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

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

The Expendable Translator


Is a translator effectively the co-author of a text and if so should he or she be paid a royalty as authors are?


# 1.   

The lack of comment on this topic puzzles me. The proposition that the translator is 'effectively co-author of a text' seems central to the idea both of what we think a translation should be and of the translator's conception of his or her role. For me, an assertion of co-authorship is a step too far. If we ask ourselves the question, 'do I have the imagination, experience, knowledge, stamina and skill to have written this myself?' the honest answer should be 'no'. Asked another question, however, 'would this novel/story exist in English at all without my creative role in its transmission from one language to another?' then the answer is also 'no'. The qualities of understanding, insight and sympathy required for successful transmission possess creative aspects but the role of a translator is far more akin to that of a midwife than a parent. Translation is a re-birth and the midwife/translator may well hold the key to literary success (or not) in another language. That should be a suitable starting point for any discussion of fees and royalties without the need to claim co-authorship.

Tony Blishen, May 2, 2017, 2:02p.m.

# 2.   

Well put, Tony.

And as to your statement that "lack of comment on this topic puzzles" you, you're not the only one. Just a few years ago, Paper Republic was the venue of choice for frequently robust discussions about such highly relevant topics.

I miss them, and I wonder what has led to this relative silence. Are translators consciously trying to minimize their Internet "footprint"? Are we just too busy nowadays, since there are (happily!) many more translation projects open to us than earlier? Or is it a desire to avoid the occasional unpleasantness of having one's opinion critiqued?

Bruce Humes, May 14, 2017, 7:41p.m.

# 3.   

As site administrator, these are questions I often ask myself! I think the reduced volume of discussion here is down to a several different issues.

First, the PR community originally grew out of an actual physical community that was based in Beijing. That community no longer exists: everyone has left the city over the course of the past five years. I also left at the end of last year (2016), and felt like I was the last to turn out the lights, though of course folks like Dave Haysom and Hallie Treadway are holding down the fort. But the old drinking club is long gone.

Second, PR experienced a "quiet" period from say between 2009 and 2013, which I take the blame for: I was distracted with other things, and neglected the site.

Third, social media platforms have risen up and eaten the rest of the internet over the past few years. It used to be you could survive on an RSS feed, but now it's a game of pick-your-walled-garden, and discussion has mostly moved to those gardens. I'm not too worried about this -- it's simply the way of development.

While I'm a little bummed that we no longer have much discussion here, I'm happy that the site is has been more active in terms of other new content. I'm willing to work on building out the database, publishing content, and posting new editorial pieces. If that provides fodder for discussion elsewhere, that's not bad.

 Eric Abrahamsen, May 15, 2017, 8:15a.m.


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