“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Translation Course – Day 1

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

Today is day one of the Sino-British Literary Translation course. After a very raucous train ride from Beijing to Shanghai we boarded a four-hour bus to Moganshan (莫干山 – Ever-wet Mountain?) and here we are. It’s been a long day and I’m tired, but the general format of the course is this: there are twenty Chinese to English translators and twenty English to Chinese. Each group is split in half, and assigned to one of two authors: the English-Chinese folks got Hari Kunzru and Bernadine Evaristo, and we of the Chinese-English persuasion got Tie Ning (铁凝) and Li Er (李洱). That’s four groups of ten, each with their author, and also a moderator to keep things in hand. And then… we translate. Together. Line by consensual line. Given the crotchety personalities of the translators I know, it sounds highly dubious, but this is the model they use at the British Center for Literary Translation, and they say it works. At the very least we should get some lively arguments out of it, and there are enough fascinating people around to ensure a worthwhile week.

Comments

# 1.   

" Each group is split in half, and assigned to one of two authors: the English-Chinese folks got Hari Kunzru and Bernadine Evaristo, and we of the Chinese-English persuasion got Tie Ning (铁凝) and Li Er (李洱). "

Perhaps I have misunderstood, but it would appear likely that in your group there would be native English speakers who habitually work from Chinese into English.

That is my assumption because in literary translation, only the rare translator dares to translate INTO a foreign language. If that is the case, you have a group of native English speakers all of whom are fairly well qualified to critique and help out other tongque-tied trainees...when it comes to the English part of the equation.

But it would seem useful to me to ensure that 1-2 native speakers of the source language, i.e., Chinese, should also be in the room actively contributing, and author Tie Ning may or may not be qualified in that area. Not to ensure "accurate" translation per se, but more interestingly, to help discuss and understand the original in its own context, e.g., by providing synonyms to Chinese words and phrases, or by explaining the "register" of the language involved before the other translators rush into finding its equivalent in English.

It may well be that your groups are more "mixed" than I expect, and that you have several native speakers of Chinese in your Chinese-to-English group.

I don't advocate literary translation by committee. But the modus operendi of your training, as briefly described, sounds like it lends itself to all sorts of tweaking of the translated copy, while somewhat ignoring the possibly fruitful exploration of the various nuances of meaning and register which exist in the original. I don't deny that native speakers of English can be very sensitive to the nuances of Chinese text, but a native speaker of Chinese (who must have a good command of English to be useful here) would bring a lifetime of experience to the table.

Looking forward to updates on Day 3, Day 4 and so forth.

Bruce Now in Zibo, training up Shandong's export managers!

 Bruce Humes, March 25, 2008, 12:56a.m.

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