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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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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Translator behind Swedish ‘Dragon Tattoo’ revealed

Along with much of the rest of the English speaking world, the WorldAccent office has not been immune to the lure of the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. For the uninitiated, crime novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was a massive hit last year. The second in the series “The Girl Who Played With Fire” has just come out in paperback and has instantly become one of the hot reads of the summer.

Larsson was an interesting character, being both a crusading journalist himself and noted for tackling extreme right and racist groups. He wrote his books in his native Swedish and they have enjoyed great success in Sweden. But sadly he died before the books could be translated, and so could provide no guidance in shaping the English text.

Glancing at the translation credit in the front of the book – to a Reg Keeland – made us wonder about the responsibility involved in this project. The Swedish translation certainly felt professional, maintaining a sense of the Swedish setting while using some elegant English turns of phrase and native colloquialisms. Now it has emerged Reg Keeland is a pseudonym, and as with many a large translation project, there were some twists and turns in the process. You can read more in the interesting interview “Reg” gave his local paper in Seattle…