns and his poetry have always been important to me and I’ll be raising a glass to his ‘immortal memory’ tonight as Scots the world over celebrate Burns night.

The unofficial national bard of Scotland (and voted the greatest ever Scot in a TV poll), Burns was by far the most important poet to write in the Scots dialect. Continue reading “Burns night: supper, poetry and an ode to a haggis”

Foreign idioms: a fun look at the sayings of the world

A fun new book out this summer takes a sideways look at the idioms and sayings of the world.

“I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ear and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World” takes its title from a Russian saying which is broadly similar in meaning to the English phrase “I’m not pulling your leg”. Often, we are so used to these absurdities in our own languages that they pass us by in everyday speech – although of course they often present a challenge to the foreign language translator!

The book is best viewed as a something to dip into, considering idioms from the Russian “To look like September” (to look miserable) through to the French “to fart in silk” (be very happy).

The chapters are arranged by subject matter (love, health, work, and so on) with a short introduction to each, and translations from a range of languages including French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. Several of the idioms are illustrated in cartoon form, adding to the entertainment value.

Sadly the book doesn’t really delve into the background of the idioms. An academic study would have been out of place, but you can’t help but wonder if a more thorough exploration of a phrase and its etymology would have added to the fun. Also, as foreign language typesetters and translators, we would have liked to see more emphasis on the original saying rather than just the literal translation.

That said, it’s all good fun. Even better, it’s inspired the Guardian newspaper to produce a fun quiz of foreign language idioms. Give it a go and, as they point out, you can find out if you’re “a walking donkey killer or simply carrying owls to Athens”