Translation Issues
HUM 210 Online Course Pack - Fall 2006 - Prof. Cora Agatucci

On Cross-Cultural Translation

A. What translators do:
1. Translators assume something in one language/culture can be communicated, "borne across" and recovered in another language/culture.
2. Translators owe "fidelity" to the "prior" text/author--to the original author’s purposes, what the author wants from readers, how the author envisions readers, the processes and modes of creative production with the author’s culture, the arrangement and materials of the prior text, etc.
3. Translators are granted no authority to disregard the original text/author (being translated) or to substitute the original text with an entirely new text of the translator’s own. The translator cannot interpret the original text in terms only of the translator-reader’s own experience and culture.
4. Translators, however, do not and cannot just repeat or copy the words, literally and accurately, of the prior/original text --if the translators' goals are also to transmit cultural meanings and aesthetic beauties of the original text into another language for readers of a different culture and aesthetic values. 
5.  Translators must (to some extent) interpret, mediate, intervene in (i.e. change) the "prior"/original text to be translated, to achieve the above (item #4) goals. Informed translators acknowledge that their mediation is inevitable; that the translators' own experiences, cultures, worldviews, aesthetic values, etc., will influence even the most "faithful" translations.
6. Translators aim to create a "complex tension," or dialectical interplay, between two goals:

Goal 1: to make the "alien" original text familiar, accessible, immediate, readable to the intended cross-cultural readers; to allow the prior text to speak as directly as possible, with power, immediacy, urgency, to the cross-cultural reader, enabling "identification" (even if this is problematical)--enabling the reader to imagine her/himself in the author’s place--without erasing cultural differences and "appropriating" the original author’s distinct cultural/personal identity;
Goal 2: to respect and render the difference of the original text/author, the cultural distance that does exist between the readers’/translators’ world and the prior text/author’s context--yet without making that difference and distance so inaccessible as to prompt cross-cultural readers to dismiss or abandon the rewards, as well as responsibilities, of crossing cultures.

7. At issue in judging the worth of a translation is not just its literal  "accuracy," therefore, but also the "appropriateness" of the translator’s choices and changes in preserving  "complex tension" outlined above (item #6).

B. How readers read (learn, teach) cross-cultural texts in "translation":
1. Readers acknowledge the above conditions, mediations, goals, limitations and possibilities of translation as definitive of reading (learning, teaching) across cultures.
2. Such readers expect cross-cultural reading to be a sometimes disquieting (e.g. the anxieties of "cross cultural translation), but an ultimately rewarding activity.
3. Such reading is approached as highly interactive, a dynamic of participating-distancing that makes readers more aware (a) of the organizing principles at work in their own reading and interpretation, and (b) of the claims the cross-cultural text makes upon readers even as it gives them access to another world.
4. Readers are challenged to re-position themselves between and within both worlds--their own culture and that of the text--and readers consciously choose to work within/between the difference.
5. This effort at "transculturation" (Dingwaney and Maier cite Perez Firmat) is a transition, passage, process of fermentation and turmoil, that leads to a cross-cultural synthesis of the two worlds - and ultimately a better understanding of both cultures!

Agatucci, Cora, ed.  Summary of "Translation as a Method for Cross Cultural Teaching."
         By Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier. (In Understanding Others: Cultural and
         Cross-Cultural Studies and the Teaching of Literature. Ed. Joseph Trimmer and
         Tilly Warnock. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992.

On "Literal" vs. "Artistic" Translation

       "Some translators of literary works into English tended to sacrifice form for literal meaning, while others subordinated literal meaning to the artistry of the original work.  With the increasing number of translations of world literature available by a range of translators, it has become possible to select versions that are clear and accessible as well as literally and aesthetically faithful to the original . . . .
      "There are those who question whether poetry can ever be adequately translated from one language and culture into another; our concern, however, is not with what might be lost in a translation but with what is gained.  The best translations do not merely duplicate a work but re-create it in a new idiom. . . . [A list of translations of various major works of world literature from their original languages into English, follow, praised and justified because they] are in a way outstanding English poems in their own right.  [More such translations are listed as] examples of translations done by major [English language] poets whose renderings are now an important body of their own body of work. . . . [Additional translations of Indian, Japanese, and German works are praised and justified because they] "communicate the complexity" of  philosophy, genres, and/or stylistic language of the original literary works."  ("A Note on Translation" xxi.)
"A Note on Translation."  The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Ancient
          World, Beginnings-100 B.C.E.  Eds. Paul Davis and others.  Boston: Bedford-
          St. Martin's, 2004.  Xxi.

To Subtitle or Not To Subtitle?

      In the DVD special features commentary, Whale Rider director Niki Caro mentioned an aesthetic reason for her decision not to subtitle in English some Maori-language chants and songs included in the film: Caro suggested that English-language (literal) translations would not be able to capture and do justice to the beauty and rhythms of Maori language poetry. 
     One Whale Rider viewer later approved of Caro's decision not to subtitle certain Maori chants included in the film, but for a different reason: "I appreciate how they don't always translate the Maori dialect, especially in chants and songs.  I think in doing so they have kept it sacred, and though it is important to learn of other customs and ways I believe something would be lessened if every bit was translated" (emphasis added).  This viewer voiced an opinion shared by many others: that sacred Maori chants and "tapu" knowledge should not be translated for global audiences nor revealed to any but entitled Maori initiates.

Whale Rider. Dir. Niki Caro. Perf. Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton,
        Cliff Curtis. South Pacific Pictures/ApolloMedia GmbH & Co. 5/Filmproduktion KG,
        2002.  DVD. Newmarket Films, 2003.

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